Tuesday, October 06, 2009

ARSON IN JERUSALEM

Third intifada?


For a few hours yesterday, it looked like Palestinian leaders were about to unleash a third intifada. That they didn't is perhaps attributable to a recognition that centrally-planned terrorism - drive-by shootings, bus bombings, the slaughter of children in pizza shops - is now as passé as their previous tactic of airline hijackings. Still, there's plenty of room for spontaneous violence, inspired though not coordinated from above.

The special priestly blessings of the Succot festival which brought tens of thousands of worshipers to the Western Wall culminated without incident. Still, the joy of the occasion was somewhat lessened by the palpable tension of threatened Arab violence.

The background: Prior to Yom Kippur, the head of the Muslim Wakf learned that a fringe group of Jews planned a visit to the Temple Mount. They are harmless enough - part of a stream within the mostly settler milieu that wants to establish a Third Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock and reinstate animal sacrifices.

Generations of Jewish scholars have studied the practices and rituals of our ancient Temples, praying that one day the Messiah would deliver the Jews, and that God's presence would be manifested for all. But the group in question has busied itself with stitching the garments and crafting the sacramental objects the Israelite priests will "soon" need.

Police learned that the Wakf was bothered, and preemptively barred the Third Temple group from the plateau. But as police opened the area to other visitors, escorting a group of mostly French Christians to the Mount, waiting Muslim youths unleashed a barrage of projectiles. The police rescued the tourists and arrested some of the rioters, but the atmosphere in and around Jerusalem's Old City remained tense.

CURIOUSLY, Ramadan passed with nary a disruption. Indeed, Israeli authorities took various measures to facilitate the unfettered observance of the holy month in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza also. Too bad, then, that Palestinian leaders could not find it in their hearts to reciprocate by allowing the Jews to observe Jewish holy days in tranquility.

But, really, that is comparing apples and oranges. Israeli authorities foster coexistence and maintain free access to the holy sites. Palestinian factions, by contrast, want just the opposite. Jews do not deny the religious significance of the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount. Yet Palestinians can't abide the fact that the Jewish presence in Jerusalem anteceded the Muslim arrival in 636 CE by well over a millennium.

No one knows why the Palestinians decided to stir things up just now. Some suggest it was part of an effort by Mahmoud Abbas to distract his people from the Palestinian Authority's unpopular decision not to further exploit the Goldstone Report at this time. Some say the PLO and Hamas are competing for influence in Jerusalem and with Israeli Arabs. Some argue it is the work of radical Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and want more influence within the Palestinian polity.

Whatever the reason, this much is clear: nothing brings Fatah in Ramallah, Hamas in Gaza City, and the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch in the Galilee more into harmony than "protecting" the Haram al-Sharif from - in the words of the PLO news agency WAFA - "radical Jew colonizers."

Sadly, not one Palestinian leader is willing to tell his people that, of course, there was a Jewish temple where the Aksa Mosque stands today. To admit a Jewish civilizational connection would demand that Palestinians agree to share the area and to treat Jewish holy places with respect. It would turn upside down a Palestinian political culture that has socialized generations to think of Jews as interlopers. And this neither Fatah's Abbas, nor Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh nor the Islamic Movement's Sheikh Raed Salah will ever do.

SINCE the liberation of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, the Jews have been magnanimous in victory. Not only have they permitted Muslims to retain administrative control over their holy places, Israeli authorities have forbidden Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

The Israel Police restricts visits by non-Muslims to 7:30-10:30 a.m. and 12:30-1:30 p.m. and bars them entirely on Muslim holidays. To appease Muslim sensibilities, since 2006, successive Israeli governments have forbidden the Antiquities Authority from blocking illegal Palestinian excavations below Temple Mount. And invariably, when Arabs threaten violence, it is the Jews who are barred from the site to reduce tensions.

So while Israel's "Third Temple" fanatics are carefully policed and marginalized by mainstream society, the Palestinian leadership continues to mainstream fanatical ideas about Jews - making reconciliation unreachable.

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