Jerusalem in the unholy grip of religious fervor
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Jerusalem in the unholy grip of religious fervor

Op-ed: Incendiary ideologues and provocateurs are playing with fire over the Temple Mount, and the city is starting to burn

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Thousands of Palestinians pray outside Al-Aqsa Mosque, atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha in October 2014. (Sliman Khader/FLASH90)
Thousands of Palestinians pray outside Al-Aqsa Mosque, atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha in October 2014. (Sliman Khader/FLASH90)

In his ominously titled book, “The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount,” author Gershom Gorenberg quotes a staggering conversation that took place at the Temple Mount immediately after it was captured by Israeli paratroopers on June 7, 1967, while the victorious soldiers still “wandered about the plaza as if they were dreaming.”

The army’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, later Israel’s chief rabbi, came up to Gen. Uzi Narkiss, and said, “Now’s the time to put one hundred kilos of explosives in the Mosque of Omar (the Dome of the Rock), and that’s it, once and for all we’ll be done with it.”

“Rabbi, stop,” Narkiss retorted.

But Goren — whom the author describes as “a man swept away that day, the herald of the Lord” — would not be deterred: “You don’t grasp the immense meaning of this,” the rabbi persisted. “This is an opportunity that can be exploited now, this minute. Tomorrow it will be impossible.”

Said Narkiss: “Rabbi, if you don’t stop now, I’m taking you from here to jail.”

Thwarted, Goren walked silently away.

With improvised, momentous decisions at the end of the 1967 war, Israel headed off a potential confrontation between Judaism and Islam, headed off holy war

As Gorenberg tells it, reason prevailed in the culminating moments of that war. On June 10, defense minister Moshe Dayan met with the Muslim authorities atop the mount, sitting with them, shoes off, on the carpets of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and telling them that Israel would henceforth take overall security responsibility for the compound, but would do so from without. The Muslim authorities would retain control within. Jews would no longer be banned from the place most sacred to them, but they would not be permitted to turn it into a place of worship. For that, they now had the Western Wall, below.

As Israel’s minister of religions at the time, Zerach Warhaftig, would tell Gorenberg decades later, “Messianic fervor is the secret of existence, it’s true. Without it, the fire goes out. But reason has to control it.”

Gen. Uzi Narkiss (left), Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War (photo credit: Ilan Bruner/Wikipedia)
Gen. Uzi Narkiss (left), defense minister Moshe Dayan and chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War (photo credit: Ilan Bruner/Wikipedia)

Almost half a century after those brief days of impossible victory and the swiftly improvised, momentous decisions they necessitated, Dayan’s clear-headed resolution of the fate of the Temple Mount — in Jewish hands for the first time in 1900 years, but not accessible for Jewish religious use — has returned to haunt us.

Zerach Warhaftig (photo credit: Teddy Brauner/Wikipedia)
Zerach Warhaftig (photo credit: Teddy Brauner/Wikipedia)

Israel’s leadership in 1967 was able to conceive a policy of barring Jewish prayer by conveniently utilizing the halachic consensus that Jews should not risk defiling the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies by ascending to the Mount, and thus Israel headed off a potential holy war between Judaism and Islam.

That halachic consensus still holds, but it has been increasingly challenged of late. Yehudah Glick, slowly recovering in Shaare Zedek Hospital from a point-blank assassination attempt last Wednesday night in Jerusalem, was a prominent advocate of Jewish prayer rights on the Mount (though not, it should be stressed, to the exclusion of Muslim prayer rights).

Several right-wing Knesset members share the goal. Israel’s minister of housing and construction, Uri Ariel, of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, assured those who gathered at a prayer rally for Glick last Saturday night that the status quo outlawing Jewish prayer on the Mount would change. Three MKs — Moshe Feiglin, Tzipi Hotovely, and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli — have toured the compound in a demonstrative show of Israeli authority in the days since Glick was shot, replicating on a smaller scale the high-profile visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon. That visit 14 years ago, immediately after Yasser Arafat had rejected prime minister Ehud Barak’s peace proposals at Camp David, served as the ideal pretext for Arafat’s disciples and other terror groups to launch what became the Second Intifada, or terror war, in which more than 1,100 Israeli civilians were killed. It should be obvious that Sharon’s Temple Mount-visiting successors are playing with fire. Either they have very short memories, or they too are in the grip of the kind of messianic fervor Israel’s leaders so wisely sought to defuse in 1967.

Then opposition leader Ariel Sharon seen at the Mugrabi Gate en route  to the Temple Mount, on 28 September 2000. Sharon visited with an escort of over 1,000 police officers. The Second Intifada erupted soon after. (photo credit: Flash90)
Then opposition leader Ariel Sharon seen at the Mughrabi Gate en route to the Temple Mount, on September 28, 2000. Sharon visited with an escort of over 1,000 police officers. The Second Intifada erupted soon after. (photo credit: Flash90)

And then there’s the other side of this incendiary revival of tension, which also reflects the cumulative effect of those momentous decisions at the end of the Six-Day War.

The leadership of the Jewish nation self-evidently undermined the Jews’ claim to the Temple Mount in the eyes of the Muslim world

By choosing to relinquish the full spoils of victory, by opting not to realize the conqueror’s capacity to impose its will, the leadership of the Jewish nation self-evidently undermined the Jews’ claim to the Temple Mount in the eyes of the Muslim world. As they witnessed mighty Israel choose compromise over potential conflagration, many Muslims may have appreciated the restraint, but for many too it can only have signaled a lack of Jewish attachment to the place. This, in turn, ensured the resonance among Palestinians and the wider Muslim world of Yasser Arafat’s foul false narrative that “historically the Temple was not in Palestine” — and that, by pernicious extension, the Jewish nation has no historical sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world at all.

Yasser Arafat in 2002 (photo credit: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Yasser Arafat in 2002 (photo credit: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Amid the awful current upsurge in terrorism and violence in Jerusalem — the shooting of Yehudah Glick, the spate of “suicide driver” attacks, the riots in East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, the clashes on the Temple Mount itself — it has been profoundly dismaying to watch interview after TV interview with Palestinian bystanders in stone-strewn Arab neighborhoods, older men not involved in the violence, urging Israel just to stay away from Al-Aqsa, not to pray at Al-Aqsa, to do anything but encroach upon Al-Aqsa. At the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, it is clear, the Jews have no legitimacy whatsoever for many ordinary Palestinians.

Hamas, for whom Israel has no legitimacy at all, is doing everything it can to whip up passions around the falsely alleged dangers to Al-Aqsa, inflating and exaggerating and misrepresenting every spark of friction in the hope of igniting the holy war it seeks in order to bring about Israel’s demise. So, too, provocateurs within Israel’s own Arab community — notably in the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. Some Arab Knesset members are also guilty of exaggerating and mischaracterizing the true dimensions of what has been playing out in and around the Temple Mount in recent weeks. The increasingly extremist Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been adding fuel to the fire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s near daily assurances that his government has no intention of changing the parameters set by Dayan in 1967 are ignored, under-reported, or skewed.

Yehudah Glick walks by Israeli border police after leaving the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, October 10, 2013. (Photo credit: Sliman Khader/FLASH90)
Yehudah Glick walks by Israeli border police after leaving the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, October 10, 2013. (Photo credit: Sliman Khader/FLASH90)

On Wednesday, after Abbas’s Fatah movement had urged supporters to defend Al-Aqsa, the third-holiest site in Islam, against an anticipated visit by supporters of Yehudah Glick, clashes on the mount reportedly led to Israeli security personnel chasing rioters into the mosque (where they saw stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails stacked in most impious readiness). This atypical incursion in turn prompted bitter complaints from the Muslim authorities, leading Jordan to threaten to reassess its 20-year peace treaty with Israel, and doubtless providing further murderous motivation to Ibrahim al-Akary, Wednesday’s Hamas suicide driver, whose Facebook page overflowed with posts railing against the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. Akary’s final Facebook message, posted Tuesday night, The Times of Israel reported, was an image of a document issued by the Islamic Supreme Committee of Jerusalem, listing shifts for Palestinian volunteers to be present to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque on Wednesday.

A cartoon posted by the PA National Security Forces in early November 2014 accusing Israel of "raping" Temple Mount (photo credit: Courtesy)
A cartoon posted by the PA National Security Forces in early November 2014 accusing Israel of “raping” Temple Mount (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Israel-haters “simply want to uproot us from here,” Netanyahu said in the Knesset Wednesday afternoon. “They try to rewrite history, deny our brave affinity for Jerusalem and claim that we are trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, spread lies that we want to harm or destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque or change the prayer arrangements for Muslims on the Mount. There is no greater falsehood than this.”

But in the absence of constructive Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, with the vacuum filled these past few months by religious agitators and incendiary ideologues, the falsehoods are spreading. As ever, the solutions are to be found in tolerant education, responsible media, political sensitivity, and wise spiritual leadership. As ever, all of these are in short supply.

Jerusalem is starting to burn. Religious fervor is intensifying. Reason, as Zerach Warhaftig said so rightly of 1967, “has to control it.” Urgently.

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