Two Temples, Two Mosques and Two Cafes

On the afternoon of December 31, 2015, Nashat Milhem, an Israeli Arab from Arara, strolled into a market on Dizengoff in Tel Aviv and bought a bag of fruit. He then pulled a sub-machine gun from his backpack, stepped outside and sprayed guests at a street-side café next door. He succeeded in wounding seven Israeli Jews, two of whom remain in critical condition, and killing two, Alon Bakal from Karmiel and Shimon Ruimi from Ofakim.


Shortly after the assault a Palestinian sniper in Hebron shot two Jewish girls. Several Palestinian knifings have also taken place but this is a daily event. Soldiers are now issued armor to protect their necks, the favorite anatomical target of Palestinian terrorists who attack civilians in the same way.


One week later, despite the killer and his sub-machine gun remaining at large – and despite the desires of copycats – many gathered at the café. The mayor came, spoke somberly and had a beer. Candles were lit, songs sung and flags displayed. By evening’s end, the place was teeming.


Our life, they said, goes on.


In 1969, two years after Israel re-united Jerusalem, I toured the Temple Mount, ancient site of Judaism’s two Holy Temples, the site where an angel stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac and from which Jesus expelled the money-changers. One Islamic tradition says it was Abraham’s other son Ishmael (father of our Arabs cousins) whom he tried to sacrifice although the Isaac story predates the Ishmael story by about two thousand years. The conquering Muslims built the Dome of the Rock atop the site of the sacrifice.


The rock lies at the center of the mosque. To get in I had to buy a ticket from a rather haughty official seated behind a rather large ornate desk within a rather large ornate office. It struck me as odd that such a fellow would be selling tickets. He looked down his nose at me as he tossed the ticket on the desk. I toured the mosque and also al-Aqsa, the other mosque occupying the site which impressed me with its forest of columns. Al-Aqsa is the more important; the infamous Palestinian al-Aqsa martyr brigades boast a long history of Jew-killing.


After 1967, when Colonel Motta Gur reported that the “Temple Mount is in our hands”, Israeli authorities allowed Muslim authorities to excavate the site with backhoes, physically excoriating Jewish history and destroying hard evidence of the Temples, which many Palestinians deny were ever there in the first place. The Waqf dumped rubble to prove it.


I roamed freely on the Temple Mount but forty-five years later when I visited again along with Christians and other Jews, I was made to wait until the short non-Muslim visiting hour opened up, inspected rigorously at a security gate by Israeli police, and herded with the others by armed guards to a narrow walkway inside the Temple Mount wall. We were not allowed to move outside the group nor enter any other area; we could only stand there and observe one part of the outside of the Dome and of al-Aqsa, all the while under the glare of hostile “Guardians”, young Muslim men scouring us with hateful eyes for any sign of a lip movement lest we dare pray. Muslim women and children strolled around the site at will. This, I thought to myself, must be a tiny bit of how the Jews of Europe felt while being herded off by Nazis – Jew, dirty Jew, how dare you defile our sacred ground with your “filthy feet”, to quote deeply respected Mahmoud Abbas, President of “Palestine”. And this is Israel.


About two months ago two men on a motor scooter pulled up to a street-side café in the small town of Nahariya. They put six bullets into the guests, killing one. Police concluded it was an organized crime wherein one gang eliminated a player in a rival gang. The assailants have not been apprehended.


Yesterday, a new immigrant whom I have been helping get settled joined me for coffee at the crime-scene café. While a gangland shooting is not nearly the same as the on-going concerted Palestinian drive towards killing us and erasing our history, it is hard to find a place in Israel that has not seen bloodshed or where we cannot be targeted – especially if one is a Jew. I opted not to tell my new friend what had happened there; it wouldn’t change anything.


Our life, we say, goes on.