What is really happening in the much-debated and sacred Esplanade of the Mosques (for the Muslims) or the Temple Mount (for the Israelis)?
As I write these lines on this tense and problematic Friday, already three Palestinians were killed, while two others are seriously injured and others have suffered light injuries. This is the outcome of the clashes during Friday prayers, this time recited outside of the Esplanade of the Mosques.
At the beginning of the 1967 war, Israeli troops conquered the old city of Jerusalem. A patriotic and enthusiastic soldier climbed on the roof of the sacred Al Aqsa Mosque and raised the Israeli flag. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordered him to remove it immediately; he understood well that this was an affront to one of the most sacred Muslim places.
Dayan, in short, carried out an occupation with dramatic implications, on the one hand with an iron fist but on the other hand, with pragmatic and conciliatory steps. The various Israeli governments over time have always considered the Esplanade of the Mosques a potentially explosive place; any triggers there could have terrible consequences.
So, they kept restraining the Jewish fundamentalists who dreamed of restoring the temple, the central element of the Messianic conception — the temple in the spot of the mosques. But in 1996, shortly after becoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, inebriated with electoral success, ordered the opening of a tunnel leading to the Esplanade.
The clashes exploded one after the other: 100 Palestinians and 17 Israeli soldiers were killed. The premier was forced to make some concessions to Arafat over Hebron. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak authorized Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Esplanade, and this provocation triggered the Second Intifada. Meanwhile, other incidents caused several casualties.
Last week, three Israelis, Palestinian Arabs of the city of Um El Fahem, succumbed to fundamentalist ideology (or not) and carried weapons overnight to the mosque. The following day, they attacked the policemen on duty, killing two. The aggressors were killed in the skirmish.
As if that were not enough, the three dead cops were Druze; a fact that adds fuel to the tensions between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Druzes.
The impulsive police minister Gilard Ardan of the far right is the new hero. Before even thinking — it should be said that the current Israeli government stands out for its inability to ponder — he prompted Netanyahu to take steps that aggravated tensions in a place as dangerous as dynamite.
Without consulting the Jordanians — with whom generally, although in a semi-official manner, decisions about the Esplanade are taken — the Israeli government declared the ban on access to the mosques for two days, “for security reasons,” and orders the installation of surveillance cameras and metal detectors designed to control and block the smuggling of other weapons.
Muslim religious leaders did not accept these devices, arguing that this is a violation of the status quo agreed by Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. The police — thanks to their troublesome minister — argue that this is a minimum step necessary for security issues and that there are cameras on the Wailing Wall, 100 yards away, as well as in airports, supermarkets and so on.
But the Israeli army and the secret services point out that, although security equipment is in fact used in many places, it would be advisable to remove them from this specific location, because they cause tensions and could again trigger the situation. In short, they suggest a strategic vision and ask the prime minister to find a formula for an “honorable retreat.”
On Saturday night, the premier is traveling to France, where he will exchange kisses and embraces with the young president. Then, he will visit some real friends, in Hungary. Netanyahu feels comfortable with the extremists in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Of course, Orbán has ordered an anti-Semitic campaign against that horrible Jew, George Soros, but Soros shames Netanyahu because he’s an enemy who supports anti-Israeli groups, such as human rights organizations in Israel.
Well, Europe must understand that Israel is the frontier that will block Muslim barbarians; instead of criticizing the Jewish state, the Europeans must realize that it is a recipe for victory, otherwise they will be defeated. In a nutshell, this is the warning that the great premier gives to European statesmen who do not really understand the situation there.
Next, Netanyahu will return home to face a serious dilemma. The extreme right explains that the discussion does not concern cameras and metal detectors; rather, the sovereignty of the country is at stake, and the government must strongly emphasize that Israel is sovereign even on the Esplanade, without surrendering to pressures from abroad or the threat of explosive situations.
Netanyahu hasn’t shown himself to be any less radical than his right-wing allies and goes in the direction suggested by the police.
One dead, two, 20? It doesn’t matter. The point is how to prevent any agreement likely to lead to Israeli-Palestinian peace. We were forgetting the announcement of the Habitat Minister who has a wonderful program: building houses according to plans that would further divide the occupied West Bank.
Thanks to general apathy and European islamophobia, the government of Israel can continue with the occupation. A policy that makes peace impossible.