The Mosque is now a Museum for Jewish Art


The first thing I saw when we arrived at the inn in Safed was a picture of Netanyahu on the wall. I had found the inn through my Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Israel and the Occupied Territories. The inn was across the street from a yeshiva and above a quaint restaurant in the old city of Safed, an Israeli meca for handmade arts and crafts and center for Jewish kabbalah (mysticism). Careful to say “shalom” and “toe-da” (thank you), rather than “marhaba” and “shukran”, I explained to the innkeeper that we are decedents famous 14th century Jewish scholar and mystic, Joseph Karo, who is synagogue and buried site is in Safed. The innkeeper was immediately warm and welcoming and insisted that we use their Hebrew, rather than English, names.

After the innkeeper showed us to our room and left us to settle in, Isabella pointed out to Elijah and I a picture on the wall in the hallway. Amid images of Jewish sages and life in Eastern Europe there a enlarged 20×30 inch photograph of an Israeli fighter jet (recognizable from the stars of david on the plane’s wings) flying over a mosque. The three of us stopped dead in our tracks and tried to comprehend that such virulent hatred could exist alongside the art and rich Jewish mystical history that characterizes Safed. I was glad that our kufeyyiahs in the truck of our car were hidden under other clothing.

In the morning we set out to explore Safed. The stone streets were narrow and lined with old houses and buildings from ancient Safed were current Safed residents now live and run shops. We walked first through the old Jewish quarter, recognizable by stars of David carved into the stones above the doors. The town originally had just a small Jewish quarter. But, now is entirely Jewish, divided into Ashkenazi, Sephardic and other Jewish sections. As we walked through the town, the old houses and buildings gave way to a modern open square. In the center was a monument titled, “Statue of ‘Davidka’ Commemorating the Weapons used to Liberate the City in 1948.” On it read the following:

Arabs lived side by side with Jews in the city of Safed. The Jewish, constituting 10% of the city’s population, were concentrated in the Jewish quarter in Southwest Safed. Upon British withdrawal from Safed Palmach’s 3th battalion, joined by field corps and IZL combatants, assumed defensive positions in the Jewish quarter…… The homemade mortar Davidka was placed in front of the Holy Ari synagogue and from there it shelled the area……Operation Yiftach to liberate the Upper and Eastern Galilee began on April 28……On May 28, 1948 the conquest of Safed was completed.

Today Safed is 100% Jewish. Many of the formerly Palestinian homes now have Israeli flags adorning them. The old Muslim section is still made up of ancient houses and buildings, but they are filled with Jewish families, quaint kosher café’s and Jewish art galleries (out of the way, stand the ruins of other Palestinian homes that were not chosen for current Jewish habitation –these are littered with trash and defiled by Hebrew graffiti). The historic mosque now functions as a museum for Jewish art that rivals art galleries throughout the world. I asked the curator of the gallery if any Palestinians still live in Safed. She answered, no, but told me that artists (all Jewish) showing their work in the museum must prove that their art studio located in the Safed.

We walked down the hill through the enormous Jewish cemetery dating back to the 14th century. We prayed at the tomb of our famous and influential Jewish ancestor. Joseph Karo’s major works, the Beit Yoseph and Shulhan rukh, are considered by many to be the ultimate authority on halacha (Jewish law). Palestinians are still waiting to be granted the right under international law (UN Resolution 194) to return to the cities, towns, and villages that they were driven out of in 1948. I do not need to be an authority on Jewish, Israeli, international, or any other official law to that the ethnic cleansings of towns like Safed and continuous denial of Palestinian right of return is immoral and unjust.

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