Analysis from Israel
The ban on Jewish worship on the Temple Mount is counterproductive.

Long-term planning has never been an Israeli forte. But perhaps nowhere has this inability to think two steps ahead been more evident than in the battle over the future of Jerusalem – where Israel’s aspiration to retain the city as its united capital has been severely undercut by its policy on the Temple Mount.

Under this policy, every government since 1967 has forbidden Jews to pray on the mount, even though it is Judaism’s holiest site; some have even forbidden Jews to set foot there. The reason for the ban on Jewish worship – which was reaffirmed by the Sharon government just last week, when it successfully persuaded the High Court of Justice to amend a “slip of the pen” in a recent ruling because it could be interpreted as authorizing Jewish prayer on the mount – is fear that it might spark Arab rioting.

That argument seems dubious in and of itself, since at other volatile sites, such as Machpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron, successive governments have enabled Jewish worship to take place despite Arab objections simply by stationing enough troops there. Far worse, however, are the ramifications of this policy for future diplomatic negotiations over Jerusalem.

Most Israelis – rightists, centrists and even moderate leftists – want Israel to retain the Temple Mount under any final-status agreement with the Palestinians. And a priori, Israel’s claim is strong: The mount is Judaism’s holiest site, compared to Islam’s third holiest; it is the site toward which Jews have prayed for over 2,000 years, whereas Mecca holds this honor for Muslims; it is referenced hundreds of times in the Bible, yet not at all in the Koran.

But the consistent refusal of all Israeli governments to permit Jewish prayer on the mount eviscerates Israel’s claim by making it look like pure dog-in-the-manger: The Jews do not actually want to use the mount for worship themselves; they merely want to prevent Palestinian Muslims – who do worship there regularly – from having it.

And why should the international community sympathize with such selfishness? Moreover, this policy is equally destructive for Israel’s claim to the rest of east Jerusalem. Israel, after all, has no conceivable interest in Arab neighborhoods such as Shuafat or Beit Safafa; its claim rests entirely on the fact that east Jerusalem contains the heart of the ancient Jewish kingdom – the Temple Mount and the City of David – and is therefore the historic heart of the modern Jewish state. But if Israel cares so little about these historic roots that no Israeli government has caviled at banning Jewish worship on the mount, and some have even barred Jews from ascending the mount entirely, it is hard to blame the international community for not treating Israel’s historic claim very seriously.

THUS WHILE most Israeli governments for the past 38 years have been either rightist or center-left, all, without exception, have in fact served the policy of the far Left – which wants east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to be given to the Palestinians.

The ban on Jewish worship on the mount has many other deleterious consequences as well. First, it undercuts the fight against anti-Semitism: How can Jews credibly protest violations of Jewish rights overseas when the Jewish state has barred Jews from worshiping at their holiest site for 38 years without eliciting a peep from the international Jewish community? Second, it undermines respect for the rule of law in Israel by making a mockery of the law that guarantees freedom of access to the holy sites for all faiths. And third, it encourages Arab violence by showing that such violence (or the threat thereof) achieves results.

But what makes this short-sighted policy even more ridiculous is that it has not even achieved its stated goal of preventing Arab rioting: Muslims on the mount have repeatedly stoned Jews praying at the Western Wall below or attacked Israeli policemen guarding the area. This in turn has forced Israel to maintain a large and expensive security presence around the mount. Thus in practice, the security situation at the Muslim-only mount is no better than at Machpela, where Jews and Muslims worship side by side.

Indeed, Machpela is living proof that Jews and Muslims can share a holy site. On most days, Jews and Muslims pray in separate chambers of the cave; on certain religious holidays, it is open exclusively to either Jews or Muslims. And by and large, this arrangement works. There has, admittedly, been occasional violence, but no more so than at the Muslim-only mount; and while the arrangement requires a large security presence, this has proven equally necessary at the Muslim-only mount.

In fact, joint worship on the mount would be easier than at Machpela, because on the mount, unlike at Machpela, the two faiths do not seek to pray at the exact same spot. All rabbis agree that under Jewish law, the actual site of the Temple is currently off-limits to Jews, and since its precise location is unknown, the ban extends to any place where it might have stood – which includes the site of the two mosques. Thus the only sections of the mount that any rabbi has deemed appropriate for Jewish worship are peripheral areas such as Solomon’s Stables or a strip behind the Western Wall.

As opposition leader, Ariel Sharon seemed to understand the importance of a Jewish presence on the mount. Since becoming prime minister, however, he has preferred to mouth empty slogans about united Jerusalem being Israel’s eternal capital while continuing a policy toward the mount that virtually precludes such an outcome.

Unfortunately, neither he nor his successors are likely to alter this policy unless that majority of Israelis who do care about Jerusalem’s future make it clear that they will no longer accept a ban on Jewish worship on the mount.

10/26/2005
Jerusalem Post

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ISIS Borrows a Tactic from Hamas

The U.S. Army recently announced that it has horrifying video footage of Islamic State fighters herding Iraqi civilians into buildings in Mosul. The plan was not to use them as human shields–that is, to announce their presence in the hope of deterring American airstrikes. Rather, ISIS was deliberately trying to ensure that American troops killed them, by “smuggling civilians into buildings, so we won’t see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack,” an army spokesman said at a briefing for Pentagon reporters. The motive, he explained, was hope that massive civilian casualties would produce such an outcry that the U.S. would halt airstrikes altogether.

There’s an important point to this story which the spokesman neglected to mention: This tactic is borrowed directly from Hamas. And it was borrowed because the world’s response to successive Hamas-Israel wars convinced ISIS that creating massive civilian casualties among residents of its own territory is an effective strategy. Admittedly, Hamas hasn’t yet been caught on video actually herding civilians into buildings before launching attacks from them. But there’s plenty of evidence that Hamas prevented civilians from leaving areas whence it was launching rockets or other attacks at Israel, thereby deliberately exposing them to retaliatory strikes.

During the 2014 Gaza war, for instance, the Israel Defense Forces warned civilians to evacuate the town of Beit Lahiya before launching air strikes at Hamas positions. But according to Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, who based himself on interviews with Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas gunmen showed up and warned that anyone who left the town would be treated as a collaborator. Since Hamas executes collaborators, that was equivalent to saying that anyone who tried to leave would be killed on the spot. Thus, faced with the alternative of certain death at Hamas’s hands, most Beit Lahiya residents understandably opted to stay and take their chances with the IDF.

There’s also plenty of evidence that Hamas deliberately launched attacks from buildings where it knew civilians were present. Just last month, for instance, I wrote about a case during the 2009 Gaza war in which Hamas directed sniper fire at Israeli troops from the third floor of a well-known doctor’s home, thereby forcing the soldiers to choose between becoming sitting ducks or shooting back and risking civilian casualties. Unbeknownst to the soldiers, Hamas was also storing explosives in the house (using civilian buildings as arms caches or wiring them with explosives is standard practice for Hamas). Consequently, when the soldiers fired at the Hamas position, an unexpectedly large explosion ensued, killing three of the doctor’s daughters and one of his nieces.

In short, Hamas repeatedly used tactics aimed at maximizing the number of civilian casualties on its own side. Yet instead of blaming Hamas for this, the world largely blamed Israel. Mass demonstrations were held throughout the West condemning Israel; there were no mass demonstrations condemning Hamas. Journalists and “human rights” organizations issued endless reports blaming Israel for the civilian casualties while ignoring or downplaying Hamas’s role in them. Western leaders repeatedly demanded that Israel show “restraint” and accused it of using disproportionate force. Israel, not Hamas, became the subject of a complaint to the International Criminal Court.

Hamas thereby succeeded in putting Israel in a lose-lose situation. Either it could let Hamas launch thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians with impunity, or it could strike back at the price of global opprobrium.

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