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‘You have to go’

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As I write about two heart-breaking acts of terror committed within two historic Christian churches, it is Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the date June 19, 1865, when the last slaves in Texas were freed, almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863. While its roots are in Texas, Juneteenth has become a day to celebrate freedom all over the United States, although many white people are ignorant that the holiday exists. The irony pierces my thoughts today, that 150 years after this final Emancipation of slaves in the US, black people are still attacked and murdered by white people, with phrases like the one Dylann Roof uttered on Wednesday night: “You rape our women, you’re taking over our country. You have to go.”

While most Americans were staring at the Charleston tragedy unfolding on TV, another act of racist violence was taking place in northern Israel, on the bank of the Sea of Galilee, the site of Jesus’s miracle of multiplying two fish and five loaves to feed 5,000 people. The Church of the Multiplication is a destination stop for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. Its modern building was erected upon the remains of a fifth-century Byzantine church. Fortunately the familiar Byzantine mosaic floor depicting the few loaves and fishes was left unharmed by the fire. (Matthew 14:13-21; see endnote).

A spokesman for the Israeli fire brigade said a preliminary investigation showed the blaze broke out in several places inside the limestone Church, evidence that it was started deliberately. The roof of the Church was destroyed. “Firefighters arrived at the scene … and (the fire) was put out, but extensive damage was caused to the church both inside and out,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Church of the multiplication

Church of the multiplication

You Have to Go

In recent years, vandals have attacked mosques and churches in Israel. Often attributed to extremist Jews from West Bank settlements, the attacks are piously condemned across the political spectrum in Israel, though few arrests have been made. Last year, a group of Jewish youths attacked the same Church’s outdoor prayer area along the Sea of Galilee, pelting worshipers with stones, destroying a cross, and throwing benches into the lake. No one was convicted of the crime. Rabbis for Human Rights has counted 43 hate-crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

After the arson, Prime Minister Netanyahu followed tradition and condemned the incident, ordering the head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency “to conduct a full and speedy investigation.” With a straight face Netanyahu insisted, “Those responsible for this despicable crime will face the full force of the law. Hate and intolerance have no place in our society.” Clearly such an incendiary incident to one of the most famous sites in the Holy Land is not the image of coexistence and democracy that Israel wants to project to the world.

Graffiti on church

Graffiti on church

Right-wing Jewish extremists have in the past carried out numerous arson and graffiti attacks against Christian sites, as well as against Arab property in the West Bank and Jerusalem under the threatening slogan “price tag.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, the term “price tag” is used by Jewish extremists to take credit for vandalism or attacks typically carried out against non-Jews or their property, ostensibly as retribution for Arab or Muslim attacks or Israeli government actions deemed contrary to settler interests. The triumphant price tag slogan is often accompanied by racist graffiti, often the name of an illegal settlement, or a reference to Palestinian Muslims or Christians. Wednesday night is the price tag, “ the cost” of Israeli government action against settlements or for a previous act of violence against Israel. The Hebrew graffiti scrawled on an outside wall of the Church is a verse from the Jewish Aleinu prayer, “to remove all idols from the Earth, and to completely cut off all false gods.” This prayer is recited at the end of each daily prayer service.

Too High a Price Tag

At first thought the violence of Wednesday night within these two historic churches seems to have little connection. I have concluded that it is just the opposite. Aside from their different locations, the two incidents have more in common than might appear at first glance.

Both church attacks were attacks of hatred. Neither has been officially termed an act of terror. But the term hate crime seems woefully inadequate. I suspect if either of the perpetrators had been Muslim or Arab, there would have been immediate accusatory headlines in the Western press: Muslim terrorist attacks historic Church in the dark of night. But so far the Israeli and US governments are fervently promising quick and severe punishment “for such a heinous act.”

The price tag in Charleston was much higher. Nine devout Christians were murdered as they prayed during their Wednesday-night Bible Study. The oldest victim was 87; the youngest 26. They included a library manager, a track and field coach and a state senator, Clementa Pinckney, who also served as senior pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Founded in 1816 by a black pastor named Morris Brown, Emanuel AME Church is the oldest black church still standing south of Baltimore. Booker T. Washington spoke there in 1909; Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech of his own in 1962. In 1969, advocating for higher pay for hospital workers in South Carolina, Coretta Scott King led a march from the steps of the Church. Decades before Washington and King graced its halls, Mother Emanuel was also the spiritual refuge of Denmark Vesey, a former slave who bought his freedom after he won $1,500 from the Charleston lottery. After Vesey was hanged for trying to start a slave rebellion, in 1822, in a glorious show of arson-ignited flames, the Church was burned to the ground because of its association with Vesey. Since that time, Emanuel Church has become symbolic of the abolitionist movement and a beacon for social justice.

In the shock of the event on Wednesday night, swollen phrases of outrage were repeated hourly by every news outlet: shot in cold blood; such things are not possible in this country; a hate-crime investigation has already been opened. The alleged shooter is white; the victims are black. Of course the conservative media like the Wall Street Journal or Fox News has been throwing ice water on the heated discussion: “This isn’t about race;” “don’t politicize this;” “we don’t know his motives.” Charles Cotton, a board member of the NRA, certainly holds the prize for stupidity. He posted a comment on a firearms forum that he moderates in which he noted that Pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney voted against concealed-carry gun legislation. “Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue,” Cotton wrote on a message board.

Such statements echo the message of Dylann Roof: “You have to go.”

The alleged shooter is white; the victims are black.

Clearly a hate crime. Aren’t most crimes hate-filled, especially mass murders? This event, like the one in Galilee, is about much more than simple hate or rage or a sense of displacement felt by angry outsiders. A young white man wearing Apartheid flags on his sweatshirt and a confederate flag on his car and young Zionist settlers insisting on their chosenness, their biblical promise from God to possess every scrap of the Holy Land, although geographic boundaries are never mentioned in the ancient narratives. Racial epithets are common in both countries. The settlers want Israel for themselves; white supremacists want to see black people gone. Both groups are driven by the belief that they are special, entitled. They have the right to threaten unwanted minorities, who have no right to be in the land. They have to go.

Each event also has a visual symbol to urge the terrorists on, to prove their righteousness. In the Galilee it is the New Testament reference to the Loaves and Fishes, a miracle performed by Jesus. Not sacred to Jews, scrawling graffiti on a wall of the Church is not a religious crime, as it would be if someone wrote anti-Jewish sentiments on a synagogue wall in Israel.

In Columbia, South Carolina, the symbol is the Confederate flag, flying high and proud over the Statehouse. The U.S. and South Carolina flags were lowered in mourning but the rebel banner was left flying high. Status of the flag is outlined, by law, as being under the protected purview of the full S.C. Legislature, which controls if and when it comes down. A continual reminder that white supremacist violence is an existential threat to black people living in America.

Meanwhile, the same media that declared a deadly shootout between white biker gangs in Waco, TX, a “brawl,” has labeled the murder of nine innocent people in Charleston a “shooting.” But this was no mere shooting. It was a cold-blooded, premeditated, white supremacist terrorist attack that ended the lives of nine unarmed black people in the same church co-founded by the revolutionary Denmark Vesey, who sought to overthrow America’s regime of human bondage and chattel slavery.

There have been 13 mass murders at a house of worship in the US since the Birmingham bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church, in 1963, when four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite killing four young girls and wounding 22 others. Defining mass murder is officially a slippery task. According to the FBI, “politically motivated mass murder” usually involves acts of terrorism. The motivation is primarily ideological, usually for some political cause – although there may be a religious connection – or for political change. The bombing of the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 or the World Trade Center in New York in 1993 serve as examples of this form of mass murder.

The terrorist Dylann Roof has been caught, but the threat has not abated. Less than 24 hours after the massacre, police arrested a white man who shouted racial slurs and threatened to kill black congregants gathered inside a church in Richmond, Virginia. In Israel the national crimes unit of the Israeli West Bank settlement division arrested 16 youths within hours of the arson. All are religious Jewish seminary students from West Bank settlements. Their lawyer, Itamar Ben Gvir, told Israeli Army Radio the police had no evidence against the youths and that they were under suspicion simply for looking like young settlers. A few hours later, after being interviewed and giving statements, all 16 were released with no conditions attached.

The morning after the massacre, a member of the Emanuel Church, still bewildered and devastated, tried to explain her confusion. “We have to love people and invite people to pray with us. Look, being a Christian means taking a risk. Because it means loving the unlovable. It means helping people who maybe want to hurt you. And we have to keep doing that.” The unspoken quandary: how high is the price for living a faithful life?

How Many More?

As I think of the rebuilding of the Church of the Multiplication and the rebuilding of lives in Charleston, I wonder how many more Christian and Muslim religious and cultural sites will be damaged or destroyed in Israel and the Occupied West Bank? How many more mass murders will we watch on TV before the United States has the guts to pass gun-control laws?

Perhaps Jon Stewart has summed up this dragging-the-feet pattern of both governments perfectly. During his TV show on Thursday night, he eschewed his usual monologue. Instead he spoke plainly. “Blacks in South Carolina are still forced to drive on roads named for Confederate generals. By acknowledging it,” Stewart said, “by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jackshit. Yeah, that’s us. That’s the part that blows my mind.”

Endnote:
Matthew 14:13-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Feeding the Five Thousand
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

About Alice Bach

Alice Bach is a retired professor of Religious Studies and Feminist Studies. Her most recent work focuses upon religion, politics and media. Outside of academia she has also written more than 20 children’s books and now works as a freelance journalist.

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16 Responses

  1. Citizen
    Citizen
    June 21, 2015, 2:41 pm

    Good article, except why copy Obama and turn the event into a call for yet more gun control laws? I don’t think it’s a good idea to only allow cops and soldiers to have guns–along with criminals who will always get them in any case. Ever have your home burglarized with you in it? I have. Cops come after the fact. Not everybody can afford private security guards as in some gaited communities.

    • RockyMissouri
      RockyMissouri
      June 22, 2015, 10:55 am

      We hardly have any gun control laws NOW. Our president did a positive thing. The ‘event’ was itself ENOUGH of a call….but then, I thought the murders of the schoolchildren would have been ENOUGH….

      • just
        just
        June 22, 2015, 1:45 pm

        “In the wake of the mass shooting in a church in South Carolina, U.S. President Barack Obama called for action against gun violence, pointing out that the U.S. has a much higher rate of gun homicides than other developed countries, among them Israel.

        “Here are the stats: per population, we kill each other with guns at a rate 297x more than Japan, 49x more than France, 33x more than Israel,” Obama said on Twitter.

        “Expressions of sympathy aren’t enough. It’s time we do something about this,” Obama said in a following tweet.”…

        http://www.haaretz.com/news/world/1.662300

        I guess Mr. Obama didn’t include IOF’s everyday gun violence against the Palestinians… too much math for his minders…and I question the inclusion of Israel among “developed countries”, too.

      • michelle
        michelle
        June 24, 2015, 2:01 pm

        .
        more diverting stats
        if ‘public’ guns aren’t allowed there will be less guns related issues
        though that doesn’t equate to less trouble
        is there a country with less public guns that has (in relation) less overall trouble
        guns are not the only weapons available
        .
        every & all
        or none at all
        .
        G-d Bless
        .

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      June 22, 2015, 3:12 pm

      ” I don’t think it’s a good idea to only allow cops and soldiers to have guns”

      Very true. The average person is much more dangerous with a gun than he is without a gun.

    • manfromatlan
      manfromatlan
      June 23, 2015, 12:33 am

      What sort of gun control law would have prevented this tragedy? None that people are prepared to accept. Which is why I find these knee jerk responses after such events so annoying.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        June 23, 2015, 3:16 pm

        “Which is why I find these knee jerk responses after such events so annoying.”

        Yes, but the idea of ‘the good guy with the gun’ (and the ability to shoot bullets out of the air)
        is so all pervasive, it is almost the first fantasy we turn to when events are tragic. And of course, the idea that a good guy with a gun instantly becomes a crack shot, a legal expert, with x-ray vision, and a paragon of judgement under pressure. Unfortunately, besides a good guy with a gun, there’s one more thing you need. A script.

  2. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    June 21, 2015, 4:52 pm

    How many more mass murders will we watch on TV before the United States has the guts to pass gun-control laws?
    Or you could have the opposite reaction and suggest letting law abiding citizens in an audience protect themselves.

    Members Carry Guns to Church in Minnesota – NBC News
    NBCNews.com
    Members from a church in Minneapolis act as security guards and carry guns after past threats to the congregation. KARE’s Adrienne Broaddus reports.

    Charleston Church Massacre Happened In Gun-Free Zone …
    The Daily Caller

    If you ban guns for the citizens, the only people left with them are criminals and the state.

    Thank you for a generally good article, though.

    • ckg
      ckg
      June 21, 2015, 6:48 pm

      Members Carry Guns to Church in Minnesota

      Many, many years ago I attended a church service at a now defunct conservative congregation. Instead of a stained glass window or cross behind the pulpit there was a mounted shotgun. I don’t remember the topic of the sermon–I was fixated on that gun–but I am sure it wasn’t about the turning the other cheek or not living by the sword.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      June 22, 2015, 3:17 pm

      “Or you could have the opposite reaction and suggest letting law abiding citizens in an audience protect themselves.”

      Yes, of course, but what about people like me? I’m only an average shot, at best. I can’t shoot bullets directed at me out of the air, nor do I know how to make my bullets do those cute little swoops and curves to avoid innocent bystanders. I also lack the omniscience to know exactly who is doing the shooting, why, and where, and be in a perfect spot to disable them.
      As Elton John said, in another context “I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do”.
      Maybe I’ll have to hire somebody who can do all that stuff to be my bodyguard. How humiliating.

  3. just
    just
    June 21, 2015, 6:52 pm

    Thanks for this article, Alice Bach. I read and posted some of this article by Chaim Levinson earlier today on another thread.

    I have to call this deliberate avoidance by Israel to punish any Jewish Israeli terrorists. It was more than a ‘hate crime’ in Charleston, it was terrorism. Arson is also terrorism. Did the arsonists know that nobody was in the church? No. I imagine that if a synagogue was torched or defiled, the police, shin bet, and everybody would find, arrest, prosecute, and put away for a long, long time… or shoot them had it happened in Israel or the illegal settlements. (jmo)

    “Why Israeli police find it so difficult to solve church arson attacks

    No arsonist has been arrested for torching a religious site, although the investigating police unit believes it is creating a strong deterrent factor.

    Setting fire to Christian institutions is a relatively insignificant incident by the standards of Israel’s extreme right, but it constitutes a major challenge to the Judea and Samaria District Police and Jewish department of the Shin Bet security service, due to the elusive nature of the perpetrators. …

    …In private, they distinguish between attacks against Muslims and Christians, aside from the ethical aspect. There is a fear that harming Muslims will arouse a revenge attack. With the Christians, the fear is of harm to Israel’s image overseas. Fortunately for Israel, the eyes of the world were on a different church last Thursday, in Charleston, where nine African-American worshippers were murdered in a different type of hate crime. Few people took interest in the fate of the Galilee church. …

    …The investigation into last Thursday morning’s incident at Tabgha is the responsibility of the Judea and Samaria District Police’s nationalist crime division. This unit handles hate crimes from all over the country – with the exception of Jerusalem, which also has a division for hate crimes, albeit with far less manpower. To date, the Judea and Samaria unit hasn’t succeeded in solving a single attack on a holy site. However, senior department officials claim to have created a significant deterrence factor among young people.

    Even if the police have difficulty filing indictments and getting convictions, the violent activists know they are under surveillance and are being very careful. The department also emphasizes enforcement of minor crimes such as violating restraining orders and court orders. …”

    read more of this disgrace @ http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/.premium-1.662301?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

  4. ckg
    ckg
    June 21, 2015, 7:34 pm

    Thank you, Ms. Bach. Yet ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ are vacuous terms, primarily applied only to Muslims since 2001, and often for political motives. The answer isn’t to argue that many abhorent crimes commited by priveliged groups of whites, Christians, and Jews are also acts of terrorism. The answer is to argue that the loaded term should be abandoned altogether.

  5. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    June 21, 2015, 8:55 pm

    RE: At first thought the violence of Wednesday night within these two historic churches [one in Chaerleston and the other in Israel] seems to have little connection. I have concluded that it is just the opposite. Aside from their different locations, the two incidents have more in common than might appear at first glance.” ~ Alice Bach

    MY COMMENT: Yes, like right-wing hatered!

    SEE:

    O’Sullivan displays Confederate flag he took with him when he invaded Lebanon as IDF soldierhttps://twitter.com/JuliaCarmel_/status/612516251835850753

    • Israeli redneck Arieh O’Sullivan gets his Confederate stripes – http://www.jta.org/2012/02/22/news-opinion/united-states/israeli-redneck-arieh-osullivan-gets-his-confederate-stripes

  6. michelle
    michelle
    June 24, 2015, 2:42 pm

    .
    ‘i’ want/need you to stay
    .
    those who cause the most harm need you the most
    they need your example of how to repel hate
    of how to love in exchange of hate
    of how to not only put hate down but how to never pick it up
    they may never learn they may never understand
    they may never choose love over hate
    but through your example they can never say that they knew of no other way
    .
    this must be done for those who did this for us
    for He who gave all of Himself for every & all of us
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

  7. piotr
    piotr
    June 26, 2015, 8:58 pm

    “Those responsible for this despicable crime will face the full force of the law.” Reminds me the following:

    I was in no mood to trifle,
    I took down my trusty rifle
    And went out to stalk my prey.
    What a haul I made that day.
    I tied them to my fender, and I drove them home somehow,
    Two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow.

    The law was very firm, it
    Took away my permit,
    The worst punishment I ever endured.
    It turned out there was a reason,
    Cows were out of season,
    And one of the hunters wasn’t insured.

    Read more: Tom Lehrer – The Hunting Song Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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