Three Muslim Arabs, who in this case are citizens of Israel, murder two Israeli Druze policemen at a gate to the Temple Mount, shout allahu akbar, then run into the Temple Mount plaza where they engage in a firefight with more police and are killed.
The Israeli government orders the Temple Mount closed temporarily, while it installs metal detectors at some of the gates and searches the area for weapons (knives, fireworks, slingshots, batons, etc., are found). Metal detectors were used at the gates in the past, but were removed in 2000 when Jordan protested.
PM Netanyahu says publicly as well as privately to Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah, that the “status quo” – the arrangement that the Jordanian religious waqf administer the site, Jewish visits are limited and Jews are not allowed to pray there – will not be changed.
The site is partially reopened. The waqf, the Jordanian government, Mahmoud Abbas and others protest. Waqf officials and many Palestinians refuse to go through security checks. “The Jews have no rights whatsoever to this mosque – it is for Muslims only. We will not accept being checked every time we want to get inside. We are asking to go back to normal and enter freely, as it was three day [sic] ago,” says Taleb Abu Arar, an Arab Member of the Knesset.
So here is what I think:
First, the Druze are again at the forefront of our struggle for security. The Druze are a distinct people living in northern Israel, Lebanon, Syria and other places in the Middle East, who follow an esoteric religion that includes elements of Islam, Judaism and others. Israeli Druze include cabinet ministers, judges and senior officers in the IDF. They often serve in the toughest combat positions in the IDF and police, and have given their lives in disproportionate numbers. The relationship between the Jewish state and the Druze people is an example of what is possible when disparate groups treat each other with honor and respect.
Second, the Muslims are again displaying their deep conviction that they will never be satisfied with anything less than the dominant position anywhere they live. Despite the unprecedented (and astonishingly stupid) generosity of the state of Israel which allowed them to control the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, after their defeat in 1967, the Muslim Arabs of Israel and Jordan have always pushed to return the situation what it was before, when only Muslims were permitted on the site. The so-called “status quo” has actually proven to be a slippery slope in which non-Muslims have more and more lost their rights, as Israel has bowed to escalating threats of violence from Muslims.
Third, the fact that they have the chutzpah to actually object to metal detectors at the gates they use to enter the site (Jews only have one gate, and it has a serious security check, including a metal detector) after a murder has been committed is instructive. It illustrates the degree to which the conflict is not based on rational considerations. Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, in a surprising development, did condemn the attack – but he also demanded that the Temple Mount be immediately reopened for Muslim worship, and his Fatah party called for Muslims to go in great numbers to the site to “break the siege.” Fatah even rebroadcast an Abbas speech from 2014 that explicitly calls for violent ‘resistance’, just in case anyone might actually believe that he preferred a peaceful response.
This attack and the Arab reaction illustrate something significant for our long-term security. It is that there are at least three Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. The least important is the one the peace processors keep trying to solve: borders, security and settlements. A second conflict is the violent struggle of the Palestinian Arabs to regain their lost honor. Last, but definitely not least, there is the religious conflict.
Every time someone comes up with a proposed solution for borders/security/settlements, honor and religion pop up to torpedo it.
The conflict over borders, security and settlements could be solved by negotiations, which are called in Hebrew masa umatan, give and take. We give them land for a state, they agree to demilitarize it, and so on. But attempts to solve the first conflict exacerbate the second one, honor. Anything we give them comprises a loss of honor for us, a sign that we are too weak to hold on to it and a signal to push harder, demand more, and employ more violence (consider the decision to give the Temple Mount in 1967 to the waqf).
The third conflict, over religion, can never be solved. Islam will still be expansionist Islam regardless of what we do. Israel will forever be dar al-harb unless it comes under Muslim control. Our response has to be to protect ourselves, push Muslim extremists back from our borders, oppose sponsors of Islamic aggression like Iran and Saudi Arabia, support countervailing forces like the Druze and Christians, and keep the Muslim population within our state from threatening our own religious rights and sovereignty.
The shout of allahu akbar and the willingness of the terrorists to die – three fighters with improvised weapons stand no chance in this heavily guarded spot – marked the murder of the policemen as a religious and honor-related act even more than a nationalistic one. Closing the Mount, even if only temporarily, was the best possible response. Needless to say, we must not give in on the question of the metal detectors.
Is this the start of yet another period of increased violence and terrorism? That will depend, I think, on our ability to avoid confusion between the different conflicts. This isn’t the place for compromise, but rather to stand our ground and not allow any further slippage in the not-so-static “status quo.”