Tue 28 May 2024 4:16 pm - Jerusalem Time

Israelis celebrate Rafah massacre as Jewish holiday bonfire

Lag BaOmer bonfires celebrate spiritual light. This year, Israelis used the occasion to mock 45 Palestinian men, women and children killed in an attack on a Gaza camp


By Nadav Rapaport 

Soon after an Israeli air strike slammed into a camp in southern Gaza’s Rafah on Sunday night, tearing through the bodies of dozens of Palestinian men, women and children, and igniting a ferocious blaze, video footage of the aftermath drew horror and condemnation worldwide.

In Israel, however, prominent figures and members of the public viewed the massacre and the fire as the perfect way to celebrate a religious holiday.

Sunday was Lag BaOmer, a Jewish holiday where people across Israel light bonfires as a representation of spiritual light brought by Shimon bar Yochai, a revered second-century rabbi.

Usually, the day’s most prominent celebration is found on Mount Meron at Shimon bar Yochai’s tomb, where a large bonfire is lit and tens of thousands of worshippers gather in one of the largest mass events in the Jewish world.

But this weekend, security concerns restricted the attendance to just 30 people, prompting Yinon Magal, a senior journalist at Israel’s Channel 14, to post images of the Gaza massacre with the caption: "The main lighting of the year in Rafah." He later removed the post on X.

Another journalist, Naveh Dromi at i24, reposted a video of the blaze under the caption "Happy Holiday". That post was also later removed.

Yoav Eliasi, a far-right rapper and activist also known by his stage name "The Shadow", posted videos of the Rafah fire on Telegram that also presented the incident as a Lag BaOmer bonfire.

On Sunday night and Monday morning, Israeli social media was abuzz, sharing jokes and memes mocking the Rafah massacre.

One of the most shocking images from Rafah on Sunday night was a man holding up the body of a child that had no head. A member of a popular right-wing Israeli Telegram group shared a photo of the man holding the dead child mocked up as an advert selling chicken. “Fresh chicken 1 shekel a kilo,” it said.

Many drew comparisons with Lag BaOmer bonfires. "The Nazis burned themselves," one Israeli posted on X. "Lag BaOmer - the Rafah version" wrote another while sharing footage of the incident, which later was reposted by Dromi. 

At least 45 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli strike on the area of Rafah that Israel had designated as “safe” and told displaced people to settle in. On Friday, the International Court of Justice had ordered Israel to stop its offensive on Rafah.

The Israeli army said the strike was “precise” and targeted two senior Hamas officials. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said he held the United States responsible for supplying Israel with weaponry and financial assistance.

Condemnation has flooded in from European and Arab capitals. French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged” by the attack. "These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians," he said, adding that there needs to be an immediate ceasefire. 

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since October by Israel's war on Gaza, the vast majority of them women and children.


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Israelis celebrate Rafah massacre as Jewish holiday bonfire