Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Elia Leibowitz: Naboth of Bil’in

22 April 2009

By Elia Leibowitz, Haaretz – 22 Apr 2009

On Friday evening, television news viewers witnessed the ultimate reality show – the murder of a human being on camera. The site of the killing was next to the West Bank village of Bil’in, 80 kilometers south of the ancient city of Jezreel, where a murder was committed under similar circumstances some 2,800 years ago. Bil’in is located 10 kilometers south of the village of Qibya, itself a notorious locale in Israel’s history for the 1953 IDF raid in which 69 Palestinian civilians, some of them children, were killed by troops commanded by a young Ariel Sharon.

The victim of the Bil’in murder was Bassem Abu Rahme, 31. The victim 2,800 years ago was a man known as Naboth, who met his death by being stoned by local residents. Abu Rahme was killed by a direct strike from a tear gas canister.

The person responsible for Naboth’s murder was the ruler of Israel at the time – King Ahab, son of Omri, and his wife Jezebel daughter of Ithobaal of Tyre. The person responsible for Abu Rahme’s death are the leaders of today’s government: the 30 ministers of the State of Israel. The backgrounds to both acts of murder are strikingly similar in that in both cases, the victim possessed a contested plot of land. In the ancient incident it was a vineyard, its ownership known to all. In the current case the question of formal ownership of the land is in question, but then, as now, there is no doubt that both victims were killed over an inheritance bequeathed to them by their forefathers.

In both cases the ruler coveted the victim’s land. Ahab wanted to convert the plot into a vegetable garden. The current rulers want to disconnect the land of the victim’s community by erecting a wall between the village and its surrounding fields, and convert their inheritances into vegetable gardens for Jewish settlers in the area. In both cases the victims refused to cooperate and willingly accede to their rulers’ wishes. In both cases the victims had no chance from the start, and the all-powerful ruler quashed their opposition with ease. In both instances the leader acted through the country’s legal system, and in both the murders were carried out legally.

Naboth the Jezreelite was executed according to the law of the land and the decree of city elders, in a killing committed according to accepted procedures and ethical codes. But there was one man, Elijah, who, despite the legal sanction of the act, expressed his misgivings. This was a man known for the prophecies and miracles he had performed throughout his life. His acts were so wondrous that even the Angel of Death couldn’t touch him, and he finished his life lifted to heaven in a chariot of fire.

But the prophet’s place in Israel’s lore was perhaps secured by words he hurled at Ahab the moment he heard of Naboth’s untimely death. Approaching the king while the latter was luxuriating in his new garden, Elijah looked him straight in the eye and said, “Have you murdered and also taken possession?”

In accordance with Judaism’s concept of the “decline of the generations” – the inferiority of contemporary spirituality in relation to that of the past – those of us alive today have no prophets to guide us, no one to confront our leaders and remind them to act in line with God’s will.

But as the People of the Book we still possess the writings of our forefathers, and if it was not murder that was committed on Friday in Bil’in, it certainly was manslaughter. We may learn from those same forefathers, from whom it’s fitting that we learn, and adopt their words in asking our leaders: “Have you murdered and also taken possession?”

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