As terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians proliferate across Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, everyone seems to be hoping that a combination of a greater Israeli military and police presence on the streets and the Palestinian Authority holding the line on larger organized attacks will prevent further violence. While everyone recognizes that there are no perfect solutions, the nature of this nascent uprising is more dangerous than those that have come before because of the fusion of political nationalism and religious nationalism. The Temple Mount has always been in the background imagery of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but now it is front and center and it does not bode well for what is to come.
The PA is largely impotent here because the attacks are being carried out by Palestinians from East Jerusalem, who are not under the PA’s jurisdiction, and the primary motivation is the most dangerous one of all, which is a perceived threat to Muslim dominance of the Temple Mount. Palestinians (and Jordanians, and the Arab League, and the Turkish government) accuse Israel of altering the status quo on the Temple Mount, and Abbas, the PA, Hamas, the Islamic Movement in Israel, Joint List Arab MKs, and nearly every other actor on the Palestinian side are whipping the Palestinian public into a frenzy over the issue. Because the status quo is an unwritten agreement and because the margins of what precisely it means have shifted over time, there is no consensus as to what precisely it entails, but the basic parameters are solely Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount and some form of access to the Mount for non-Muslims so long as prayer is not involved. From a technical standpoint, and in line with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s constant claims on the subject, the Israeli government has not altered the status quo, as it maintains an official policy of prohibiting Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. Indeed, Netanyahu has gone so far as to ban MKs from the site entirely so as not to risk a potentially explosive incident.
Nevertheless, Palestinians and Muslims worldwide refuse to believe that Israel is not in the midst of violating and attempting to alter the arrangement that has held since 1967. The reasons for this suspicion are that in the past half decade, and even more markedly this year, there have been increased Jewish visits and in larger numbers, along with visits from rightwing government ministers – Uri Ariel most prominent among them – who have prayed on the Mount and publicly demanded that the status quo be changed. This is part of a trend within religious Zionism to embrace the Temple Mount – as opposed to solely the Western Wall – as a site for prayer and a way of asserting Jewish nationalism in contrast to what was once a nearly universal religious prohibition from ascending to the Temple Mount plaza.
Given the involvement of government ministers in this changed dynamic and new restrictions on Muslim access to the Temple Mount during the High Holidays this year for security reasons, it is easy to understand why Palestinians are literally up in arms when their leaders demagogue about a mortal threat to Al-Aqsa. The fact that what Israel has given up in agreeing to this status quo – creating a blatantly discriminatory religious double standard against Jews at the holiest site in all of Judaism – or that by all objective accounts Netanyahu desperately does want to maintain the status quo seems not to matter. Also overlooked is that weapons and explosives were seized from Al-Aqsa by the Israeli police last month after having been stockpiled right under the noses of the Waqf in charge of administering the site, which seems to be quite the violation of the status quo given that weapons stockpiled atop the Temple Mount would almost certainly be used as part of a campaign to deny access to non-Muslims.
Despite the fact that the incitement taking place on social media is centered around the Temple Mount, that Abbas and other Palestinian leaders keep on raging about the Temple Mount, and that attackers who have been apprehended have given defending the Temple Mount as their primary motivation, some refuse to accept the reality of what is taking place. In a widely shared column in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens characterized the wave of terrorist attacks as a Palestinian communal psychosis with no motivation behind it other than to kill Jews. Stephens is absolutely and unreservedly correct that knifing Israelis on the streets is indeed a psychotic and evil act and that there is no rational justification for it. But his dismissal of the Temple Mount status quo motivation wholesale because “Benjamin Netanyahu denies it and has barred Israeli politicians from visiting the site” rings a bit hollow, and not only because in the very next paragraph he quotes Abbas saying, “Al Aqsa Mosque is ours. They [Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.” It ignores the fact that irrespective of what Netanyahu has actually done to preserve the status quo – something that State Department spokesman John Kirby yesterday confirmed – the perception among Palestinians, including those killing and maiming Israelis, is very different.
Which brings me to the final point, which is the wider context beyond the Temple Mount. To deny the role of the occupation of the West Bank and the second class status of Palestinians in Jerusalem in all of this is to be willfully blind, just as blaming the occupation for this completely is to be dangerously naïve and enables more and uglier violence. There is a middle ground between “the occupation causes terrorism” and “terrorism isn’t related to the occupation at all” and it is vital to keep this in mind, as there are no easy answers or parsimonious narratives that can entirely account for the terrible events happening in Israel. Humans are complex animals and we are capable of processing complex thoughts. Incitement from Palestinian leaders and false claims about the Temple Mount and even outright murderous hatred of Jews may be the spark for the current violence, but it can also simultaneously be true that a nearly half-century long military occupation of the West Bank and blatant mistreatment of Arabs living in a supposedly undivided Jerusalem is the propane supply for the current explosion. To deny the lessons of history on the awesome and destructive power of nationalism and to not see it on display among Palestinians as their nationalist dreams go unrealized is to defy logic, even when there are other factors at play as well.
If there is one lesson to take away from all of this, it is that separation for Israel from the Palestinians is more important than ever, as this is only a taste of things to come. The current violence is being driven by Palestinian women, teenagers, and children who could not care less about the PA leadership, the Oslo Accords, or the PA’s desire to maintain some sense of quiet in order to preserve its own hold on the West Bank. While the PA security forces may be able to keep the lid on organized terror attacks planned by cells in the West Bank, the lone wolf and unorganized attacks taking place on Israeli streets are beyond its control. The disappearance of a sense of safety and security for Israelis during their daily routines illuminates the chimerical fantasy of a one-state solution and provides a glimpse into what ethnic strife in a bi-national state might look like. Terror cannot and should not be rewarded, but there also needs to be a greater sense of urgency to come up with a solution that will ameliorate this situation for good.
Your denial of history is shocking. Muslims have been killing Jews for these phony reasons long before there was an Israel and Jews had any power. Were the Jews attacking the Al Aqsa Mosque in 1929?
Muslims attack Jews because that’s what they are taught. As far as your other reasons, Muslims are treated better in Israel than anywhere in the Arab world. If it was about the occupation why do the Muslims reject every peace deal? They could have had their own state long ago. Why is it so unbearable to the Palestinians to have Jews living in a measly 1.3% of the West Bank? How much of Israel is occupied by Arabs?
The real third rail here is the question of whether a majority of the Palestinian polity want the two state solution – a Jewish state side by side with a Palestinian state. If they do not (and polling suggests they do not, cf http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/other/PalestinianPollingReport_June2014.pdf where approx 65% of Palestinians see the two State solution as a “program of stages” to liberate all of “historic Palestine” later, and not an end to the conflict) then the occupation is all the territory from the river to the sea. Ending the occupation of the WB therefore cannot stop the violence, unless you believe that despite the belief that all of Israel is occupied, giving the Palestinians a state in the WB will mollify them. Considering the withdrawal from Gaza, and the fact that Islamic violence against Jews predates the occupation, and the establishment of Israel, by a thousand years, I am skeptical of this.
We need to decide if we have a biblical world view or if we don’t? If we do, then the course we follow is simplified: for there is nothing but a one-state solution. Once we are over that hill, then we can decide on how to manage the current situation within that paradigm. Israel, as a nation, is starting to find her feet. Much of the Arab world feels increasingly threatened by that. The issue for Israel is that the modern Jewish secular state detracts from her (biblical) credibility, in the eyes of her immediate neighbours and the global village. Israel, the nation, needs to decide whether she will jettison a secular world view and (re)adopt the biblical. In that respect Israel is the litmus test for the rest of the world, grappling with equally fundamental notions. This is one lesson from terrorism that we must heed: not to give into it, but to realise that it may be a ‘sign’ that we too have lost our way. As far as I can see, there is only one solution. And while that solution involves a one state only, more significantly it involves only one G_d. And for Israel that may come to mean abandoning secularisation. Hashem is on your side, but you have to be on His.
Thank you for your weekly posts. They are thought provoking, interesting, and intellectual rather than the same emotional blather you get at a lot of places.
I disagree with your point about al-Aqsa as the major reason for the fighting. I see it as a combination of things–first, Bibi has always done nothing to change the status quo. He is happy with status quo–with the occasional war thrown in. Do nothing, but the borders are largely peaceful. Take a risk for peace and it will potentially cost him his life and his country–and he simply doesn’t have the guts or foresight that Rabin and Sharon had. He is essentially a stuck in the mud leader who keeps getting re-elected. His policy is like Jerry Seinfeld. Do nothing.
So Bibi’s nothingness has led to a popular consensus of young Palestinians of desperation. And that leads to restlessness and in some cases, violence. I am not excusing it by any means–it is morally reprehensible and racist and disgusting, but it is an outcome of a life of desperation.
Second, Abbas in his own way foments the hatred and uses these people as pawns, rather than rightly building a society in his own “territories”. What institutions have the PA built to create a country? What have they done to improve the education? What have they done to eliminate the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish language in the texts? The Mosques? Even Abbas’ comments above smack of age old anti-Semitism. Jews/Israeli presence at the holy site “defiles” al Aqsa? Is that modern Judenfrei?
Third, the stabbings probably got started in a random act of desperate violence and there are now numerous copycat crimes which are tacitly supported by the Islamist elements (Hezbollah, Hamas) and even the PA. It is a confluence of circumstances that bodes very bad, because it is nearly impossible to control. At least without mass casualty and hardship. And Abbas is again showing no leadership at trying to calm the street. He has been on quite a roll since the summer.
I get the desperation, but is killing/stabbing/violence ever an acceptable answer? I guess nations are built on it–Israel itself was–but it does nothing to build Israeli confidence.
You are right. The left harps on non issues: “It’s the settlements”, Netanyahu doesn’t want peace”, “Israel wants to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque”. The reality is the Arabs don’t want peace. The have been brainwashed to become fanatic, violent extremists, that are willing to sacrifice their children, believing they are the ultimate victims. Typical of the left Mr. Kaplow looks for excuses for their behavior when the truth is obvious.