Jerusalem, the eternal

Israeli government weakness will only engender more violence

Palestinian youth inside the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City gather stones that were used during clashes with police (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Palestinian youth inside the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City gather stones that were used during clashes with police
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
SINCE THE reestablishment of a Jewish majority in Jerusalem in the late 19th century and particularly after the establishment of the State of Israel, Jerusalem has witnessed changes for the better.
The city is no longer physically desolate and the object of lamentations. Even the traditional texts recited on Tisha B’Av, the day marking the destruction of both Jewish temples, are slowly undergoing revision to fit a more encouraging physical and demographic reality.
Unfortunately, the Jewish people’s return to their eternal capital is still being challenged and particularly at Judaism’s most sacred site, the Temple Mount. The recent wave of Palestinian violence is clearly designed to undermine Israel’s hold on the city and its holy sites.
On the Arab side, little has changed since 1929 when Haj Amin al-Husseini, Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti and future ally of the Nazis, initiated a wave of bloody pogroms against the Jews by claiming that they threatened Muslim holy places. This fear was triggered by Jewish worshippers bringing benches to the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av and blowing the shofar upon the fast’s conclusion.
Jerusalem muftis come and go but the Arab “Al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger” canard is a hardy perennial and a sure way to foment trouble. Arafat used Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 as the moment to launch the “Al-Aqsa intifada,” which he had planned well in advance. Al-Aqsa preacher Sheikh Omar Abu Sara recently invoked a clinching argument when he inveighed against Muslim countries fighting ISIS, “Is the Al- Aqsa Mosque too far for them? Is Jerusalem too far for them? Are the Jews too far for them?” he railed.
And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described Jews visiting the Temple Mount as “defilement” and lionized Moataz Hejazi, the shooter of Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick in late October, as a martyr who died in Al-Aqsa’s defense.
Israel has gone overboard in respecting Muslim sensitivities on Jerusalem. For example, when the rickety Moghrabi bridge access to the Temple Mount became a safety hazard, Israel consulted engineers from Turkey and Jordan, and even offered Jordan a live television feed of the construction works to reassure Amman that there was no intention to harm the mosques. At first Jordan agreed but under pressure rejected the offer.
No similar respect was ever accorded Jewish sensitivities. In 1999, when the Muslim religious endowment, the waqf, opened a “safety entrance” to Al-Aqsa to accommodate overflow Muslim worshipers, it immediately proceeded to turn the area into a mega mosque using heavy earth moving equipment and ferrying the debris in an endless series of trucks to municipal garbage dumps.
This was a crime against Jerusalem’s archeological and cultural heritage worthy of the ISIS barbarians. Today, at Tzurim Valley National Park on the slopes of the Mount Olives, the debris is lovingly sifted by volunteers working under archeological supervision and continues to yield cultural and historical treasures.
Well, say the people who condone such cultural barbarism and the ban on Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, Muslims are touchy and it’s advisable not to stir them up. This is tantamount to asking Jews to forego the eating of matza during Passover because they were the focus of a blood libel. It is not only unfair but futile, as the libel will endure in any case.
The attempt to deny Jewish rights in Jerusalem is part of a consistent Palestinian policy to deny the historical Jewish presence in the land of Israel, as illustrated by Yasser Arafat telling Bill Clinton at Camp David in July 2000 that no Jewish temple ever existed in Jerusalem. This denial is buttressed by attempts to physically destroy evidence of a historical Jewish presence and to prevent a current presence on the mount.
Symbolism is everything, as the Arab-Israeli conflict is driven not by territory but by conflicting claims of legitimacy. An Israel that wavers over Jewish rights in its capital, both religious and the right to build, encourages the Arabs to believe that the Jewish presence is ephemeral and will evaporate under additional pressure.
Israeli weakness will only engender more violence. De Tocqueville rather than Marx had it right. Violent attempts to revise the status quo are born less of desperation but of growing confidence that the adversary is on the ropes.
Contributor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva