Days of Darkness, Days of Awe: Yom Kippur in Palestine

Yom Kippur in Palestine and the Palestinian people are again atoning for Israel’s sin of occupation.

The lockdown in Gaza and the West Bank is complete: for three days no Palestinian will travel past a checkpoint; no swimmers will be allowed on the beaches, more heavily patrolled by gunboats than ever; the electric fence around the perimeter of the Gaza Strip and the wall already built in Khan Yunis are manned with armed soldiers as are the borders all around the West Bank.

You won’t be going to school or work if it means crossing a checkpoint. Forget about visiting family and friends in other towns and villages. Most of all, don’t get seriously ill or wounded because you’ll die before the ambulance is allowed on to the hospital.

“I was afraid you’d gone to Rafah”, I say to Ahmad over the wires to Gaza City. More families in Rafah lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers this past week and a young man died for objecting to the zillionth incursion onto his land.

I worried that Ahmad had gone to investigate. His extended family lives there. “No one is going anywhere”, Ahmad responds cynically. “It’s Yom Kippur”.

He lengthens and stresses the words “Yom” and “Kippur”, this latest incursion into their lives. I wonder how many Jews worldwide know what kind of an introduction to Judaism the Palestinians have had.

“The Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] is the climax of the ten-day period of repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. These ten days of reflection and inspiration bring us the eternal message that it is possible for human beings to improve their characters. They speak to us about our ethical conscience and moral responsibility, about self-examination and spiritual regeneration.”
The twenty-four hour curfews throughout the Occupied Territories continue; the extra judicial killings remain standard policy; the shooting of civilians who dare to show their faces before a tank, a watchtower, or a soldier demand no punishment; the use of men, women, and children as human shields meets with rationalization and apologetics; the daily sadistic humiliation of fathers before their sons and daughters is explained away; the systematic abuse of the right to education, the freedom of movement, the right to work, the right to human dignity, are denied on the grounds of “security”; the theft of oranges and olives, of water and land is justified for the needs of the “neighborhoods” illegal settlements that keep expanding and expanding in defiance of all international law; the bulldozing of family homes and orchards barely make news any longer; the fact that murder, theft, and marauding on another people’s land is accepted and defended by the most religious and the most secular alike as Israeli “self defense” is unquestioned.
“The atonement prayers, articulating the ideals of human brotherhood and mutual forgiveness, make the worshiper intensely aware of human frailty, reminding him that there is no man who is absolutely free from sin and error. The confessions are recited repeatedly on Yom Kippur in the first person plural to emphasize the collective responsibility of the whole community. We are repeatedly reminded that Yom Kippur brings pardon for sins between man and God, and it cannot bring forgiveness as long as no attempt has been made to repair the injury inflicted upon one’s fellow man. God does not clear the guilty in matters touching human beings unless reparation precedes all else. The wrongdoer must first win pardon from the person wronged.”
More than four hundred children and 1,400 adults murdered in two years. More than 5,000 people imprisoned and tortured. More than 17,000 dispossessed of their homes and land. Apartment complexes bombed in the dead of night. Whole factories and businesses destroyed in a single raid.

Social infrastructures and economies wrecked beyond repair. The poverty increasing; the unemployment skyrocketing; Refugee camps invaded and terrorized daily. Jenin obliterated beyond recognition. Jenin —we’re not even allowed to remember you. And yet I see the bodies lying out in the dirt. I smell the dead buried under their dynamited houses.

I watch the lost eyes of the children wandering the ruins and remember the faces of the children of Rafah and Khan Yunis more than 50% of whom suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because they listen to bombing and shooting every night never knowing when it will come to get them.

The months and years pile up like bones. The bodies turn into ghosts. Twenty years ago this Yom Kippur, September 16th 1982, Ariel Sharon sent his phalangist thugs into the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila to murder everyone they found. Two thousand women, children, and men lay slaughtered and mangled in the dust and squalor of the south Beirut camp by the time the killing spree ended.

At least 700 of them now lie in an unmarked mass grave at the edge of Chatila, unremembered; unnamed; unglorified. Ariel Sharon, the butcher who left 17,500 civilians dead in Beirut during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon now commands the Israeli state; Sharon, found personally responsible for the massacre at Sabra and Chatila by Israel’s own Kahane Commission, is now in charge of the systematic suffocation of the Palestinian people for daring to live on their own land.

Yom Kippur in Palestine and the Palestinian people are still paying for Israel’s sin of occupying their land. How much longer do we pretend it’s not happening?

“Yom Kippur cannot bring forgiveness as long as no attempt has been made to repair the injury inflicted upon one’s fellow man. God does not clear the guilty in matters touching human beings unless reparation precedes all else.”

Quotes from: Birnbaum, Philip. Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts. Hebrew Publishing Company, New York; 1979. P.259