The first time I set foot in Rome was on a stopover at the airport. I was on the way to my first trip to Israel with a group of like-minded Australasian teenagers. It was in the period after Iraq had invaded Kuwait but before the first Gulf War kicked off. As we took off for Tel Aviv, we noted that there were two small army tanks on the tarmac, keeping guard.
After several fantastic weeks in Israel, and a few days before the scud missiles hit, I left and spent time in Europe with some of the other teenagers. My last stop before returning home was Rome. We were told to hide any sign of the fact that we were a Jewish group, or that we had just been in Israel. The tacky T-shirts and tchotchkes we had acquired stayed in the backpacks. I remember the anti-Israel graffiti, the distress in knowing that the country I had just toured and realised a deep connection to was being attacked in a conflict that seemed to have nothing to do with it, and the unease that somehow I was not as safe and welcome as I should be. I was vaguely aware that there was some recent history of Palestinian terrorism in Rome.
This last week I learned some more about that history. The Italian daily Il Riformista has just published a front-page story revealing that Italian authorities had clear advance intelligence about one such attack orchestrated by the group, Abu Nidal. On the festival of Shemini Atzeret in 1982, several gunmen threw hand grenades and fired sub-machine guns at worshippers leaving Rome’s Great Synagogue, killing two-year-old Stefano Tache and wounding 34 others. Not only did the authorities not stop it, but they reduced security around the synagogue; the usual police vehicle parked outside was absent. This shocking news has not been reported, as far as I can see, in any international media outside of Italy and Israel.
The investigation appears to confirm what was first alleged by former Italian prime minister Francesco Cossiga in 2008, when he told an Israeli newspaper that Italy had ‘sold out its Jews’ and signed a deal that allowed certain Palestinian terror groups a ‘free hand’ to operate against Jewish and Israeli targets in Italy in exchange for not attacking other Italians. At the time, the accusations were so abhorrent as to seem implausible and were dismissed.
An Italian parliamentary committee will now investigate further.
Appeasement and betrayal is nothing new for Jews, of course, but it is hard to imagine a more odious calculus than that inherent in a state actively sacrificing some of its citizens (the Jewish ones) to terrorism in exchange for protecting other citizens from it.
Palestinian terrorist attacks occurred on and above European soil with shocking frequency in the 1970s and 1980s which brought international attention and revolutionary romance to the Palestinian plight; usually, but not always, against Jewish and Israeli targets. The Munich Olympics attack of 1972 is arguably the most notorious, but there were many others. In 1973, 34 were killed in an attack on Rome’s airport. A 1974 TWA flight from Tel Aviv exploded over the Ionian Sea, killing all 79 passengers. There were other attacks on synagogues, including Paris in 1980 with four dead, and Antwerp and Vienna in 1981 with, respectively, three and two dead. In 1985. twin attacks on the El Al counter at the Rome airport and passengers queuing for a flight to Tel Aviv at the Vienna airport killed 19. That’s just a few examples.
The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 meant that Palestinian terrorist attacks on the continent largely ceased, but during the second intifada of the early 2000s they took on a renewed fervour in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. There continue to be bursts of terrorism. Right now, there is a spate of shooting and stabbing attacks in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as growing settler violence against Palestinians.
Of course, there are many in the West who justify Palestinian violence against Israelis and do not consider it terrorism. They believe the absurd canard that, thanks to the imprimatur of UNGA resolution 37/43, international law countenances Palestinians resisting occupation by all available means, so that blowing up pizzerias, nightclubs, buses, and stabbing sleeping children in their beds is ‘legitimate resistance’.
As if this misrepresentation of international law isn’t pernicious enough, it is now being insidiously applied to justify attacks on Jewish people and institutions in the West. There is an increasing trend to consider any Zionist person or institution, anywhere, a legitimate target for physical attack by anyone who claims to support ‘Palestinian resistance’. After all, if you’ve been inculcated to believe that Zionism is equivalent to the worst atrocities of the last century, such as Nazism and apartheid – rather than simply the liberation movement of an historically persecuted people – isn’t that what a good anti-racist would do?
In 2019, a machete-wielding man attacked Jews celebrating Chanukah at the home of a Rabbi in Monsey, New York, killing one. Before the attack, he had searched online for, among other things, ‘Zionist temples’ in his area.
During May’s war between Israel and Hamas this year, identifiably Jewish people were attacked by pro-Palestinian protestors in England and the United States.
Also during that war, a Union organizer led crowds up Auckland’s main CBD street chanting: ‘Intifada, Intifada, globalise the Intifada!’ through a megaphone, with the crowd repeating the chant. This can only be interpreted as a call to import and incite violence under the guise of Palestinian resistance. ‘Globalise the intifada’ has now become a rallying cry in the West.
Perhaps most chilling is the recent speech at a conference of American Muslims by Zahra Billoo an executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which claims to be America’s largest Muslim civil rights organsiation. Billoo exhorted the audience to treat the ‘polite Zionists’, like the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations, Hillel, and ‘Zionist synagogues’ as enemies, stating that they are part of a well-funded conspiracy to propagate Islamophobia and inflict harm, such as police brutality, on Americans.
Ironically, this rhetoric makes the case very strongly for a Jewish state, but the danger of it cannot be overstated. If Zionist people or places everywhere are considered fair game, that means the vast majority of Jews and Jewish institutions are vulnerable to attack from fellow citizens, which is its own kind of Faustian bargain no state should tolerate.
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