Ancient marches in Damascus (updated)

Something very sobering and terrible is sinking in for Western journalists who are covering the uprising in the Middle East. They are beginning to wonder if the outcomes of these revolutions will automatically be good or, at least, “good” as defined in terms of civil liberties and human rights as they are promoted at, let’s say, the United Nations.

In other words, sadly, there may be isolated situations on this earth in which totalitarian governments do a better job of protecting the rights of religious and ethnic minorities (or sexual minorities, for that matter) than governments that represent unfettered majority rule.

This has, of course, been a minor theme running through the mainstream press coverage of the flight of Eastern Christians from Iraq and other nations in that region. Every now and then, the mainstream press also notes the plight of the Bahai’s in Iran. Gays in Iran? Every now and then.

In other words, could there be a dark side to the Twitter and Facebook revolutions in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere? Surely not. I mean, the Copts have been asking for it, right?

That was an extreme way of saying what I am trying to say.

Here is the key, for me, as we watch the unfolding events in Syria. This is a hard news story to tell, if you want a simplistic good side and a bad side. Yes, there are people who are crying out for justice. That theme is there. And they want an end to corruption. True. But many of the demonstrators have defined these terms in terms of an Islamic state — of one kind or another. What will the majority choose?

With that question in mind, read the following chunk of this current New York Times report from Syria:

“We want revenge, and we want blood,” said Abu Mohamed, a protester in Azra, a southern town that had the highest death toll Friday. “Blood for blood.”

The breadth of the protests — and people’s willingness to defy security forces who were deployed en masse — painted a picture of turmoil in one of the Arab world’s most authoritarian countries. In scenes unprecedented only weeks ago, protesters tore down pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and toppled statues of his father, Hafez, in two towns on the capital’s outskirts, according to witnesses and video footage.

But despite the bloodshed, which promised to unleash another day of unrest as the dead are buried Saturday, the scale of the protests, so far, seemed to fall short of the popular upheaval of revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Organizers said the movement was still in its infancy, and the government, building on 40 years of institutional inertia, still commanded the loyalty of the military, economic elite and sizable minorities of Christian and heterodox Muslim sects who fear the state’s collapse.

Maybe I have missed something in earlier coverage, but I do not think that I have seen the rights of religious minorities mentioned this high in earlier reports on these recent revolutions.

So do these religious minorities (note the presence of Islamic minorities) have strong feelings of loyalty to the old regime? That is not what the story said. The story says that they feel what would come after the fall.

What comes next? The implication is majority rule. These bloody clashes with the government forces have been coming when? After Friday prayers. What do Friday prayers represent? The evidence is that the mosques represent majority will.

Here is why I bring this up. Today is Holy Saturday. At midnight tonight, Eastern and Western Christians will be marching through the streets of Damascus (as well as other cities and towns in the Middle East and around the world) as they begin the celebration of the greatest feast in Christianity — Pascha (or Easter in the West).

Will they march tonight? They have for centuries. What will happen in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in the context of the current tensions? I do not know. But this is how the Times story ends:

In Homs, where major protests erupted this week, activists said security forces and plainclothes police officers flooded the city, setting up checkpoints and preventing all but a few dozen people from gathering. By afternoon, one resident said the streets were deserted, the silence punctuated every 15 minutes or so by gunfire.

“We closed the windows and the curtains and hid at home,” one woman said via Skype. “The gunfire was so loud and close.” She added, “God save us.”

My own parish is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, which has roots that go back to Damascus — for centuries the home of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch. In the early hours of Pascha, we will pray for peace and justice in Damascus and the rest of the Middle East.

This year, I know, we will also pray for the safety of believers there. We will be praying for those that march in the streets once again, as they have marched for centuries, in the darkness that comes before dawn.

UPDATED: It appears that the government has, in effect, canceled Pascha, or a crucial part of it. Click here for the Washington Post story on this development.

IMAGE: The Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus.

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Arrigoni’s death and Salafiya’s rise

Last week, Palestinian activist Vittorio Arrigoni was abducted by Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad members in Gaza. They posted a video online saying he’d be killed unless their rival Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, released Salafis in prison. Within hours, though, he was dead. The group, sometimes called Tawhid and Jihad, later denied kidnapping and killing Arrigoni, who was originally from Italy.

The Associated Press explained that “Hamas itself is a fundamentalist Islamic group, but it faces challenges from even more extremist offshoots of Islam.” They later changed it. I’m not sure what, exactly, is meant by “fundamentalist” or how the two groups differ, exactly. The New York Times wrote that “after years of championing the Palestinian cause, the 36-year-old Mr. Arrigoni apparently died at the hands of a fringe group of Palestinians, inspired by Al Qaeda, that was seeking the release of a local Islamist leader.”

So what do we know about these Salafis? Here’s some info from Voice of America:

Gaza journalist Mohamed Dawas, reporting for VOA, says Hamas condemned the killing and made arrests.

“They described it to be a terrible crime that is against our religion, against our morals,” said Dawas. “This crime, they said, does not reflect the reality of what’s on the ground in Gaza [regarding] security and order.”

Hamas has been battling the Salafists in Gaza for months. The Salafists accuse Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, of being too moderate for failing to impose strict Islamic law and not using more force against Israel.

Beverley Milton-Edwards is a specialist in Palestinian Islamist groups at Queens University Belfast. She says the Salafist groups present the biggest domestic threat to Hamas.

“They have engaged in such kidnapping attacks on foreigners,” said Milton-Edwards. “What they want the Hamas government to do is to become a very fundamentalist form of government, and that means that the Hamas government should become more like al-Qaida and should have nothing to in terms of temporal matters such as cease-fires with a group or a nation that’s regarded as an enemy such as Israel and the Jewish people.”

Salafists have been accused of attacking Internet cafes and calling for the expulsion of Christians.

I would love to learn more about what all this means. I mean, if Fatah isn’t radical enough for Hamas. And Hamas isn’t radical enough for Tawhid and Jihad, what’s happening to the Palestinians who find all of them too radical?

Salafis are also on the rise in Egypt. The New York Times had a captivating, and somewhat terrifying, story and slide show about the group’s growing influence. The Times writes that Salafis are embracing democratic votes as a way to further inculcate Islamic practices. First and foremost, we learn, they want to strengthen the second amendment of Egypt’s Constitution “which enshrines Shariah, or Islamic law, as the main source of Egyptian law.”

But mostly I wanted to highlight this coverage to get back to an article that’s been in my guilt file for a few weeks. The New York Times‘ Andrea Elliott wrote a profile of Yasir Qadhi, a Salafi in America who — after having more than a few students and associates become terrorists — says he’s seen the light and is moderating. Now neither side of the “should jihad include terrorism” divide seem terribly happy. One’s suspicious and the other thinks he’s a sell out. The article is long and interesting — too long to excerpt meaningfully here — and shows why Salafiya is so attractive to some young radicals. If you’re interested in the topic, and the doctrines that drive Salafis, you definitely want to check it out.

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A garden variety error

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which meant special services for many Christians. My congregation gathered outside with palms for the first reading, then sang the 9th century hymn “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as we all processed into the sanctuary. Our children’s choir, bell choir and horns were all in action. And we also had what I’m sure is the longest Gospel reading of the year, so long that we took six singing breaks. The reading is literally 141 verses long, All of Matthew 26 and all of Matthew 27. I wrangled and threatened my children and somehow we got through it. I’m also happy to report that my 1-year-old has stopped shouting “No!” during the sermon. Mostly.

Anyway, we just read this entire Passion account, so the details are even fresher in my mind than normal. So I have to take this opportunity to needle one of my very favorite writers, P.J. O’Rourke.

In yesterday’s New York Times. P.J. O’Rourke reviews The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics, by John Pollack. And in the midst of the review, he writes:

The problem with Pollack’s historical survey of puns is that it misses the greatest puns in history. He ignores many of the best practitioners of the idiom — Jesus and Sir Charles Napier, to name two. Jesus said to his disciple Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” That was not only a pun on Peter’s name, which means rock, but also a pun on the character of Peter, who, in the garden of Gethsemane, would deny Jesus thrice before cockcrow. Napier led an unauthorized conquest of the Indian emirate of Sind and is supposed to have sent Queen Victoria a one-word dispatch: “Peccavi.” (Latin for “I have sinned.”)

No one writes better than O’Rourke about sex, drugs and economics. But this is in error. Many things happened in the Garden of Gethsemane. For instance, according to the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The Garden of Gethsemane is also where Peter sliced off the ear of the high priest’s servant. But the Garden of Gethsemane was not where Peter denied Christ. According to Matthew:

Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.”
But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.”
And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!”
And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”
Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter was in the garden of Gethsemane and he did deny Jesus thrice before the cock crowed, but the denying didn’t take place in the Garden.

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Attack of those ‘religious conservatives’

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the professionals who run many crucial mainstream newsrooms seem to be throwing up their hands, editorially speaking, when it comes to accurately describing the cracks and divisions inside the complex world of Islam?

Here’s an example from the Washington Post that would have made me spew my morning coffee, if I was a coffee drinker.

Yes, I realize that MZ posted on this same subject earlier this morning. However, this is a truly bizarre situation and we elected to analyze different stories, while looking at the same subject from two different situations.

Consider this a two-part report.

Once again, here is the context, which is the assassination of another prominent voice in the wider world of progressive Islam, although this short Post story never gets around to telling us whether this activist is or is not a Muslim or a Jew or whatever. I realize that this is a complex question, since the man himself liked to say: “I am 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.”

Here is the top of the report:

JERUSALEM – A prominent Israeli actor and director who mentored young Palestinians at a youth theater that he founded in the West Bank town of Jenin was fatally shot Monday in the community’s refugee camp.

Juliano Mer Khamis, 52, born to a Jewish mother and a Christian Arab father, personified the complexities of the conflict dividing his country. He served in Israel’s army as a paratrooper and portrayed Israeli Jews in film and on stage, but he cast his lot with the Palestinians.

Following in the footsteps of his mother, who ran a youth theater in Jenin in the 1980s, Mer Khamis founded the Freedom Theater in the town’s refugee camp in 2006 with Zakaria Zubeidi, a former Palestinian militant leader.

A witness said that Mer Khamis was shot five times by a masked man. Other reports also noted that he was carrying his infant son in his arms when he was gunned down. The child survived.

The crucial questions, once again, are easy to articulate: Who killed him and why? This is where to Post report includes some crucial facts and one totally bizarre label.

Mer Khamis’s activities in the Jenin camp had been criticized by religious conservatives, who objected to the mingling of boys and girls at the theater and accused the project of promoting permissive social norms. The theater was burned twice in recent years.

Mer Khamis sparked anger when he staged the play “Animal Farm,” in which actors played the roles of pigs, considered impure animals in Islam. He said he shelved plans to stage a play satirizing armed resistance after a window of his car was smashed. He also reported receiving threats.

Now, these vague, undefined religious conservatives who had — according to other reports — been threatening his life, were they merely “religious”? There is nothing else that can be said about their religious and political roots or connections? Were they religious Christians? Religious Jews? Mormons, perhaps? Or Zen Buddhists? Or is the story accurate in saying that they were simply “religious”?

One more thing. Note that this means that Mer Khamis and those who support him are, according to simple logic, best described as “secular” people or as “religious liberals.” They cannot, for example, be portrayed as believing, practicing Muslims who simply disagree with many Islamists about the interpretation of sharia law when it comes to issues such as co-ed education, the acceptance of the dramatic arts, the morality of shooting an unarmed man who is holding an infant, etc., etc.?

Nope, all we can say here is “religious” vs. “secular.” After all, aren’t all “religious conservatives” alike? Who needs precise information?

By the way, if you thought that the Post editors would straighten this out, then check out today’s update on this tragic story.

Ready? Put your coffee down.

Plays staged by the theater, such as a version of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” or a recent adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland,” prodded audiences to think critically about Palestinian society and politics. Coeducational classes drew fire from religious conservatives who objected to mingling of young men and women, and there were phone threats, two arson attempts and harassment on the street, said Nabil al-Rai, the director of the acting school.

Clearly this has been added to the newspaper’s stylebook. The question is, “Why”?

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Who murdered the peace activist?

Before I made my recent trip to Israel, as an Act for Israel media fellow, I was excited to learn more about how religion informs politics in the region. Many of my friends and acquaintances cautioned me that religion doesn’t play as big a role as one might think. I now realize that all they meant was that the story is much more complicated than just about religious differences.

I thought of that while reading two wildly different news accounts of a recent murder in the West Bank. Actor Juliano Mer-Khamis, who starred in Julian Schnabel’s 2010 film Miral, was killed by masked gunmen. Here’s the Canadian National Post‘s explanation why:

The actor was apparently the target of death threats for his opposition to military occupation on the West Bank. “They are trying to kill what Juliano tried to spread — peace and freedom,” said Samia Staiti, the director of Freedom Theatre, a drama centre founded by Mir-Khamis in a Palestinian refugee camp. “We will keep on going on.”

Now let’s look at the same story from Haaretz, which is an Israeli English-language newspaper:

Zubeidi was appointed co-theater director in an attempt to subdue the ongoing threats voiced against both the institution and Mer-Khamis. The theater itself was torched twice in the past, and the threats persisted despite Zubeidei’s appointment.

Some of the criticism focused on the fact that the theater offered co-ed activities, despite prohibition in the Islamic moral code. Objectors were also outraged when Mer-Khamis staged the play “Animal Farm”, in which the young actors played the part of a pig, which Islam considers an impure animal.

Mer Khamis said he had planned to stage The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a satire of armed resistance, but shelved the idea after someone smashed the window of his car.

Haaretz also reports that Jenin police chief Mohammed Tayyim said Mer-Khamis was shot five times by masked Palestinian militants but that motive is unclear.

Now, the National Post story is riddled with factual errors, quite an accomplishment on account of its brevity. It says Mer-Khamis’ wife was also injured in the shooting. In fact, she wasn’t with him. A babysitter was, and the babysitter was injured. Mer-Khamis’ 10-month-old son, however, was fine.

In any case, there’s no indication that Mer-Khamis was targeted in Jenin because he opposed Israel’s presence there. In fact, the Jerusalem Post is reporting that a former member of Aksa Martyrs Brigades has been arrested in connection with the shooting. If he is involved, or other Palestinian militants are involved, this certainly points to a religious conflict that needs careful reportage.

These stories are always complex — as this one will doubtless turn out to be — but it’s hard to convey that complexity when the basic facts are so off.

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It’s all Greek to me(dia)?

Last week we looked at a breathless BBC report that began:

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

I was super excited by the report but then I read Early Christian expert Larry Hurtado’s blog that urged caution.

And now? Well, it turns out that the “earliest Christian writing” might be something more like “a fairly recent fraud.” You can read many different academic blogs for details, but there are about 20 different reasons to doubt that these writings are even authentic, much less that they will change anything about our understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Rice University Biblical Studies professor April DeConick was suspicious when the main source for the BBC story was David Elkington. The BBC described him as “a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum” but that doesn’t seem accurate. He has written books about the centrality of vibration and one about the codices in question.

When Elkington issued his press release, one scholar remembered an exchange he’d had months ago. Peter Thonemann reported that he’d received an email from Elkington in September. Elkington claimed he was a biblical historian and was working on the metal codices. He claimed then that a Bedouin had said his father had found them in northern Egypt. In the current press release, he claimed Bedouin had found them in Jordan. He said he was having trouble finding the type of Greek used and was wondering if Thonemann could help.

Thonemann then received photographs of a codex that looks just like the ones in the BBC photos. He replied that the text had been incised by someone who didn’t even know Greek since they didn’t distinguish between the letters lambda and alpha. The text had been lifted from an Aramaic/Greek inscription published in 1958 and republished in 1986. Here’s how he ends his response:

The text on your bronze tablet, therefore, makes no sense in its own right, but has been extracted unintelligently from another longer text (as if it were inscribed with the words: ‘t to be that is the question wheth’). The longer text from which it derives is a perfectly ordinary tombstone from Madaba in Jordan which happens to have been on display in the Amman museum for the past fifty years or so. The text on your bronze tablet is repeated, in part, in three different places, meaningless in each case.

The only possible explanation is that the text on the bronze tablet was copied directly from the inscription in the museum at Amman by someone who did not understand the meaning of the text of the inscription, but was simply looking for a plausible-looking sequence of Greek letters to copy. He copied that sequence three times, in each case mixing up the letters alpha and lambda.

This particular bronze tablet is, therefore, a modern forgery, produced in Jordan within the last fifty years. I would stake my career on it.

So after all the hype, how has the media done on correcting the story? Well, the Christian Science Monitor at least included skeptical voices in its report. The Deseret News gave major space to those debunking or questioning the report. Christianity Today never fell for the hype.

The BBC hasn’t corrected their story or written a follow-up. Ditto for The Telegraph and Fox News, among others. And this is while the scholars quoted in the original report are saying they were misquoted.

There are so many lessons here. The mainstream media need to do a much better job of checking in on academic blogs and other social media tools that are readily at their disposal. They need to be more skeptical, in general, and specifically when dealing with obvious problems. Antiquities fraud is a serious issue and the model of hyping a discovery in the press is a common route for less-than-savory characters involved in the trade. It’s understandable that a reporter and editors can be had, but when they discover they’ve been had, they need to correct quickly.

And maybe we can have a moratorium on “crazy new discovery about Jesus” stories that happen to run within a few weeks of Easter each year.

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Another bomb; same song in Pakistan

A long, long time ago — pre-Internet, for heaven’s sake — I had a long conversation with Bill Moyers, then of CBS, about why the mainstream press has so much trouble covering religion. This was one of those occasions in which he used a striking image to describe this problem — that far too many reporters and editors are “tone deaf” to the music of religion.

Since this interview for the Charlotte News took place in 1982, Moyers still had Iran on his mind and the reporting he had done during his travels in the Muslim world.

A major obstacle that he faced, he said, was that many of his colleagues could not grasp that there is no “separation of mosque and state” in Islam. Thus, they would say that the events unfolding in Iran and elsewhere were merely political and not religious. It was hard for them to grasp that the events s they were reporting were saturated in religious images and belief.

Politics? Yes. Religion? Yes. They were covering the opera, but they could not hear the music.

I thought about that conversation while reading the latest Washington Post report from Islamabad about yet another assassination attempt, only this time the target was a much more complex figure than either Salmaan Taseer, the progressive Muslim governor of Punjab, or Shabbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet.

You will recall that both were gunned down because of their opposition to the nation’s draconian blasphemy laws. Please keep that in mind as you read through this report, starting at the top:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – One of Pakistan’s most influential religious leaders and politicians narrowly escaped a second assassination attempt in two days Thursday as he was touring the country’s volatile northwest to address a string of rallies.

There was no immediate indication who was behind the two attacks on Sen. Fazlur Rahman, the longtime leader of a faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islami party. A complex and colorful figure, Rahman is strongly anti-American and once supported the Afghan Taliban, but he operates within the country’s democratic system and is mistrusted by Pakistani Taliban extremists.

“I am safe. … There is blood everywhere, and my clothes are covered with blood,” the gray-bearded Rahman told witnesses Thursday in the town of Charsadda moments after a powerful bomb exploded amid his convoy, killing 14 people and injuring at least 30. Rahman was traveling to a rally in a police van after an attack Wednesday morning.

So, at this point, no one has claimed responsibility for these attacks.

Some experts pointed at forces linked, or hired, by the United States. Others claimed that it was his strong support for sharia law that caused the attacks, again hinting at violence coming from those who, as one source puts it, “want to stop the Islamic revolution in Pakistan.” Others said that the Taliban was simply doing everything possible to sow discord and chaos in the nation. Another step toward an Islamic revolution, perhaps.

In other words, politics and religion, but mainly politics.

Then again, maybe there was another motive. Check out the next to last paragraph:

Rahman, a Sunni cleric in his 60s who wears a signature orange turban, was once an outspoken radical Islamist, but his tone moderated as he became prominent in national politics, and he emerged as a bridge between Islamic militants and the government. Yet he is also known for his independent principles, and officials said his recent call for correcting abuses of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law could have angered extremist groups.

You know what? That may have had something to do with it. Ask the families of Taseer and Bhatti.

Hey Post editors: Perhaps this information could have gone higher in the story? I realize that this would, again, put a heavy emphasis on a clash between some — repeat SOME — Muslims in Pakistan and the nation’s Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities (along with progressive Muslims who oppose the blasphemy laws as currently written). But that’s the reality. That’s the news.

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Terror or ‘terror’ in Israel?

I’m in Jerusalem at the moment, on an Act for Israel media fellowship. Sunday was our first day of activity and it was utterly exhausting. We began with a visit to Yad Vashem, the site for Holocaust remembrance.

Nearby, we passed preparations for the funeral of five Israeli settlers killed in an unspeakably brutal terror attack. We visited Old Jerusalem (Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Wailing Wall, etc.). Then we met with the parents of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas nearly five years ago. He is being held in conditions contrary to international human rights law and Hamas says he’ll only be released if 450 Palestinian prisoners with terror-related convictions are released early … along with 550 other prisoners.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the day was our visit to Itamar, the West Bank settlement site of the terrorist attack. While not terribly far from Jerusalem as the crow flies, for safety we had to avoid the straightest route there and add an extra 50 kilometers or so. We picked up a local Israeli councilman on the way there as our guide into Itamar. Here’s how the Jerusalem Post explained what happened there:

A mother, father and three of their children were stabbed to death late Friday night by at least one suspected terrorist who infiltrated the Itamar settlement southeast of Nablus.

The killings occurred shortly after 10 p.m., when one or two attackers jumped the fence that surrounds Itamar and broke into the home of Ruth and Udi Fogel, aged 35 and 36, respectively. The attackers went room to room, stabbing the parents, a three-month-old girl, Hadas, and two boys, Elad, three, and Yoav, 11.

Two other children – aged two and eight – were in a side room but were not attacked.

The family’s oldest child, 12-year-old Tamar, was out of the house at the time.

It was Tamar who found her parents and three siblings murdered. One of the settlers told us that one of the children was beheaded. (I in no way have a stomach for these things so I have not clicked on this link, but here is a link to the photos of the victims after the attack.) The story explains that the Israeli Defense Force began investigating a nearby town as the Al Aqsa Martyrs brigade took credit for the attack, calling it a “heroic operation.” Later Al Aqsa Martyrs brigade denied having anything to do with the attack.

So the story has received international coverage, although it’s interesting to see the disparities in that coverage. Take, for instance, this CNN headline to a three-paragraph story on the matter:

Israeli family of 5 killed in ‘terror attack,’ military says

The use of “scare quotes” and inability to describe the brutal killing of a family including a 3-month-old baby girl as a terrorist attack led one Israeli press liaison to ask “If this is not a terror attack, what is?” CNN responded by saying they stood behind the headline.

Needless to say, I don’t think I’d recommend the CNN story for anyone interested in a discussion of the killings. While the first story to appear on the New York Times website was an Associated Press dispatch with the bare details, I thought the lengthier report filed from Itamar by a Times reporter was very helpful. Unlike some reports that failed to even mention the names or ages of the children who were killed, the Times report begins by describing the manner in which each body (identified by name and age) was removed from the house after the killing. It puts the killings in context of the greater struggle between Jewish and Palestinian settlers.

There was quite a bit of disappointment in Itamar from the Los Angeles Times report, which some residents felt was almost an attempt to blame the victims for their own murder. The story anonymously suggests the killing of the family might have been retaliation for the killing of two Palestinian men the previous year, later adding that while the IDF says they killed the men, local Palestinians think the settlers were somehow to blame. Although it’s nothing like this Iranian news report.

One thing I thought interesting was the subtle difference between the way the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times described Israeli’s settling in the West Bank. The former:

Itamar’s settlers are considered among the most fervent, believing Israel has a historic and religious right to absorb the West Bank, which Israel seized during the 1967 Middle East War.

The latter:

Palestinians have often justified the killing of Israeli civilians, especially settlers, as a legitimate response to the Israeli occupation of territory conquered in the 1967 war, or in the case of radicals, as part of a broader struggle against Israel’s existence.

It’s just interesting to me. “Absorb” and “seized”? Or “occupation” and “conquered”? It seems the latter is the more neutral language to describe what happened. It’s also helpful to point out the issue of opposition to Israel’s very existence, which was neglected in the Los Angeles Times piece. The Six-Day War began when Israel responded to military buildups on the borders with Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Israel defeated these neighbors quickly and, in the process, captured land from each of them. It is these areas, won in a war against its neighbors, that are so hotly disputed within Israel and the international community.

Photo (of Fogel residence in Itamar) by Jennie E. DeVore.

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