Jewish Terrorism, Christian Terrorism, Hindu Terrorism

In the twenty-first century, not only because of the hideous crime of September 11 but also because of several other incidents of especially Arab Muslim violence, terrorism has, in the eyes of many, become a crime associated with Muslims and Arabs. Muslims ostensibly motivated in part by religion were behind the September 11 attacks, the March 11 bombing of trains in Madrid, the 2005 London bombings of buses and trains and the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombs. Terrorism is of course, however, not the sole domain of Muslims–people of all faiths have been guilty of heinous acts against civilians, in order to terrorize, often in the name of religion. In this post, a reminder of (in part) religion-motivated terrorist acts throughout history by non-Muslims.

Jewish Terrorism

It is said by some that the first terrorists in history were a first century Jewish group opposing Roman rule called the Sicarii (“dagger men”), who directed attacks and assassinations of Jews, including priests, who were collaborating with Roman authorities.

Some of the most active and notorious terrorist groups in the 20th century were Jewish Zionist groups in now Israel: Irgun and Lehi.

Irgun was formed in the 1930s by Zionist Jews who believed that Jews had to be more aggressive in their self-defense in order to support the Jewish Zionist enterprise. In the 1930s, most Irgun actions were retaliatory–conducting “eye for an eye” type campaigns in response to Arab violence against Jews–but by the end of World War II Irgun had begun engaging in actions against the British authorities, who they believed were managing Palestine against Zionist interests, including by limiting Jewish immigration. Irgun attacks included bombings of British government buildings, such as the immigration, tax and police offices, the bombing of the British Embassy in Rome and a car bombing of a British officers’ club.

The three most infamous terrorist attacks by Irgun were the 1946 King David Hotel bombing, the 1947 Sergeants affair and the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre. On July 22, 1946, Irgun operatives bombed the King David Hotel, a luxury hotel in Jerusalem used by the British authorities as a headquarters, resulting in 91 deaths. It was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the 20th century, allegedly in part because warnings to evacuate the buliding were unheeded. In 1947, in retaliation for recent executions of Irgun operatives by the British administration, Irgun kidnapped and hanged two British sergeants. Their bodies were then booby-trapped with IEDs and hung up in trees, and a third British soldier was injured trying to recover the bodies.

The deadliest of the three, however, was the Deir Yassin massacre, an attack against an Arab Palestinian village. The attack was so heinous that prominent Jews in the west (including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt) wrote a letter to the New York Times condeming Irgun as a “terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization” and described how “terrorist bands attacked [the] peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the fighting, killed most of its inhabitants – 240 men, women and children – and kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of Jerusalem.” Orphans were left at Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The Deir Yassin massacre was conducted by Irgun in coordination with a second Jewish terrorist group called the Lehi. Lehi’s politics were so confused that it actually proposed joining the Nazi cause in World War II in order to weaken British control of Palestine. A Lehi newsletter defended its acts thus:

Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: “Ye shall blot them out to the last man.” But first and foremost, terrorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play: speaking in a clear voice to the whole world, as well as to our wretched brethren outside this land, it proclaims our war against the occupier. We are particularly far from this sort of hesitation in regard to an enemy whose moral perversion is admitted by all.

Just as some Palestinian organizations have taken an ethno-national cause–the cessation of the occupation of Arab Palestine–and turned it into a religious conflict, with violence activated by faith, Lehi justified violence in the nationalist Zionist agenda with a virulent reading of Jewish religious texts. Lehi was also responsible for the assassination of a British minister in Cairo and a UN mediator in Jerusalem.

Leaders of Irgun and Lehi went on to powerful positions in the State of Israel. Menachem Begin, the sixth Prime Minister of Israel, was head of the Irgun from 1943 to 1948. Seventh Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was among Lehi’s leaders. Although both Irgun and Lehi have been labeled terrorist organizations by the State of Israel, in 2006, Natanyahu and former Irgun members celebrated the King David Hotel bombing’s 60th anniversary, and Lehi members have been honored by the Israeli government as martyrs of the state.

Christian Terrorism

There have been many Christian terrorists of various stripes, but the two groups that come to mind are anti-abortion terrorists in the United States and Serbian troops and their assistors in Bosnia.

Anti-abortion terrorists in the U.S., angry with the constitutionally protected (though circumscribed) right to abortion, have waged a terrorist campaign for decades against abortion clinics and doctors, justified by their own religious beliefs. Since 1977 in the U.S. and Canada, there have been 8 murders, 17 attempted murders and hundreds of death threats, as well as hundreds of bombings, arsons and bomb threats.

The Bosnian War was to a large extent an ethnic war among the different ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia, but it took a decidedly religion-based terrorist slant in the massacres of Muslim Bosnians in Srebrenica, where about 8000 defenseless Bosnians were slaughtered by Serbians and other Christian “volunteers” from countries such as Russia and Greece.

Hindu Terrorism

The most widely publicized terrorist attacks in India have been those in Bombay by Muslim groups, but there has also been substantial violence by Hindus against Muslims, as in the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which almost 800 Muslim Indians (and 200 Hindu Indians) were killed, aided by local Hindu authorities and political leaders. (Hindu-on-Muslim violence was memorialized in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.) Some Muslim-targeted bombs have also been attributed by some to Hindu “Saffron terror.”

Although the Tamil Tigers primarily represented an ethnic struggle rather than a religious one–the Tamils were both ethnically and religiously distinctive from the majority Sinhalese–some of the attacks of the Tamil Tigers against Tamil-speaking Muslims could be said to be religious terrorism perpetrated by the Hindu Tamils. As far as I am aware, however, the attacks were not justified on religious grounds.

Jews in the Muslim World

One of the great ironies of the Middle East conflict is that Jews and Arabs are, in a deep sense, brothers–they both hail from the same region, Hebrew and Arabic are closely related languages and Judaism and Islam are faiths of the same Abrahamic tradition. As with Greeks and Turks (see post of 2008.10.28), or Chinese, Koreans and Japanese, it seems that genetic/cultural/historical kinship and familiarity help breed contempt. But looking back in history, we see that antipathy between Jews and Arabs, or between Jews and Muslims more broadly, is far from a historical constant–much like real brothers, the two peoples have often lived side by side, peacefully coexisting.

In fact, our trip through the Muslim world has been almost equally a trip through the Jewish world, because so often throughout history where there were Muslims, there were Jews, and where there were Jews, there were Muslims. The connections between the populations were and are that intimate (not least in Palestine, of course). Through the photographs below, a journey through the Jewish populations (some of them, alas, now historical) of the Muslim world, radiating from Israel to Central Asia and Morocco, to Europe.

Even the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, a part of the state of Palestine under any future negotiated scenario, has a Jewish presence–in this case a building acquired by a right wing Israeli group imperiously announces its Jewish Israeli ownership.

Hasidic man with child looks over Jerusalem and the Islamic shrine of the Dome of the Rock, located on the Temple Mount.

Ever since the days before Moses, Egypt has been home to a Jewish population. (Graham Hancock suggests in his book The Sign and the Seal that a Jewish community based in now Aswan at one point had possession of the Ark.) Below, a picture taken through the locked gate of the 19th century Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue of Alexandria. Fear of anti-Jewish terrorism has the synagogue under constant guard.

Syria was home to a large Jewish community for hundreds/thousands of years, and the old city of Damascus contains a large Jewish Quarter. All but a handful of the Damascus Jews have, sadly, emigrated to the U.S., Israel and elsewhere, leaving their impressive family homes to be renovated as hotels and restaurants, and in many cases artists’ studios, in what is fast becoming a trendy part of town. The first two images are from Bait Farhi, a wealthy Jewish home that is being converted into a hotel (a translation of the writing in the first: “a fruitful vine by a spring” from Genesis 49:22). The third image is the studio of Mustafa Ali, a Syrian sculptor. (See post of 2008.04.07.)


In Iran, many more of the local Jews–some 25,000–have stayed, apparently able to live their lives and practice their religion in peace, as the autocratic/theocratic government continues the historical practice within Islam of letting people of other Abrahamic faiths practice their religions relatively unmolested. (Many Iranian Jews have of course chosen to emigrate, most famously to Beverly Hills.) In this photo, a Jewish man stands outside the tomb of Esther and Mordecai in Hamedan, Iran.

Yet further east was the domain of the Bukharan Jews, who lived not only in Bukhara but in other Central Asian cities, developing a unique culture that was a significant part of the religio-ethnic mosaic of that region. They even had their own language, Bukhori, which was something like Farsi/Tajik written in Hebrew characters. The most visible landmark of the Bukharan Jews in Bukhara may be the cemetery (first image), but a walk around the old city in now Uzbekistan reveals many more remnants of the Jewish population, including a synagogue (second image) and old Jewish homes such as Akbar House, now a bed and breakfast (third and fourth images). (translation of the writing in the fourth: again, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring” from Genesis 49:22)



The Old Bukharan Synagogue, in the Bukharan Quarter, Jerusalem. Many Bukharan Jews have also settled in Queens in New York City.

Equally famous for its resident Jewish population, including thousands who remain today, is Morocco, half a world away. All of the great historical cities of Morocco have a large Jewish quarter, known as the mellah.

The narrow streets and tall buildings of the mellah in Marrakesh show how densely populated these ghettoes were.

Jewish life continues in some of the mellahs. Here, Al Azmeh Synagogue in the mellah of Marrakesh.

Large Jewish cemeteries show how much greater were the historical Jewish populations of these cities. The first two images are from Marrakesh, the rest from Fez. In the fourth and fifth images, a small synagogue/museum attached to the cemetery next to the Fez mullah. The Arab decor in the second and fifth images shows how local Jews were very much a part of the local culture (as well as the universal Jewish culture).




Another synagogue, in the Fez mellah

As in pretty much everywhere else they lived, Jews performed a significant role in the commerce of Morocco. Here, a Jewish funduq, or caravansaray/inn in old Fez.

Moroccan Jews were not only in the big cities. In the first image, a Jewish cemetery in the Skoura Oasis, near the town of Ouarzazate. In the second image, the ruins of a synagogue in the Jewish Kasbah of Amezrou, near Zagora in the Draa Valley further south (see post of 2009.01.11 on the multiethnic Draa Valley).

What was in African Morocco was of course also in Moorish Iberia, and there were Jewish populations in all of the cities of Spain. In the first two images, the alleys of the Juderia, or Jewish quarter, of Cordoba (the minaret/steeple of the Great Mosque visible in the first image). In the third and fourth images, an old synagogue in Cordoba (note again the “Arabesque” decoration). The fifth image is a statue of Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher–Jews were the third of the “three cultures,” along with the Muslims and Christians, that made Iberia during la Convivencia the great intellectual hotbed that it was (see post of 2009.02.04).




But of course la Convivencia was not to last, as the Catholic Monarchs completed the Reconquista and imposed their policies of ethno-religious cleansing. (See post of 2009.02.02.) In part because the Iberian Jews were so closely associated with the Moors and were suspected of being pro-Muslim conspirators, Ferdinand and Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree or Edict of Expulsion in 1492, exiling all Jews from Iberia. Many of the Sephardi Jews ended up in areas that were part of the (Muslim Turkish) Ottoman Empire, which sent boats to Spain to help transport them. (To the Ottomans, the skilled and wealthy Jews were highly desirable immigrants that the Spanish, blinded by their extreme sense of religious orthodoxy, were foolish to give up.)

The Old Synagogue in the old city of Sarajevo, now a museum of Jewish history in the region. Local Jews continued to use the Ladino language, a Jewish language derived from Spanish.

The Ashkenazi (or Eastern European) Synagogue in Sarajevo, built in the early twentieth century for the Eastern European Jews not of Spanish origin.

The Sofia Synagogue in now Bulgaria, one of the largest in the region, built to accommodate the descendants of the Sephardi Jews who settled in that part of the Ottoman Empire.

Strictly speaking it is not a part of the Muslim world, but a city known for its trade with the East of course had a local Jewish population that could make use of the significant Jewish mercantile networks throughout the East. A couple images from the “original” Jewish ghetto, in Venice.

Multicultural Israel

It feels a bit strange to say this, especially of a country that was founded on the basis of a common ethno-religious identity, but it could definitely be argued that Israel is the most multicultural country in the world. Given that Zionism as an idea is only a bit over 100 years old, and the state of Israel a bit over 50 years old, essentially everyone in Israel, other than the 20% or so minority that is Arab, is an immigrant or descended from relatively recent immigrants. Even if mostly Caucasian in race, and Jewish in religious culture, the citizens of the state of Israel come from all over–Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, the Maghrib, the United States and even India and Africa–taking advantage of the Law of Return, which allows automatic Israeli citizenship to anyone of Jewish descent. Israel is, in many senses, giving the idea of nation-building a whole new meaning–newly acquired territory, a new language (modern Hebrew having been developed from an ancient liturgical language not in vernacular use), a new national identity.

It would be fascinating to visit different ethnic communities in Israel, and to learn how they were integrated and to what extent they are assimilated, into Israeli society. Israel must benefit from such a wide range of programs, both public and private, to acculturate newly arrived immigrants into Israeli society. From our brief visit, some pictures showing the pluralism of Israel:

The Old Bukharan Synagogue, in the Bukharan Quarter, Jerusalem. Bukharan Jews include not only those Jews from the city of Bukhara itself, in now Uzbekistan (see post of 6.11), but Jews from other parts of the Near East, such as Iraq and Iran.

Russian delicatessen, Allenby Street, Tel Aviv. The greatest current immigration into Israel is from Russia, and evidence of this Russian population is easy to find in Tel Aviv, with Cyrillic advertising everything from restaurants to bookstores. We were told by some sources, admittedly Palestinian-leaning in political orientation, that many of these newest immigrants are not Jewish at all, and that Israel was overlooking the faulty Jewish credentials on the part of some immigrants (who are presumably economically motivated), figuring that it was good enough for them to be willing to say they are Jews and to raise their children as Jews in order to expand the future Jewish population of Israel as a bulwark against the growing Arab populations of Israel and Palestine.

Francophone Yeshiva, Jerusalem. Many Israeli Jews claim American and Western European origin. We were repeatedly told that Americans in particular are among the most vehement Zionists and the most aggressive “settlers” (see post of 10.21).

Ethiopian Restaurant, Jerusalem. We had heard about the Ethiopian Falasha Jews and their mass emigration to Israel when we were in Ethiopia in 2005, but were surprised to see so many people of Ethiopian descent in Israel. If anyone can offer me an explanation, please do!

Unfortunately, we did not have time to track down the Cochin Jews (see post of 3.2). Next time!

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Founded by St. Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, during her fourth century pilgrimage to uncover the Christian holy places, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre incorporates many of the places associated with Jesus’s crucifixion and death (the last four Stations of the Cross, to be specific). Having been destroyed by conflict and fire, and continuously rebuilt and expanded, it is a historical mishmash comparable, among the sites we have visited, only to the Sri Meenakshi Temple of Madurai in South India (see post of 3.19)–not remotely an architectural masterpiece of aesthetic harmony but an awe-inspiring complex of medieval and modern chapels and shrines, pulsing with pilgrims and seething with spirituality. This is no museum, as the great cathedrals of Europe sometimes feel, but a place where the most sacred, whether true or false, can be literally touched and felt.

Pilgrim outside of the “edicule,” the shrine surrounding Christ’s tomb, lighting and extinguishing candles to take home

Catholic chapel on Golgotha, or Calvary, the location of the crucifixion

Every stone, even every crack in every stone, seems to have a story, going as far back as Adam, the first man. The rock of Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, is exposed, not only to be seen but touched. Dark stairs lead to the place that St. Helena is said to have discovered the True Cross, the walls leading the site etched with countless crosses, left by medieval pilgrims with apparently ample time. All around are remnants of Crusader churches and columns, mosaics and icons, old and new, and on the wall the sword of the Crusader Godfrey of Bouillon. Ambulatories open into chapels with Roman, Greek and Armenian script. The floor is a mosaic of paving stones, mismatched and laid in various eras, their relative blackness suggesting their age.

Crosses etched into walls in medieval times

Dome above the Greek Orthodox Catholicon

An Italian pilgrim crosses himself. Greeks await service in the Greek Orthodox Catholicon. A Filipino group recites the Lord’s Prayer in English after having carried a wooden cross along the length of the Via Dolorosa. Dozens of pilgrims wait in line for their few seconds inside the Tomb of Christ. Mother Teresa nuns light candles on the Golgotha shrine. Indian and African Christians wipe the Stone of Unction with scarves, as if to absorb residual blood, the power of Christ. Polish pilgrims scrape the mortar from between the church’s bricks, to take back home a piece of the sacred building. All around are priests in myriad vestments–Coptic monks in their hoods, Orthodox priests in their caps, Franciscans in their frocks–walking around with keys, crosses and artifacts for services.

In the basement, an Ethiopian Orthodox chapel

African Christian at the Stone of Unction, on which the body of Christ is said to have been lain after his crucifixion

Central dome, with top of the “edicule,” the shrine surrounding Christ’s tomb, rising at bottom

The Wall

In late 1947, the United Nations called for the partition of what was then known as Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, and in 1948 the state of Israel was born, all after some fifty years of Jewish agitation for a national homeland (including a series of anti-British and anti-Arab Jewish terrorist attacks in the 1930s and 1940s). In 1967, Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War over its Arab neighbors led to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two territories that were intended to form the bulk of the Arab Palestinian state, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights (see post of 5.3), a situation that is not only unstable in itself, but contributes more than any other single dispute to global instability, to this day.

Over the years, Israel has maintained various levels of command over the occupied Palestinian Territories. All entries to the West Bank are controlled by Israel, meaning that one must pass through Israeli immigration and customs in order to enter or leave the Palestinian Territories. As Israeli authorities have complete say over who gets in and out, one Brit teaching in the West Bank told us that he was cautious about voicing political opinions for fear that the Israelis would refuse him entry. An American professor that we met told us that the Israelis refuse exit to a Palestinian human rights activist friend of his, even to attend academic conferences. Additionally, there are numerous Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank, and one must go through identification and security checks even to move between many Palestinian towns. While, at least day-to-day, Israeli forces are not visibly active in most Palestinian areas, and the West Bank cities that we visited seemed peaceful, economically active and at least superficially free, Israeli forces are never far away, often surveying areas from armed hilltop posts.

Huwwara checkpoint, through which all who wish to exit Nablus southward for other parts of the West Bank must pass. No doubt, the security checkpoints are also intended to serve as reminders to the Palestinians that the Israelis are in control–there are always long lines here and the experience and conditions left us feeling a bit more cattle than human. One wonders what Arab and Israeli parents tell their children about each other and the state of their lands.

“Occupation” is to some extent not quite the right word, as Israel has outright annexed certain portions of Palestinian land, particularly in and around the city of Jerusalem. Some of this land may be returned to an Arab Palestinian state once one is established (and are essential bargaining chips in the negotiations), but other areas, on which Israelis have built “settlements” (somewhat akin to colonies), are likely to remain a part of Israel. Even if it is implausible that Zionism’s ultimate goal is to expand Israel indefinitely (including up to Iran, as one otherwise reasonable Iranian told us), it is hard to dispute that Israel has, for whatever reason, been largely in a land-acquisitive mode since its creation.

Israeli groups have, sometimes through duplicitous means, acquired property in the Christian, Muslim and Armenian Quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, seeking to expand the Jewish footprint in the Old City, which most would argue belongs in the future Arab Palestinian state. This building, in the heart of the Muslim Quarter, imperiously announces its Israeli ownership.

An Israeli settlement near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. We were repeatedly told that many of the most aggressive and radical Israeli settlers are American.

Most controversially of all, since 2002, Israel has been constructing a wall cordoning off much of the West Bank, the real focus of this post. Passage remains possible (for some) through checkpoints, but the wall has of course had the effect of destroying the Palestinian neighborhoods through which it passes. The wall has had the desired impact of reducing active Palestinian-Israeli hostility, but one wonders at what cost. Driving along the wall, we saw entire neighborhoods that had been essentially shut down and abandoned because of the wall. The wall cuts off family members who live across town or even down the street, people from their jobs and farmers from their fields, with essentially all of the negatives effects falling to the Palestinian Arabs, through whose land the wall cuts. The wall is but one of many barriers created on Palestinian land, including “bypass” highways connecting Israeli settlements, which are not allowed to be used by Palestinians (Israeli license plates have small Israeli flags, making for quick identification), and some observers see the wall (and its meandering “routing”) as one more step in a systematic effort by Israel to expand its boundaries into Palestinian land.

Snaking across the hills outside of the city of Jerusalem

To someone with Christian sympathies, it is especially heartbreaking to see the walls around the (Arab Christian) West Bank city of Bethlehem. To me, it is one of the wonders of the conflict that so many western Christians are fervent promoters of the state of Israel, when arguably it is the Christian Palestinians, such as those in Bethlehem, for whom they should feel more kindred sympathy.

The walls near Bethlehem have also become the premier “gallery” for art on the wall, created by Palestinians and sympathetic Europeans, reminiscent of graffiti on the former Berlin Wall.

One piece of graffiti near the “entrance” to Bethlehem said “Welcome to the Ghetto.” Of course, the word “ghetto” comes from medieval Venice, where Jews were required to live in a small neighborhood near the foundry (“ghetto” in Italian). Other graffiti also point in one way or another to the irony that Jewish Israelis are now the ones enforcing ghettos.

“Made in USA.” Palestinians often cite the economic support that the U.S. provides to Israel in connection with the high cost of constructing the wall. It is hard to underestimate the resentment that Muslims around the world have not only against Israel, for its existence and its occupation of Palestinian territory, but against the U.S., for its support of Israel. Even in places where love of the U.S. and all things American seems deeply ingrained, many Muslims complain bitterly of American policy on Israel and Palestine.

A Palestinian Guernica