Is the Star of David the new swastika?

In a disturbing reversal of symbolism, Israeli extremists are defacing Palestinian property with the Jewish symbol

Topics: Israel, Religion, Middle East,

Time was when Nazis used to slather swastikas on synagogues and Jewish businesses to prepare the local population for expulsion or much worse. It’s sad that this sort of behavior persists around the world, as a new study by Tel Aviv University shows. But it’s even sadder to see Israelis regularly defacing Palestinian property with Stars of David with equal glee and with what appears to be the same brain-dead mindset.

Your local paper might not have covered it, but in the wee hours of Wednesday morning a gang of Israeli settlers attacked the West Bank village of Hawara. “Palestinians reported two torched cars on the village’s central road early yesterday,” Haaretz writes. “A small village mosque, used only on the weekend, had the word ‘Muhammad’ sprayed in Hebrew and a Star of David. Haaretz also found graffiti with the Jewish prayer ‘Praise be onto him for not making me a gentile.’” The attackers also took the opportunity to destroy some three hundred olive trees, a major source of local income.  

In February of 2009, a Canadian writer by the name of Marcello Di Cintio witnessed how “earlier this week, the IDF raided Jayyous. Soldiers entered the village at night, seized about a hundred young men and penned them in the school gymnasium. The troops also occupied several village houses and spray-painted a Star of David over a pro-freedom mural on a school wall. The IDF took about a dozen men with them when they left, and the men are still in custody somewhere in Israel.”

According to the Maan News Agency, in December 2008, “Israeli settlers rampaged through five villages in the northern West Bank early on Tuesday, vandalizing mosques, attacking farms and harassing residents. In the villages of Yatma, Qabalan and As-Sawiya, south of Nablus, settlers slashed the tires of more than 20 cars and also set fire to thousands of shekels worth of straw bales, used as animal feed. In As-Sawiya, settlers wrote slogans insulting Islam and the prophet Mohammad on the walls of a local mosque. [S]ettlers painted a star of David and slogans such as ‘Death to Arabs’ on the village mosque.”

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“On 19 March 2007, Israeli settlers illegally occupied an empty four-story Palestinian building,” the Electronic Intifada reported. “This multi-unit Hebron building is close to the Kiryat Arba settlement of 7000 residents and is strategically located to link Kiryat Arba to the smaller enclaves inside Hebron’s Old City. … Palestinians say that another settlement will lead to yet another checkpoint and tighter curfews, further isolating this part of the city. Already settlers have placed a wire at the entrance of the Palestinian house across the street to trip residents as they exit their home. They have stoned the house and spray painted a Star of David on the front door.”

Also in 2007, Tim McGirk blogged about his own experiences in the West Bank for Time Magazine:

Not long ago, I ventured into Hebron … I wanted to see what [the Palestinians] thought of their Jewish neighbors. On this street, winding up a hill, it was easy to spot the Arab houses. Their windows and doors were covered in metal grills to protect them from stones, rotten fruit and the occasional gunshot coming from settlers living across the road. Over the years, a few Jewish settlers had also been shot by Palestinian militants, and Israeli soldiers had cordoned off this section, emptying life from the heart of old Hebron. The Arab houses were easy to spot for another reason. The settler kids had spray-painted a Star of David on walls of all the Arab houses. A religious symbol used for intimidation. I found this disturbing, like seeing the Klu Klux Klan’s cross blazing on a black man’s lawn.

Blogging for the Madison Times, George Arida described a visit to Nablus in 2003:

We stopped at Joseph’s Tomb, a site of archaeological and religious significance. It also had military significance; the Israelis had bombed it over a year ago (the dome and outside walls were damaged) and then had later used it as a base of operations. The soldiers had left a spray-painted Star of David on the ancient stone wall. This spray-painted souvenir was left by the Israelis on the walls of many buildings in Nablus.

Israeli troops pulled out of the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2002. “The home of Hamdi Flaifer, 35, was in ruins after an Israeli search,” the New York Times reported. “Windows were broken, furniture was smashed, sofa cushions slashed, closets and cabinets were emptied onto the floor. Just outside his front door, Israelis had spray-painted a Star of David and a number, indicating to other Israelis that his house had been searched.”

The Mogen Dovid is a symbol that has experienced a roller coaster of shifting meanings over the centuries. The six-pointed star was a symbol known to many religious and spiritual traditions and only became firmly associated with Judaism and Zionism in the late nineteenth century. But its power as a Jewish symbol derives less from what Jews have done with it than from what anti-Semites have tried in vain to make it into. Storm troopers painted Stars of David on Jewish businesses during their boycott of Jewish shops in 1933. In September, 1941, SS leader Reinhard Heydrich signed a decree demanding that all Jews in German-occupied Europe wear a yellow star – first to shut them up as potential defeatists, and later to mark them for extermination. After the war the new State of Israel chose the Star of David as its national emblem. Thus it has gone from a symbol of pride to a symbol of shame and fear and then back again to a symbol of pride and endurance against impossible odds. 

Will it return to being a symbol of shame and fear – perhaps permanently? With attacks like the ones I described above on the increase, and now that the Israeli military has approved plans that could lead to the mass deportation of tens of thousands of West Bank residents on short notice, Palestinians are increasingly experiencing the Star of David as a threat to their very existence. This should be a scandal to everyone who remembers what the star has meant in the past. My message to Israelis is simple: Stop doing this. NOW.

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