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June 03, 2002
St Barbara of Aboud

From Israel Shamir


“Aboud is one of the prettiest Palestinian villages, strongly reminiscent of Tuscany. Its time-mellowed stone houses grow on the gentle hills. Vine climbs up their balconies, leafy fig trees provide shadow to its streets. The prosperity of this well-established village is seen in the spaciousness of the mansions, in the meticulously clean roads. The old men sit in a small and shady, walled enclosure, on the stone benches, like the aldermen of Ithaca gathered by young Telemachus. That is the biblical ‘gate of the city’, or a diwan. Kids bring them coffee and fresh fruits. Local people are not the refugees of Gaza and Deheishe; here, as in a time warp, one can see the Holy Land as it should and could be.

Three millennia old Aboud received the faith of Christ from Christ himself, says the local tradition, and there is the church ready to prove it, one of the oldest on earth, built in the days of Constantine in the 4th century, or maybe even older, as some archaeologists claim. The church is a dainty thing, carefully restored and well taken care of. The Byzantine capitals of its columns bear the image of cross and palm branches. They recently discovered a plaque in old Aramaic script immured in the southern wall of the church.

Aboud has more than one church: there is a Catholic, a Greek Orthodox and an American-built Church of God. There is also a new mosque, as Christians and Muslims of the Holy Land live together in great harmony. On December 17th all of them, the Muslims and the Christians, go to venerate the village patron saint, St Barbara. She was a local girl who fell in love with a young Christian and was baptized. It happened in the rough days of Roman emperor Diocletian, and she was martyred in the persecutions. The ruins of the oldest Byzantine church of St Barbara are still seen on a hill a mile away from the village. At the foothill, there is her burial cave, and there the peasants lit their candles and ask their wishes to be fulfilled”.

I wrote these lines above almost a year ago, when the Israeli army began its campaign of devastation in the hills of Western Samaria. Now, on 31 of May, they dynamited St Barbara, a rare relic of Christian past of the Holy Land. It was one of these bittersweet ruins of churches that still attract worshippers, together with St Anne of Safurie and Emmaus of Latrun. I do not know whether the sappers were the same soldiers who for proverbial forty days and forty nights, from Catholic to Orthodox Easter besieged the Nativity and whether they said the prescribed by Shulkhan Aruch blessing, Blessed you are, God of Israel, the Prince of the World, Who destroys the temples of Goyyim. I have no doubt this destruction is connected with Bethlehem siege: it passed so quietly, with so little attention, that it would be strange not to continue.

Illumination of St Barbara from Breviary of Martin of Aragon

My friend Miriam Reik from New York, a wonderful person and a friend of Palestine, wrote to me, “I intuit that you are writing a piece about this example of replacing the Judaic paradigm of revenge for the Christian one of sacrifice and redemption… but don't. That's not what it's about - it's about destroying everything meaningful”.

For a change, I am going to agree with Miriam. It is true, the Jews can’t stop trying to undo Christianity. Our worst enemy is the Church, wrote Freud, and Gretz the historian seconded, Christianity must be destroyed. It is better to serve Hitler than Christ, concluded the most prominent modern Jewish Israeli theologian. One can quote hundreds of such one-liners, but Miriam is still right: they indeed destroy everything meaningful.

Not only churches. In nearby Nablus, they destroyed the Green Mosque, the oldest extant building, build above the cave where Jacob lamented his lost son Joseph. One of the great shrines of Palestine, contemporary with St Barbara, it was a Byzantine church, and later served as a Samaritan synagogue, the centre of worship for local Israelites-not-Jews. Samaritan priests pointed it out to me. A holy place is always attended in the Holy Land, and it again was converted to a church and beautified by Queen Melisende, the pious flirt and the builder of the Holy Sepulchre. It reverted to a mosque eight hundred years ago, when the cathedrals of Chartres and Köln were erected. The mosque celebrated its fifteen hundred years anniversary, when an Israeli tank ravaged it. Just to show their impartiality, they also bombed St Philip Episcopal church in Nablus and put under curfew St Luke Hospital.

Some traditional old-fashioned anti-Semite would see it as a sign of hatred to Gentiles in toto. But Miriam is right. They destroy everything. In Jerusalem there was a great spring, the biggest spring of Highlands. It gave birth to Jerusalem, and it is the reason for the city’s existence. It has a plethora of names: Gihon (in the Bible), Ein Sittna Miriam, after the Virgin, Ein Silwan, as the nearby village.

Many events are connected with this living spring. King David’s soldiers climbed up its pier, Jesus healed blind men at its pool, King Hezekiah bored a half-kilometre long tunnel to keep its waters within the walls, away from the reach of Assyrian army. It is forever venerated, and an old mosque stands at its lower exit. Many times in the hot days of July I waded breast-deep the tunnel’s cool length, drinking its sweet water and biding time to emerge at the fig tree above broken Roman columns of the pool.

Then, over a year ago, Ehud Olmert, self-styled ‘Mayor’ of Jerusalem, the great destroyer of Palestinian homes, seized the spring. He locked the entrance, put a Russian guard, a few soldiers, and transferred it lock, stock and barrel to settlers. The Palestinians were not allowed to approach it anymore. Nowadays, the Gihon spring is dead. Instead of pure water, sewage of the city flows by its tall tunnel. It joined many other springs of Palestine. Some were fenced, others covered with concrete, some eliminated by pumping stations, and others poisoned by sewage, all killed by the Jews.

I hear voice, Oh no, say: Zionists! I would, but it seems unfair to the Jewish people abroad. They work so hard, they demonstrate in support of Israel everywhere from Brussels to San Francisco, they collect funds for Israeli soldiers, they sue everybody who supports Palestine, they keep news about blown up Byzantine churches out of your newspapers – don’t you think they deserve to be considered as full-blown partners in the Zionist enterprise?

“They make life so miserable that the Palestinians will leave”, wrote ever-so rational Miriam. Here I tend to disagree. A year ago, I saw just outside the village of Aboud two giant American-built Caterpillar bulldozers slowly devouring the olive trees. “They were huge, covered from every side by armour plates. They appeared impregnable, like moving fortresses. They towered above the landscape as the mechanical monsters of Evil Empire attacking Ewocks”. That is their purpose: to destroy. Not just churches, not only mosques, but everything alive, from olive to spring, as their service to the Faceless Destroyer. Expulsion of Palestinians is a part of the task, as Palestine can not survive without Palestinians. It will wither, as sure as the spring of Gihon did. Forget the line, ‘Palestine next to the Jewish state’; it is ‘the Jewish state or Palestine, for native and adopted Palestinians’.

A few days ago, the lady wife and guiding light of Conrad Black, Barbara Amiel, whined, “the Jews and Israel are increasingly presented as Evil Empire”. Well, dear Ms Amiel, Israel and the Jews are not the Evil Empire, but they will do, until real Evil Empire will show up.

P.S. As an anticlimax, I propose to my readers to calculate the ratio of Jewish influence in their newspaper, as follows: divide the coverage of a synagogue wall being dirtied with graffiti (in square inches) by the coverage of the venerable Byzantine church of St Barbara destruction (in square inches). Just to remind you: a ratio with denominator zero equals infinity.

Israel Shamir is an Israeli writer and journalist. He lives in Jaffa. His other articles are available on the site www.israelshamir.net

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