JEBALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Israeli missile strike on Thursday killed two Palestinian teenagers who were playing with a tube and a gasoline-filled bottle in a game imitating militants firing rockets at Israel, relatives said. The deaths brought to 84 the number of Palestinians killed since Israel began its offensive into northern Gaza on Sept. 29 after a rocket attack killed two Israeli children, according to a count by The Associated Press. More than half those killed were militants. Sixteen of the civilians were age 16 and under. Throughout the raid, which Israel launched to prevent militants from firing homemade Qassam rockets at Israeli towns, Palestinian children have emulated the violence in a series of games, using pieces of wood to represent guns in games of "firefight" and holding simulated funerals. In recent days, militants have appealed to parents in local radio broadcasts to keep children off the streets.Children at play holding fake funerals.
... This would be sadder if it wasn't also so scary. Disturbing enough on its own, yes, but what makes it scary is that by some accounts, the region is approximately six months away from quite possibly launching a global religious war:
Our eschatological heifer story begins on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where tens of millions of Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe the central events of each tradition's Last Days will play out. ...Read the whole article for more context, but the short version is that a Texas fundamentalist's red calf breeding program (yes, I know, it sounds like a bad sitcom premise; no, this isn't a sitcom) produced a candidate in March 2002 after an abortive attempt some years before. This one seems to meet all the Biblical red-calf requirements, except for the little detail that it has to be three years old to be sacrificed. Bottom line: In March 2005, the Middle East may completely explode.
"What happens at that one spot, more than anywhere else, quickens expectations of the End in three religions. And at that spot, the danger of provoking catastrophe is greatest," writes Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg in The End of Days, his 2000 book about the apocalyptic struggle over the Temple Mount.
So how does the calf recently born in Israel figure into things? As Gorenberg explains, the ashes of a flawless red heifer — an extremely rare creature — were required by the ancient Hebrews to purify worshipers who went into the Temple to pray. In modern times, rabbinical law forbids Jews from setting foot on the Temple Mount, thus violating the site where the Holy of Holies dwelled, until and unless they are ritually purified. ...
"These kinds of circumstances are exactly what people are waiting for," says Richard Landes, a Boston University history professor and director of its Center for Millenial Studies. "We could be starting a war. If this is a real red heifer, and strict Orthodox rabbis have declared her worthy of sacrifice, then a lot of Jews in Israel will take that as a sign that a new phase of history is about to begin. The Muslims are ready for jihad anyway, so if you have Jews up there doing sacrifices, talk about a red flag in front of a charging bull."
I couldn't find any more recent information on the subject than the birth announcements, though, and a lot is riding on whether the calf remains cleared for the sacrifice by then; can anyone point me toward further reading?
Update: This article's footnote says the calf was later disqualified. Whew. I guess the Middle East has some more years of quagmire left to go before descending into war. (A few more years of young kids playing at funerals. Somehow, this is not quite a wholehearted relief.)