Police statistics were showing a decline in the incidence of violence associated with Jerusalem until a Palestinian activist took upon himself a motorcycle shooting of Yehuda Glick.
The immediate response was celebrations in Arab sections of Jerusalem, followed by an uptick of violence when the police and their colleagues in other security units required the better part of two hours to identify the shooter, and another six hours to surround his house, demand his surrender, and then end his life. Police report that the Palestinian opened fire on them.
Yehuda Glick and his movement to allow Jews to pray on the Tample Mount and perhaps start construction of the Third Temple (with or without doing away with al Aqsa Mosque) is so marginal to things Israelis that I did not recognize his name when hearing that a Temple Mount activist had been shot.
That may say as much about me as about Glick. Yet I've been paying attention to what has been happening in Jerusalem for the better part of 40 years, and I carry the exalted title of Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Modest Israelis, and there are a few of us, refer to the Hebrew University as the Harvard of the Middle East. Immodest Israelis, likely to be more numerous, refer to Harvard as the Hebrew University of Eastern Massachusetts.
My own reputation has also suffered in recent days from an admission that I was unfamiliar with one of the expressions coming out of the White House, "chickenshit." Let me take this opportunity to thank several of you for a number of suggestions about what seems to be a multi-purpose word on the borders of the scatological. I'll add it to my vocabulary, along with the multiple and contrary meanings suggested, and try to use it only when appropriate.
Looking behind this inexcusable detour to my reputation, the shooting of Glick and its aftermath has produced an uptick in excitement about what some call the most sensitive few acres in the world.
At the least, it's an acreage capable of provoking emotion and action, and requiring some intelligence to keep those items below the level of the bloodshed associated with the Crusades. (The Crusades of historic importance were more likely triggered by concerns for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a short walk from the Temple Mount, and not currently in the headlines.)
Already this uptick has been associated with expressions meant to be world class by several individuals who aspire to the greatest stage, but are not doing well. Mahmoud Abbas got some headlines by demanding a closure of the Temple Mount/al Aqsa to Jews, calling on the whole Arab nation to rise up against us infidels, and reminding us of his claim that the Jews never had a Temple or anything else of importance in Jerusalem.
That bit of dangerous bombast has not deterred the White House-State Department combine from granting Abbas audiences in recent and coming days. That compares to the denial of access to Moshe Ya'alon, due apparently to his less inflammatory, but perhaps impolitic and arguably accurate description of John Kerry as obsessive and messianic.
The Palestinian claim that we've never been here--against the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and enough findings to provide work for generations of archaeologists and other scholars--contributes as much as anything to the resistance of secular Israelis in the face of demands for territorial concessions.
And if the Palestinian leadership thinks they can progress without us, they have a lot more to learn.
We can hope that all this will fizzle, due more to Israeli authorities' combination of force and moderation than the efforts of Temple Mount activists, the White House, State Department, United Nations, and other issuers of dire warnings and condemnations.
Aside from the quick identification and liquidation of the perpetrator, Israeli authorities assigned thousands of police and other security personnel to sensitive sites in and around Jerusalem, increased the incidence of high-tech balloons with cameras over the Old City, Isaweea, and other trouble spots, and took the rare action of closing the Temple Mount/al Aqsa to Muslims as well as all others.
After a meeting between senior Jewish and Muslim religious personnel, authorities decided to open the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa it for Friday prayers, but--as in numerous instances of expected unrest--with access limited to Muslim men over the age of 50 and Muslim women regardless of age.
The initial closing brought forth another stream of invective from Abbas and his colleagues, as well as criticism from the US State Department.
Fatah called for a "Day of Rage" in response to the death of the man who tried to kill Glick..
The Government of Sweden issued a formal recognition of the State of Palestine, which it viewed as the best way to advance justice and peace.
Israel's Foreign Minister responded by recalling the Ambassador to Sweden for consultations, and
"It is too bad that the government of Sweden has chosen to adopt the measure that does a lot of damage and has no benefits. Sweden must understand that relations in the Middle East are much more complicated than self-assembly furniture at Ikea,"The UN Security Council along with other UN bodies (UNESCO and UNHRC) issued more condemnations of Israel's defense of itself in Gaza, and the plan to build a thousand or so housing units in Jerusalem.
Note that the housing announcement will, at most, begin a process of hearings, planning, and further decisions that will provide years of opportunity for considering local, national, and international concerns before the onset of construction.
Meanwhile, nothing like an international condemnation has come in response to Egypt's immediate destruction of about the same number of housing units alongside the border of Gaza, after giving residents minutes or at the most hours to vacate, with who knows what provisions for their relocation.
The brouhaha of recent days may also have prompted one of my Internet friends to reiterate his intense opposition to settlement as the prime threat against the morals and conception of democracy he acquired in American Jewish youth movements during the 1940s and 1950s. His most recent note indicates that Israel would have been better off without the 1967 war, that settlement is a clear violation of international law, and an insistence that Bibi and Naftali Bennett are the major affronts to Jewish morality.
Among my professional failures is my inability, despite repeated efforts, to convince this friend that he cannot claim the high ground of democracy while refusing to recognize the legitimacy of a government selected by the voters.
While I recognize the value of avoiding offense to neighbors by settling Jews on the land they consider their own, I'm not so sure about violations of international law. Involved here is a contrary view, i.e., that the land at question is not the territory of one country occupied by another as the result of warfare, but is territory in dispute. That derives from the historic lack of a Palestine that could be described as having been occupied, or any government's widely recognized possession of the West Bank prior to 1967. Admittedly, there are few who support that view of international law, but the matter has not be adjudicated. One doubts the existence of an international court that would look at the issue with anything close to neutrality. For some of the details, see this.
Since my friend acquired his notions of morality, Israel has experienced the immigration of about a million Russians and the movement of 600,000 mostly Jewish Israelis over the 1967 borders. Those populations overlap, and not all express the same positions on political issues. However, they have something to do with putting Bibi and Bennett in office.
Norms of democracy require the kinds of political competition, criticism, and counting of votes that occur in Israel, as well as a number of other values that provoke arguments as to their importance.
The burial of the man who shot Glick passed without incident, in the presence of a large police guard. Likewise Friday morning prayers on the Temple Mount. There have been several points of conflict, and claims of casualties among the Palestinians. Abbas asked Kerry to intervene and stop Israeli aggression.
The optimists among us will hope that personal pique of individuals high and low will not affect the larger flows of history, that the combination of force and moderation will bring us back to a declining incidence of the ugly in the Holy City, and allow greater concentration on what are arguably the more important concerns with ISIS, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and US mid-term elections.