The Temple Mount crisis is a perfect example of what has been called “Israel Derangement Syndrome:”
Arab Muslim terrorists murder a couple of Israeli police officers with guns they took onto the Mount. The terrorists are shot dead.
Israel takes the most minimal security measures, closing the site for a short time while they search it, and installing metal detectors (like the one I go through at the mall every day when I pick up my newspaper) and security cameras.
Palestinian Arabs and pretty much the whole Muslim world go insane, staging violent riots that include attempts to murder more policemen (which end in death for 3 rioters). The waqf that controls the Temple Mount orders Muslims to refuse to go through the detectors and to pray in the street outside.
A 19-year old terrorist leaves a Facebook post in which he explains that he is compelled to act as a result of the humiliation visited on his people by the Jews, butchers a 70-year old man and his two children, and seriously wounds his wife. Only the prompt arrival of an armed off-duty soldier prevents the terrorist from trying to murder the man’s daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren. The terrorist is lightly wounded and is shown grinning from his hospital bed (where he is being treated by Israeli doctors).
Another terrorist stabs an Israeli Arab bus driver in a shwarma restaurant in Petach Tikva, mistaking him for a Jew. After he is subdued by several citizens (including one who hits him with a wooden pizza tray), the terrorist tells police that “he did it for al-Aqsa.”
A 17-year old Jordanian moving furniture in the Israeli embassy in Amman stabs a security guard in the stomach with a screwdriver. The guard shoots and kills him in self defense (and also accidentally kills another person in the room). Anti-Israel agitation in Jordan is at a high level, with a major demonstration in Amman taking place two days before the incident. The Jordanians refuse to release the guard despite his diplomatic immunity, and he is only freed after a high-level agreement that involves American officials and includes the removal of the metal detectors and cameras at the Temple Mount.
Israel removes the metal detectors and cameras, but increases police presence. Riots continue and the waqf maintains its boycott on the grounds that everything must be returned exactly to the state it was in before the murder of the policemen that started it all, or it will consider the “status quo” breached.
During all of this, the international media have consistently presented the issues on a spectrum ranging from “it’s a cycle of violence” to “Israel is guilty of terrorism against Palestinians.” Headlines like the Guardian’s “Six dead as Israeli-Palestinian tensions boil over” suggest that Arabs killed while throwing firebombs at police are equivalent to Jews stabbed at their dinner table. NPR explains that the rioting did not stop after the detectors and cameras were taken down because “plans for a new security system have prompted more protests.” How dare we make plans to protect ourselves!
Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, members of the Islamic Movement in Israel and some Israeli Arab members of the Knesset blame Israel for the violence, with some of the Arab MKs’ statements rising to the level of incitement to violence.
Rallies and demonstrations in favor of the Arabs are held all over the world, many in Muslim countries but also in South Africa, the UK and the US. Israel is found guilty again of “provocations.”
Nobody seems to notice, or care, that in every case the violence has been initiated by Arabs against Israelis. Israeli actions have been limited to self defense, and very limited self-defense at that. From the beginning, Israel has projected weakness. Rather than try to assert Israeli control over the site, PM Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have said over and over that there is no intention to change the “status quo,” the humiliating unwritten agreement that we imposed on ourselves in 1967 that gives “religious control” of the site to the waqf and specifies that while non-Muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount, only Muslims may pray there.
After various officials said that the metal detectors and cameras would remain in place no matter what, they were removed in response to what was arguably a hostage situation in Jordan.
The removal of the metal detectors was a serious mistake. Although it is far from the first time that Israel folded in the face of threats of Arab violence or American pressure – often, as probably happened in this case, applied at the same time – the messages sent by this incident were all the worst possible ones:
- Israel indicated that she would not, now or in the future, try to readjust the unbalanced “status quo,” which flies in the face of the accepted principle that all religions should have access to their holy places. The “access” granted to non-Muslims is far inferior in every way to that of Muslims, and this reinforces the Muslim belief that they deserve more rights than non-Muslims.
- The one who controls access to a place is the owner of a place. The abortion of the attempt by Israel to control access confirmed the Arabs in their belief that they are the owners of the Temple Mount, and indeed all of the city and ultimately the country.
- The fact that violence and hostage-taking caused Israel to immediately give in despite the repeated assertions of Israeli officials that they would not, proves that the strategy of violent “resistance to occupation” combined with international pressure and exploitation of every opportunity (the incident in Amman) works. It proves to them that if they only persevere, their dream of expelling the Jews is not impossible to achieve.
PM Netanyahu and most of his cabinet understand this. They also understand the issues relating to the religious and national aspects of the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs. They understand that nothing in the Middle East is more important than symbolism, and they understand that control of the Temple Mount is a stand-in for sovereignty in Jerusalem. So if they understand all this, why did they fold?
There is a problem for leaders of democratic countries, which is like the similar problem faced by business executives who have to answer to stockholders. In business, there is tremendous pressure to meet next quarter’s goals, even if the company’s future suffers. In politics there is always the next election to worry about, and there is pressure to deliver peace and quiet now. There are rioting Arabs on TV every night and there is a hostage in Amman, he has a family, and these are problems that have to be solved now. Possibly the long-term consequences of solving them in the easiest possible way will not be so good, but they will be dealt with later. The can is kicked down the road.
Today’s Israeli leaders, like most in the West, are pragmatists. They do what works, and ideology is much less important than in the past. Bibi’s pragmatism would be foreign to Begin or Ben-Gurion. Not that they couldn’t compromise their ideologies to some extent when they had no alternative, but because ideology always guided their actions toward long-term goals. They had a direction and strong (although different) visions of what the state of Israel should be. Today things are different. The Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, the head of the Shabak, the IDF Chief of Staff, and the police chief all have their priorities. Within the framework of those priorities, they solve problems. Perhaps they are too busy to worry about visions.
In this case the government chose to be submissive and to ignore the humiliation inherent in its posture, because that seemed to be the quickest and least costly way to solve today’s problems. But at best it is a short-term solution, and even that is not certain, since disturbances are continuing despite our backing down.
The Arabs have a vision for the future, and although they have so far lacked the means to make it real, they have the will to do so. We have more power today than we’ve had since the days of King David¸ but our national will is fragmented. We have the ability to create the future, but we don’t agree on what future we want to create. So we elect pragmatic politicians, who know how to solve problems.
Is this crisis just another bump in the road, or is it a turning point? I am not sure, but I’m certain that we would be better served by leaders that not only can solve problems, but who have a clear idea of our ultimate destination.