The consolation of Zion and Jerusalem

Can any human words soften the blow, assuage the heartache?

A view of al-Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A view of al-Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ten Jews have been murdered since the latest wave of Palestinian terrorism began. The victims range from a three-month-old baby girl to a prominent rabbi, struck down in the midst of his prayers. Not for the first time, orphans and parents mourn their bereavement at the hands of murderers who, by their own admission, venerate death while their relatives distribute sweets to celebrate their crimes.
How does one console the victims of such bereavement? Can any human words soften the blow, assuage the heartache? It would be foolish to think so. Yet Jewish tradition forbids the community to allow mourners to lapse into silence. During the shiva one visits the bereaved, forces them to acknowledge social obligations to acquaintances and well-wishers – to speak. The visitors, too, are required to speak, and what they say is prescribed: “May you be consoled through the consolation of Zion and Jerusalem.”
The current wave of terrorism has deep roots. It stems back to the war with Hamas this past summer, and beyond that to the inevitable breakdown of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations last year, and beyond that to the irreconcilable conflict between Jew and Arab since the beginning of Zionism.
Yet one of its proximate causes is the growing demand in Israeli society for Jews to be allowed to worship, and Israel to assert its sovereignty, on the Temple Mount – Zion.
On one level the government has reacted to the recent wave of terrorism as it should, beefing up security, pursuing terrorists and warning against Jewish vigilantism. Yet on a deeper level the reaction of Israel’s government and chattering classes has been disappointing, if predictable: Why stir up trouble? Why anger the goyim? It’s true that the Jewish people have rights to the Temple Mount, but is now the time to make an issue of it? Or tomorrow? Or any time in the foreseeable future? The airwaves are full of the sound of pundits and politicians clucking their tongues over the antics of Temple Mount radicals who ostensibly got us into this mess. Last week the prime minister flew to Jordan to give its king assurances that a change in the status of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount will never happen. One cannot imagine an undertaking less consonant with the spirit of Zionism.
One of the assumptions underlying Jewish existence in exile was that, in the last analysis, one could always run away. This turned out not to be true.
One of the principles of Zionism is that the Jewish people is done running.
Shivat Zion, the return to Zion, places us in a position where, as a national community, we have nowhere to run.
This is an incredibly bold position, and it’s also the only one possible.
The challenge of Zionism is for us, as a people, to exhibit the courage of our convictions. This isn’t easy. And yet if we fail, sooner rather than later we end up confronting the truth that the seeming safety of flight is illusory because we have nowhere to run. This was the case in 1967 and in 2002. Running away from the Temple Mount is wrong in principle and self-defeating in practice. The people who murdered 10 Jews in the past couple of months didn’t really need the Temple Mount as an excuse. When the Temple Mount is no longer an issue they will find another excuse to kill Jews, as they did last July, as they have for the past 100 years. When one realizes this, it puts the moralizers and tongue-cluckers over the Temple Mount in proper perspective. They aren’t really wise or prudent. They simply have a moral-fiber problem, for which perhaps they are to be pitied.
I don’t mean to suggest that there is never a place for prudence in handling the Temple Mount. Prudence is always advisable, as long as it isn’t used as a cover for lack of courage or conviction.
What Israel ought to be saying, to the King of Jordan, to the Arabs of Jerusalem and to Hamas terrorists, is that Jewish worship on the Temple Mount is ours by right. We can discuss modalities, and we can discuss timetables. But the principle is not up for discussion.
We dare not surrender principles if we hope to survive.
One presumes that Israel will now mount a campaign similar to Operation Defensive Shield from 12 years ago: Establish a dense network of intelligence sources in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, and go house to house, neighborhood by neighborhood, cleaning up terrorists, their networks and their supporters. When that process is completed there will no longer be a security excuse to delay the assertion of Jewish rights and sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
What then? Official waffling on Jewish rights on the Temple Mount have probably set back the realization of those rights by years. So it is appropriate to give notice that not everyone in Israel accepts this, and that the policy adopted by Israeli official classes in response to the current wave of terrorism is wrong. Temple Mount activists will continue to assert the rights of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount, even if they suffer official disapproval and official violations of their individual rights. Ultimately, the consolation of Zion and Jerusalem will be their consolation as well.
The author founded the Israel Policy Center, a public policy think tank in Jerusalem.