What Israel Is Up To in Jerusalem

Once again, war atmosphere in Israel. In television day and night nothing but Palestinians stabbing, hurling, burning; current footage is recycled ad nauseam, and, a second before vomiting, reminders from previous Intifadas are aired, to place the present event in the right historical context. As the fruit juice seller told me, "It has always been like that: they always kill us. First Temple, Second Temple, the Crusades, the Holocaust, and now this." (He  was overwhelmed when I wondered where the Amalekites had gone, who it was that killed them.) So you have on the one hand Palestinians armed with knives and stones – not even bombs and guns this time – and a regional nuclear superpower, one of the world’s biggest exporters of weaponry on the other hand, and is quite obvious that the poor, innocent victim is the latter. When the Gods want to destroy a nation, they first make it blind.

It’s amazing how even intelligent, rather critical Israeli intellectuals – like Yaron London in his daily television news show – believe prevaricator Netanyahu’s claim that Israel has no intention to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. "What, you truly and honestly believe the legends that we want to change the status quo?!", he scornfully asks every Palestinian guest in his studio. Indeed, why don’t the Palestinians trust us a bit more? Have we ever lied to them, tried to take their land, water, freedom  or holy places by force?! The status quo, agreed upon after the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, allows non-Muslim visits to the 7th-century mosques on Temple Mount, but prohibits praying. Is there any reason for the Muslim paranoia?

Oh no, no reason whatsoever. Except for the fact that at least a third of Netanyahu’s own Likud-party Knesset members (not to mention the far-right parties in his coalition) vociferously support changing the status quo, among them the energetic Minister of Culture Regev, who has been convening the Knesset Interior Committee on a weekly basis to "discuss" the Temple Mount. Except for the fact that former Minister of Public Security, Aharonovich, has now revealed that Regev even asked him to break a new entrance into the Temple Mount: "I told her, ‘over my dead body. Don’t you understand the Temple Mount can ignite the entire Muslim world?’ For six years I kept the status quo as much as I could," he told Ha’aretz (15.10.2015). Now he is retired; Regev has just grown stronger. No reason whatsoever not to believe Netanyahu, except for the fact that more and more Jews, and less and less Muslims, are allowed to enter the compound; that Israeli police now hold permanent presence even inside the compound; that there are scores and dozens of groups of Jewish zealots who publish pictures of the Mount with its mosques removed, who try to lay the cornerstone for a third Jewish temple, who prepare themselves to sacrifice animals and all other primitive rites that were allegedly practiced in that Temple two thousand years ago. No reason whatsoever to fear for the future of the mosque, the 3rd holiest place for Islam and a Palestinian national symbol, under the most extremist Jewish government Israel has ever seen.

But it’s not just the Mosques, definitely not. Authoritative commentator Zvi Yehezkeli from Israel’s TV-Channel 10 says it’s all Islamic State: the knives are inspired by the Islamic State (has anybody ever used a knife to stab before?), the use of Facebook and Twitter is inspired by the Islamic State (otherwise Palestinians would still be using pigeon post), and so on. Yehezkeli is a typical example of how social existence determines one’s consciousness: Can you expect the senior analyst to blame the Palestinian rage on the occupation, on the permanent confiscation of lands, on the daily terrorization by soldiers and settlers – while Yehezkeli himself is a West Bank settler?! The settlers have by now occupied not only of the government and parts of the top civil service, but much of the Israeli "liberal" media as well.

So we get exclusively the settlers’ narrative on the Oslo Accords: many young Israelis actually believe the Intifada followed Oslo ("compromise leads to terror") and not vice versa. We get the settlers’ narrative on the present violence: remembering biblical Esau’s hatred towards Jacob as if it were last week, but forgetting the Palestinian family burned to death by Jews a few months ago ("We know who did it," admits Minister of Defense; but the perpetrators enjoy impunity). We get the settlers’ narrative on Temple Mount: the self-righteous "Why can’t a Jew pray in his holiest place?", ignoring the ban by virtually every significant Rabbi for centuries (except for the zealot settlers’ Rabbis) who all ban Jews from defiling the holy site by entering it, ignoring the concept of a status quo (sanctified by the very same Orthodox Jews when, say, public transport on Sabbath or non-religious marriage, both prohibited in Israel, are at stake), ignoring the political realities and sane common sense.

In coping with the violence – no community can tolerate daily stabbing of innocents on its streets – Netanyahu has very little to offer. After all, he refused to negotiate with the Palestinians in years of relative quite (in 2012, for example, not a single Israeli was killed by Palestinian violence), so he won’t start now. Demolishing terrorists’ homes has been reintroduced as a means of deterrence, a decade after the Israeli army itself under Chief-of-Staff – now Minister of Defense – Ye’elon officially recommended stopping such demolitions. With one nuance, though: now Israel has taken the right not only to demolish the houses, but to confiscate their land as well. And this is significant.

Because while left-wing useful idiots triumphantly claim Netanyahu is now dividing Jerusalem, carrying out what they always wanted, the truth is quite different. The Palestinians constitute 35% of Jerusalem’s population, a "demographic threat" in Israeli eyes. East Jerusalem is not cut off from West Jerusalem; this is hardly feasible, as East Jerusalem is packed with Jewish settlements. Instead, the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem are further cut off from each other, encircled and besieged by checkpoints and concrete blocks. There are small extremist Jewish settlements even within many Palestinian neighborhood; the land of demolished houses will be given to them to expand. Palestinians in the strangulated Jerusalem neighborhood will have little choice but to leave to the West Bank enclaves; and, to make things even clearer, deportations and retraction of their Israeli citizenship are already considered. What is likely to take place now is not a division of Jerusalem, but rather its ethnic cleansing.

Author: Ran HaCohen

Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in computer science, an M.A. in comparative literature, and a Ph.D. in Jewish studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English, and Dutch). HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter From Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.