Seeking to calm tensions in Jerusalem the day after a murderous Palestinian terror attack on a synagogue, President Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday that Israel is not at war with Islam and that the conflict should not be allowed to become about religion.
“These are difficult days for Jerusalem for the simple reason that the political struggle over Jerusalem, the nationalist struggle, the Israeli-Arab conflict, has turned into a Jewish-Muslim conflict, and to my sorrow both sides understand this — understand this but are not doing anything about it,” Rivlin said an interview with Channel 2 television.
“We have no dispute with Islam, we did not have, we will not have, and today, too, we don’t have,” he declared. “We need to make it clear to everyone.”
The president, unlike other leaders and security officials, did not hesitate to label the current surge of violence an intifada.
“We are on the brink of an intifada or even at the start of one with a religious dimension and this is very dangerous for us and the whole region. For [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen no less than the state of Israel. I’m sure that everyone wants to avoid inter-religious flare-up between Jews and Muslims,” he told Channel 10 Wednesday night.
Rivlin was speaking to the country’s two main channels the day after a terror attack at a Har Nof synagogue in which two Palestinian terrorists murdered four Jewish worshipers during morning prayers.
Rabbi Moshe Twersky, 59; Aryeh Kupinsky, 40; Rabbi Kalman Levine, 50; and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68 — were laid to rest Tuesday in Jerusalem.
A fifth victim, Druze policeman Zidan Saif, who was seriously wounded in a gunfight with the terrorists, succumbed to his wounds Tuesday night and was buried on Wednesday.
“Enough of this,” Rivlin said. “Jerusalem should not tolerate any religious war. Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel. Since 1967, anyone can practice his religion according to his own conscience and complete free will.”
“It has never been a religious war. But fundamentalism and incitement always found their way in, even when we did not allow them to do so.”
The president urged Israelis to avoid taking steps that would potentially heighten tensions surrounding the Temple Mount compound, the holiest spot in Judaism that also contains the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
“We have always realized, as Israelis and as Jews, that we are not fighting Islam and thus avoided turning the Temple Mount issue into a war of Jews against Muslims,” he said. “This is the way things were, but it is currently fading.”
“It would be best if [Israeli] leaders realized that they should not raise the issue of control over the Temple Mount.”
Tensions have flared in the capital over calls from some activists, backed by a few hawkish parliamentarians, to permit Jewish prayer in the Temple Mount compound where it is currently forbidden.
Rivlin also weighed in on comments made by Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen when he said Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not deliberately inciting terror. The remarks were in contrast to claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leading ministers that Abbas is to blame for the attacks because of his incitement and that of his PA against Israel.
“Cohen said that Abbas is not interested in waging a fundamentalist war with us,” Rivlin said, since such fundamentalism could come back to hurt Abbas. But Rivlin said the Palestinian leader must do more in order to combat the instances of Palestinian violence in East Jerusalem.
“Abbas, however, is being dragged [by international pressure] when he condemns [terror attacks]. That is not sufficient,” Rivlin said. “[Abbas] must say to his people, as a leader, ‘enough, there can not be a situation in which one person raises his hand against another just because he is different.’”
Rivlin spoke of the security situation in the capital, which has seen a series of deadly terror attacks in recent weeks.
“Jerusalem has been through many hard times,” he recalled. “There were days in which we faced more difficult times than these, and as a child I was under siege. There were days of battle and there were days of intifada and of riots,” Rivlin said.
The president said that over the decades since the 1967 war, when Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Old City, Palestinian and Israeli life in the city have become intertwined, and both sides have no choice but to work together in order to advance peace and promote dialogue in the city.
“Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem are interlaced one with the other. We have passed the point of no return. We are now in a situation where we all live together. Building and dividing Jerusalem in an artificial manner will not help.”
He added: “Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens and Arabs who are the citizens of Israel and the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have to realize, we are meant to live together in this city.”