The Temple Mount: No Longer in Our Hands?
“It is extremely important that a solution to the current crisis be found by Friday this week…The dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayer without a resolution to this current crisis, Events in Jerusalem have the potential to have catastrophic costs well beyond the walls of the Old City, well beyond Israel and Palestine, well beyond the Middle East itself.”
— Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, January 24, 2017.
“When we indulge Arab (and jihadi Muslims’) concerns for honor by backing off anything that they claim offends them, we think that our generosity and restraint will somehow move extremists to more rational behavior. Instead, we end up muzzling ourselves and thereby participating in, honoring, and confirming their most belligerent attitudes… And there is nothing generous, rational, or progressive about that.”
— Prof. Richard Landes, Tablet magazine, June 24, 2014.
The chain of bloody events that took place over the last week defies both belief and reason. A series of unprovoked Arab assaults on Israelis, inexplicably, inconceivably and infuriatingly triggered a wave of international criticism of…Israel’s defensive responses?
Israel’s regrettable reticence
Of course, in a world where fairness and reason dominated the conduct of international affairs, Israel would have won wall-to-wall sympathy and support or, at the very least, tacit understanding for its position. After all, the security measures adopted by Israel in the wake of the murderous attack on its law-enforcement officers in the Temple Mount complex were neither extreme nor excessive. To the contrary, they were entirely reasonable, appropriate, even, one might have thought, unavoidable.
What could be more natural than enhancing security measures in the wake of a deadly terror attack?
Regrettably, however, international reaction was far from what should have been expected in an imaginary world of fairness and reason. In the real world, very much the opposite was true. The onus was placed on Israel to defuse the allegedly explosive situation that the threatened aggression of its foes conjured up.
But no less regrettable was the self-effacing Israeli response to the ridiculous recriminations, which merely helped fan the flames of this absurdity.
Rather than robustly and resolutely repudiating the preposterous accusations concocted against it, Israel endeavored to play the “responsible adult,” in effect acknowledging that it should shoulder the burden for preventing any violence the Arabs/Muslims might decide to instigate.
Invitation to extortion
Of course, this paradoxically and perversely implies that the target of aggression is to blame for whatever befalls him/her, while exonerating the perpetrators of all responsibility for any malfeasance they may choose to initiate.
Unsurprisingly, this ostensibly “mature” and “moderate” behavior won Israel little credit. Rather than being warmly commended it was roundly condemned. Instead of being seen as far-sighted statesmanship and enlightened largesse, it was perceived as a tacit admission of guilt. With a little forethought, this would not have been surprising. After all, if one believes that the measures one has taken are just and proper, why back away from them? Seen in this light, backing away can only be construed as conceding wrongdoing.
So, by capitulating to threats of violence, the Israeli government has issued a clear invitation for further extortion, for it has conveyed an unequivocal message of weakness to both friend and foe. Either it is incapable of dealing with threatened Muslim violence or it is unwilling to deal with the consequences of choreographed Muslim ire. But whether it is the lack of ability or the lack of will, there is little difference in the conclusion that will inevitably be drawn: there is nothing to prevent further threats to extort further and more far-reaching concessions.
Full disclosure: I was wrong
As a non-observant Jew, whose relationship with the Almighty has been uneasy, to say the least, I was always skeptical towards my more devout kinfolks’ claim that the Temple Mount was central to the maintenance of Jewish sovereignty. Although I opposed any Israeli territorial concessions, including of the Temple Mount, I held the belief that the struggle for Jewish control of the site was more incidental than central.
I believed — and in many ways, still do — that the major thrust for presenting Israel’s requirements to endure as the sovereign nation-state of the Jews should be to underscore the vital strategic importance of the entire territory across the pre-1967 “Green Line,” and the perilous situation that Israel would be in, should any substantial withdrawal be undertaken.
Accordingly, I felt that there was no need to single out the Temple Mount since it would be self-evident that it would be included in the rest of the territory that Israel needs to retain control over. Indeed, I thought perhaps that it was better not to give prominence to control of the Mount, so as to prevent rational strategic arguments for retention of territory from being dismissed as tainted with “religious fanaticism.”
Turns out I was wrong!
Although I still hold the view that, if Israel is to remain viable as the nation-state of the Jews, it cannot agree to surrendering sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, I am today far more open to the claim that control over the Temple Mount is the key to sustaining Jewish sovereignty. Not because of any strategic imperative but because of a pyscho-political one; not because Jewish zealots see it that way, but because Muslim zealots do.
Nothing will do more to sustain the Muslims’ belief that they can uproot the Jewish presence in all of the Land of Israel, or at least eradicate Jewish sovereignty over it, than successfully challenging Jewish control over the Jews most sacred site. In Muslim eyes, if they can prise loose the Jews’ hold over the Temple Mount, they can prise it loose over any other site in the land.
For them, if the Jews are willing to forgo control over the Temple Mount to avoid an outburst of Muslim rage, they will be just as ready to forgo such control over Haifa and Tiberias. If the Jews are perceived as unwilling to take a stand over their most sacrosanct location, in the heart of their capital, why would they be willing to make a sustained stand over any other, less sacrosanct location whenever a pretext for conflict arises?
“If I can’t bring my machine gun, no point in praying …”
The insufferable absurdity of the opposition to enhanced Israeli security measures and the blatant hypocrisy of mainstream media coverage of the issue was vividly brought home in a hard hitting video clip presented by Daniel Pomerantz, senior editor of “Honest Reporting.” Pomerantz expressed his bewilderment at the Muslim response to the setting up of metal detectors after three Arab terrorists emerged from the Al-Aqsa mosque and gunned down two Israeli police officers, with automatic weapons they had smuggled into the compound.
“I don’t quite understand the logic in refusing to pass through a metal detector,” said Pomerantz, adding bitingly and aptly, “It’s like saying ‘Well, if I can’t bring my machine gun then there’s no point in praying at all.'”
Pomerantz deftly repudiated Muslim claims that the metal detectors constitute an Israeli attempt to change the status quo on the compound, pointing out that the status quo had been violated a day earlier by the terror attack itself. The metal detectors were intended to reinstate the status quo ante, said Pomerantz, and to restore Al-Aqsa as a place of worship, rather than an armory.
But, of course, this meant nothing to the instigators of Arab unrest. For them, any measure, no matter how appropriate or essential for legitimate security exigencies, was merely an opportunity to mount a challenge to Jewish sovereignty.
Appeasement never satiates, only whets appetites
In a recent opinion piece, instructively entitled “The problem with the metal detectors is that they are Jewish,” Fred Maroun, an Arab resident in Canada, succinctly summarized the underlying motivation for the Arab resistance to the Israeli security measures: “Sadly, most Arabs still see Israel as the ‘Yahudi’ enemy that must be vanquished at any cost. Therefore, when Israel backs down from making a change that is rational and reasonable, it constitutes appeasement. Appeasement of people who hate you beyond any common sense does not work.”
He is right. As history has shown repeatedly, appeasement never satiates the appetites of an aggressor. It only whets them, with each placatory gesture heightening expectations for additional and more substantial concessions in the future.
Similar sentiments were expressed Thursday morning by Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
To be sure, I have had and still have some serious policy disagreements with Bennett, but his comments this weeks were spot on, as he lamented: “Israel has come out of this crisis considerably weakened. Instead of strengthening our sovereignty in Jerusalem, we sent a message that our sovereignty can be appealed — not just on the Temple Mount, but in other areas as well.”
“The decision to remove the magnetometers [metal detectors] was definitely the wrong decision,” said Bennett. “Israel came out of the whole issue weaker…Every time Israel bows to strategic pressure, it harms us in the long run. It harms our ability to deter attacks.”
“I expect to see an increase in violence in the next few weeks. We live in the toughest neighborhood in the world. When they smell weakness, they rise up,” he warned ominously.
Bennett then urged the PM to rescind all programs designed to improve conditions for the Palestinians and to initiate an assertive plan to combat terror: “The PM must instruct the defense minister to take all plans for promoting the Palestinians and offering them ‘carrots’ off the table, and put in their place plans for operations which will end terror.”
It remains to be seen how firmly and effectively Bennett will insist on implementation of his robust prescription, however it is clear that he seems to have wide public support for tough measures.
Israel Hayom, usually strongly supportive of Netanyahu, published a blistering condemnation of the prime minister’s performance, titled “The metal detectors debacle: Netanyahu’s feeble response.” In it, political correspondent Mati Tuchfeld cited a Channel 2 poll from Tuesday, taken after the removal of the metal detectors, according to which 77% of the Israeli public felt that the government caved in to pressure, while 67% believed that Netanyahu did not handle this situation well. Moreover, 68% thought that the initial decision to install the metal detectors was correct.
All of this seems to indicate that the normally hyper-savvy Netanyahu is seriously out of step with his political base, who appear to be demanding a far more vigorous approach to the emerging challenge to Jewish sovereignty.
“Only way Islam can live with Israeli sovereignty…”
Perhaps the gravest threat of all that may follow such a lack of Jewish resolve is the prospect of insurrection and revolt by the Arab citizens of Israel. It was a threat clearly evident on Wednesday night (July 26, 2017) in the Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, where thousands attended the funeral of the three terrorists who murdered the two police officers on the Temple Mount. The participants reportedly praised the killers as shahids (martyrs) of Al-Aqsa, vowed to follow in their footsteps and defiantly flew the Palestinian flag.
Clearly, this threat will undoubtedly materialize unless the Arabs are convinced the Jews will brook no challenge, from within Israel’s borders or from without, to their national sovereignty and political independence.
What is called for today is not a repetition of reticent restraint, but the demonstration of ruthless resolve. Unless the Jews convey the unequivocal message that any such challenge to their sovereignty will be met with overwhelming lethal force, they will inevitably be the victims of violent insurrection at the hands of their Arab adversaries.
Allow me to conclude with the words of the learned scholar of Islam, and former IDF intelligence officer, Dr. Mordechai Kedar: “The only way Islam can live with Israeli sovereignty is by recognizing that Israel is strong and invincible, so that any attempt to overcome it is sure to end in defeat…The possibility of a permanent European-style peace with the Jews does not exist in the Middle East, meaning that only power and a willingness to use it will give Israel a temporary peace that will last forever — that is, if Israel is invincible forever.”