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Israel-Palestine war: Dozens of Israeli rabbis endorse bombing hospitals if 'enemies' present

The letter sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also signed by several prominent right-wing rabbis
Several of the rabbis who signed the letter supported Netanyahu's right-wing coalition government last year (AFP)

Dozens of Israeli rabbis have signed a letter addressed to Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli defence officials, stating that there is no prohibition in halakha, or Jewish religious law, to bomb hospitals where enemies are using the civilian population as human shields, if prior warning to evacuate is given.

"We strengthen with all our hearts the hands of the soldiers and ministers to fight bravely with courage and wisdom the war of God and to win," the letter said in Hebrew, according to Israel's Channel 14.

"From the great break and the terrible pain, we will rise and be strengthened with God's help," the rabbis wrote. "The nation of Israel will rise up bravely to strike at its enemies, as David, the King of Israel said, 'I will pursue my enemies and destroy them, and I will not return until they are finished'."

Israel has relentlessly bombed the besieged Gaza Strip since 7 October, after Palestinian fighters launched an unprecedented attack in southern Israel during which 1,400 were killed and at least 220 people were taken hostage.

At least 8,805 people in Gaza have been killed since the war broke out, including 3,650 children and 2,252 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 

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The rabbis also said that prior warning needed to be given to the population and that responsibility for civilian deaths lay "with the murderers who are hiding behind them", according to Israel's Channel 14.

A copy of the letter was shared on the official Telegram account of Amit Segal, a right-wing Israeli journalist, on 30 October.

Its publication came days after Israeli spokesman Daniel Hagari claimed at a news conference that Hamas had “turned hospitals into command and control centres and hideouts for Hamas terrorists and commanders”.

On Friday, Hamas political official, Ezzat El-Reshiq, denied allegations that the group was using al-Shifa hospital as a shield for its underground military infrastructure, according to Al Jazeera English. 

Several co-signatories of the letter are prominent right-wing rabbis with a long history of questionable views.

Who are some of the rabbis?

One of the more prominent signatories of the letter is Dov Lior, a right-wing rabbi and the spiritual leader for the entire far-right Religious Zionism coalition, which includes Religious Zionism, Jewish Power and Noam. He's also the spiritual guide and ally of far-right politician, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Lior has consistently supported the construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian territories and does not recognise the right of Palestinians to own land.

From 1987 to 2014, Lior was the rabbi of the illegal Israeli settlement, Kiryat Arba, within the occupied city of Hebron.

In 1994, one of his disciples, Baruch Goldstein, infamously shot and murdered 29 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Lior described Goldstein afterwards as “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust”.

In 2011, Lior also expressed written support for the book, The King’s Torah, a racist and genocidal book written by rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, which endorsed the killing of non-Jewish babies who would supposedly pose a risk to Jews.

In July 2014, during a previous Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, Lior issued a “psak halacha” (a religious ruling), permitting the destruction of the entire Gaza Strip, and relieving Israeli soldiers from the obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. He also said blocking supplies or electricity, as is currently being done by Israel in Gaza, is permitted.  

"It's okay to kill innocent civilians and destroy Gaza," he said.

The Israeli paper Haaretz ran an article in 2013 saying, "If Rabbi Dov Lior were Muslim, Israel would probably have assassinated him".

Rabbi Zvi Yisrael Tau

Zvi Yisrael Tau, 86, is the head of the influential Har Hamor Yeshiva in Jerusalem as well as the spiritual leader of the anti-LGBTQ Noam political party. 

While Tau has said in the past that Palestinians have deep "historical" roots, he has also said that the Philistines, the ancient name of the Palestinians, "were not meant to be, there is no place for them from the outset", according to an article published by the Shalom Hartman Institute - a Jewish research and education institute based in Jerusalem. 

On the question of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel, Tau has also said that Israel’s military battles are "wars for the establishment of our kingdom, for establishing our might and national courage", according to the institute.  

Tau was embroiled in controversy last year when several women came forward claiming he had sexually assaulted them, according to the Times of Israel. He has also described the LGBTQ+ community as a "crime against humanity", according to Haaretz.

Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh

Born in the United States in 1944, Yitzhak Ginsburgh made a name in Israel as a prominent authority in Jewish Torah and mysticism.

In 1994, he wrote a pamphlet praising Dov Lior's disciple, Baruch Goldstein, the American doctor who killed 29 Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan inside Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque as they were performing the dawn prayer.

Goldstein was part of the notorious Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach party, which has been outlawed in Israel and designated as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department.

Kahane, who was killed by a gunman in New York in 1990, preached that only Jews should be able to live freely in Israel and encouraged violence against the country's critics.

Ginsburgh also endorsed and co-authored some chapters of The King’s Torah, with Yitzhak Shapira, a right-wing settler and rabbi. The book purports to outline the “legal contexts” in which Jews can kill non-Jews.

In one part, the book says killing non-Jewish babies is permitted, “if there is a good chance they will grow up to be like their evil parents”, the Times of Israel has reported.

The controversial rabbi sparked criticism in 2019 when Israel's former education minister, Rafi Peretz, and Bezalel Smotrich, now Israel's finance minister, agreed to speak at an award ceremony celebrating the right-wing rabbi.

Rabbi Meir Mazuz

Known for his controversial views, Meir Mazuz is the senior Israeli Sephardi Haredi rabbinic figure, head of the Tunisian Jewish community, and spiritual leader of the Shas Party. He recently praised Baruch Goldstein during a Shabbat lecture as someone who "prevented a very great danger" by massacring 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, The Jersualem Post said, quoting Israeli news outlet, Walla.

Referring to the Palestinian worshippers killed at the time, Mazuz said that the worshipers "hid axes, guns, knives under the prayer rugs... [but] thanks to this Jew, the danger was avoided".

In the past, Mazuz has also faced criticism for comments he made stating Jews from the former Soviet Union and Reform Jews were nonbelievers who were destroying Judaism. In the past, he has also blamed pride parades for the coronavirus outbreak, according to The Jerusalem Post

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