My Word: Property rights and wrongs

The conflict is not about ‘real estate’

A laborer works on an apartment building under construction in the Har Homa quarter in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
A laborer works on an apartment building under construction in the Har Homa quarter in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 I have developed a pet peeve recently: the use of the word “real estate” in terms of the Middle East conflict.
I first heard it used more than 20 years ago in relation to the Golan Heights – “a very strategic piece of real estate,” according to the American Jewish leader I was talking with in Washington.
Having served part of my military service on the Golan I could identify with the strategic bit and I let the “real estate” part go.
Lately, however, it has crept into more conversations, articles and Facebook postings referring to the Temple Mount and what is now being called in certain circles “the al-Aksa intifada.” Here I draw the line. In red ink.
Real estate is what you have in places like London, New Jersey and Florida – places where you worry what your neighbors are doing to property prices.
This is the Middle East. We argue about land. The earthy, dirty type and the unearthly, holy one.
The Jerusalem dispute is about location, location, location – all relative to Judaism’s holiest spot and Islam’s third most holy site (with tremendous significance for Christians, too) – but the Temple Mount is not about real estate.
The deeply entrenched problems in the area are not some kind of spat between neighbors that can be solved in court or through arbitration.
The latest to jump on the bandwagon are the French who have proposed stationing “independent observers” on the Temple Mount with the backing of the UN Security Council to “identify possible violations of the status quo.”
The proposal has been rejected not only by the Israeli government but also by Jordan, under whose auspices the Muslim Wakf administer the site. And you can imagine (unlike French President François Hollande) how the increasingly strident Shi’ite Islamic Republic of Iran might react if it has the chance to readdress Sunni influence at the holy site. This is not the way to end wars.
Given that the Palestinians are claiming a (nonexistent) change in the “status quo” as the reason that certain Muslims feel the need to go out and stab or run down the nearest Jew – be it a woman in her 70s or a 13-year-old boy – it seems unlikely that this huge shift atop the Mount would restore calm and order.
I spent a lot of my army service on the Golan Heights traveling with United Nations peacekeepers and observers.
This was pre-First Lebanon War, whose name is itself a testimony to the failure of UN peacekeeping efforts. The UN forces watched and reported as Palestinian and other terrorist groups in Lebanon launched increasing numbers of Katyusha rockets on Kiryat Shmona and the surrounding Galilee communities and carried out deadly incursions into Israel.
More recently, the blue-bereted UN observers on the border between Israel and Syria required Israeli help to escape attacks on its members by the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group that has taken over the Syrian side of the border on the Golan, while the UN observed. Luckily, Israel is not relying on the UN for protection.
UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, first deployed in 1978, is not effective. It did not prevent either the first or second Lebanon wars and is not able to stop massive smuggling of Iranian arms to Tehran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah via Syria today.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week tried hard to maintain a semblance of impartiality while not upsetting the Arab states that far outnumber the one Jewish state in the body over which he presides. He flew into the region and warned against changing the status quo and turning the current wave of terrorism into a “religious war.”
This might be more difficult than he thinks. No matter how many assurances Israel offers that the status quo remains (to the detriment of those Jews and Christians who want to go to the Temple Mount to pray), Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is frantically fanning the flames of incitement while futilely hoping the fire and smoke won’t come his way, courtesy of his Hamas and Islamic Jihad opponents.
The Middle East Media Research Institute has noted that in an interview that aired on the Palestinian Authority’s official TV channel on October 17, Fatah Central Committee Deputy-Secretary Jibril Rajoub praised the Palestinian attacks, saying: “These are individual acts of heroism, of which I am proud.”
And now I’m concerned about what could be interpreted as Israeli escalation into a “religious war.” Suppose a Jew being slashed by a knife-wielding terrorist screaming “Allahu akbar” has the audacity to call out “Shema Yisrael” on his roadside death bed, will Israel come under international fire for that final expression of Jewish faith? What should have been the response of the Dutch-Christian victim of an attack in Jerusalem last week? Marike Veldman, who opened a foster home for Arab children more than 30 years ago, told Ynet that as she was being repeatedly stabbed “I yelled, ‘Jesus help me.’” If it’s not already a religious war, why did a Palestinian mob set fire to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus on yet another “day of rage” last week? Why are there near-daily attacks on Rachel’s Tomb, the burial place of the Jewish matriarch whose death is commemorated this coming Sunday? Why, for that matter, do the Palestinians refer to it as the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque? And what about the attacks on Jews near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, considered the second holiest place for the Jewish people after the Temple Mount? Apropos “real estate,” the Bible records Abraham purchasing the cave and adjoining field – at full market price – some 3,700 years ago.
Only the attack on Joseph’s Tomb elicited a condemnation by Abbas. Obviously the flames in an area meant to be fully under Palestinian Authority control made it uncomfortably hot for him and harmed his image as the self-styled protector of all holy sites.
Which brings me to an act so outrageous that yet again I struggle to find the Arabic equivalent of the word “chutzpah” to define it – the idea of getting UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to determine that the Western Wall (or the Buraq Plaza as the Palestinians call it) “is an integral part of the al-Aksa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif” rather than a Jewish sacred site.
This was too much even for UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova. That particular clause was deleted from the six-page draft resolution – submitted on behalf of the Palestinian Authority by Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates – condemning Israeli actions in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (from where Palestinian rockets are still being launched at Israel).
Nonetheless, the resolution that passed with 26 in favor, six against and 25 abstentions confirms that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are considered by UNESCO to be part of a “State of Palestine.”
In the 1970s, Palestinian terrorists hijacked airplanes.
Now they’re content with no less than hijacking history.
I don’t know why Islamic State is making such an effort to destroy all evidence of previous cultures in places like Palmyra. It would be easier to leave the arches and ruins standing and simply rewrite the narrative, asking the UN to confirm the change at a later date.
By the way, I can’t help thinking that one element behind the latest wave of Palestinian terrorism (apart from it being a nasty habit) is their fear that the world is paying more attention to the refugee crisis caused by the civil war (the religious civil war, for that matter) in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
The conflict has been going on for about a century and the latest round of terrorist attacks has been with us almost a month and there’s no real hope of it permanently ending any time soon. Israelis are adapting and doing what they do best. Last Friday, I met with friends and tourists (yes, there are still some around) at Jerusalem’s trendy First Station compound. It wasn’t as full as usual and the free entertainment surrealistically included a first aid course with the emphasis on stab wounds, but it was still chugging along.
In a dramatic heartwarming operation a group of Israeli members of the Ashdod-based Poseidon Sailing Club rescued 11 Syrian and Iraqi refugees whose boat had capsized near the Turkish town of Kas last Sunday. The Israelis, who came across the refugees by chance, spoke with them in a mix of English and basic Arabic and saved the lives of eight adults and four children. Recalling the incident, the sailors were clearly upset at the sight of a mother cradling her dead baby on board their boat.
Tel Aviv, the “City that Never Sleeps,” hosted a well-attended (and well-guarded) international fashion week this week and streets were blocked for the annual nighttime mini-marathon. The 20,000 participants weren’t running away from terrorism – they were affirming that life goes on. Meanwhile, Jerusalem this weekend joins a select group of cities around the world holding an Open House event with tours of beautiful and historic private homes, places of worship, urban projects, and gardens.
We’re talking of so much more than real estate here.
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