Tensions at Jerusalem’s holiest sites are nothing new, but two recent conflicts – and the way that Israel handled them – offer a fascinating study in contrasts.
The terrible details of the more recent conflict are well known. Three Israeli Arabs murdered two Israeli Druze police officers, Haiel Sitawe, 30, and Kamil Shnaan, 22, just outside the Temple Mount. The terrorists then fled back to the Temple Mount, where Israeli police shot them dead. In a particularly cruel twist of fate, Sitawe had become a father just three weeks earlier.
We all know what followed. Israel placed metal detectors at the Temple Mount’s entrance and all hell broke loose. A week later, a West Bank terrorist entered a home in the settlement of Halamish just as the extended Salomon family was sitting down to Shabbat dinner in order to celebrate – in that very same twist of fate – the birth of a new child. The terrorist murdered Yosef, 70; Chaya, 46 and Elad, 36.
The terrorist’s father drew a straight line between the metal detectors and his son’s despicable act: “I don’t support it, not the killing of Jews and not the killing of Arabs. But the reason for my son’s action is bigger than anything else: Al-Aqsa, the holy place for all Muslims.”
This all seems bizarre for us. Even here in comparatively peaceable Canada, we must pass through metal detectors to get to a Blue Jays game, for heaven’s sake. If anything, our reaction was: “You mean there weren’t metal detectors at the Temple Mount already?”
Well, there aren’t anymore, either. Bowing to intense pressure from the Arab world, embarrassed at having acted without properly consulting his own security establishment and fearful of further bloodshed, Benjamin Netanyahu did a complete 180. The metal detectors are gone.
On one level, this is very admirable. Politicians seldom reverse course so overtly. And while it is tragic that so much innocent blood was spilled, it is still to his credit that Netanyahu swallowed his pride and took Israel off such a catastrophic path. I wish all politicians just admitted their mistakes and corrected them more often.
Now, compare this to the other recent conflict at a Jerusalem holy site. In June, Netanyahu reversed course as well, only that time he unilaterally backtracked on an agreement to create a new egalitarian davening area at the Kotel.
‘Surely if Israel can reverse in the face of Muslim pressure on Temple Mount metal detectors, it can reverse (or re-reverse) in the face of Jewish pressure on the egalitarian Kotel plaza’
In doing so, Netanyahu placated his Orthodox coalition partners, but enraged much of the Diaspora, so much so that we may be at a turning point. For years, it was unthinkable for Jewish audiences to protest Israeli leaders outside of Israel. More recently, though, Jews on the far left have begun to disrupt Netanyahu’s Diaspora events. The Kotel decision, coupled with further marginalizing of non-Orthodox Diaspora rabbis involved in conversion, could easily lead to much broader protests. The very Diaspora Jews who have defended Netanyahu in the past might protest him in the future.
However, here’s one thing they won’t do: Jews fighting for the egalitarian plaza and a balanced conversion process won’t use violence, much less murder, as a political tactic or as some twisted expression of their nationalist frustration.
So, in a way, there is less pressure on Netanyahu to act on the Kotel and conversion than there was on the Temple Mount.
But there is still hope. Surely if Israel can reverse in the face of Muslim pressure on Temple Mount metal detectors, it can reverse (or re-reverse) in the face of Jewish pressure on the egalitarian Kotel plaza a few metres below.
Netanyahu should therefore recommit to an egalitarian plaza, but not only because it is the right thing to do. It would also send a loud and clear message that, when it comes to Israel’s holiest places, peaceful, principled protest can yield positive, constructive results too.
What a lesson that would be for Ramos Sitawe and Ari Salomon, two infants born into the latest, bloody tragedies emanating from Israel’s holiest places.