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“Temple Mount crisis” awash with misinformation

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The domestic and international atmosphere of crisis that has accompanied Israel’s incoming government lacks context and historical perspective. This is particularly true regarding the highly charged issue of the latest Temple Mount drama, in which National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s recent 13-minute visit to the Temple Mount plaza triggered international opprobrium. The international outcry is missing critical information and instead is awash in misinformation.

The recent election of a right-wing Israeli government is the result of the widespread terrorism, violence, and crime that has been overlooked in the international discourse. More than 10 major terror assaults, some ISIS-inspired, across Israel’s major cities in 2022 claimed the lives of tens of Israeli civilians in major cities including Beer Sheva, Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, and Jerusalem.

Israelis became afraid to allow their children to leave their homes, particularly at night. Additionally, Israel has suffered an increasing problem of Bedouin Israeli gangs committing violent crimes, stealing public land in the Negev, and robbing civilians, stopping their cars at gunpoint. Additionally, the Hamas rocket war of 2021 fuelled by the historic “Al-Aqsa is in danger” libel, triggered widespread violence against Jews in mixed cities such as Ramla, Lod, Acco, and Jaffa.

Palestinian Authority incitement against Israel’s presence in Jerusalem has taken a toll. A January 2023 Palestinian public opinion poll revealed that a majority of Palestinians support armed terror attacks inside Israeli territory. At the same time, an increasing trend of violent crime within the Arab sector, particularly targeting women in Arab communities, brought a measurable voting constituency for Ben Gvir even among Arab Israelis, as Professor Mordechai Kedar noted in a December 2022 interview.

These trends of terrorism and violent crime across Israel’s major cities generated a broad sense of internal insecurity that resulted in Ben Gvir’s growing popularity among both religious and secular voters, including in Tel Aviv’s bastions of the Israeli left. Additionally, the sharp increase in fatal terror assaults in Israel throughout 2021 were preceded by two major Hamas rocket wars that forced a third of Israel’s population to seek shelter in underground bunkers.

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terror factions threatened Israel’s physical security while they continued to spearhead a decades-long crusade of demonisation and erasure of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and ongoing warnings and threats preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. Hamas spokesman Abd Al Latif al Qanua said in the Middle East Eye in advance of Ben Gvir’s visit, “The Palestinian resistance [a code word for Hamas and PLO terror groups] will not allow the neo-fascist occupation government to cross the red lines and encroach on our peoples and our sanctities.”

It’s true that Ben Gvir’s brief visit to the Temple Mount, punctuated by his fiery personality, which triggered a dramatic debate in the Israeli and international discourse, was a response to Hamas’ explicit warning that the Temple Mount was exclusively Islamic and that Jews had “no business” demonstrating any presence there. But United States state department spokesman Ned Price issued an inaccurate statement suggesting that Jewish visits to the Temple Mount jeopardise the “status quo” in Jerusalem and could provoke violence. It has become clear, though, that any Jewish presence in Jerusalem “provokes violence”. Hamas used the recent Sheikh Jarrah (Shimon HaTzadik neighbourhood) legal case which ruled in favour of a building’s Jewish owners, to declare war against Israel, sparking riots.

The issue isn’t Ben Gvir’s visit alone, but decades of Palestinian opportunistic assaults on Israel’s presence in Jerusalem. Israel’s Old City historical Western Wall tunnel, opening in 1996 under the first Netanyahu coalition, triggered massive protest and unrest, though it had no effect on the status quo, Muslim holy shrines, or private property. Still, the international community condemned Israel, adapting Arafat’s Judeophobic narrative.

In the current situation, Israel’s domestic debate has also triggered misinformation which has spilled into the international discourse. Israeli political culture includes extreme language from both political directions, but regrettably, it results in increasing gains for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in South Africa and across the West. Israeli opposition leader and former prime minister, Yair Lapid, casting Israel’s democratically elected government as racist and anti-democratic, has only played into the hands of the Jewish state’s harshest adversaries.

Israel’s internal debate has also overshadowed the far more significant Hamas and Palestinian propaganda crusade, which claimed that Israel “stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque” in violation of the 1967 status quo in Jerusalem. Following the Six-Day War, former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan handed the keys of the Temple Mount to its vanquished Jordanian neighbour with the proviso that Jews would be able to visit but not publicly worship at its holiest site. As journalist and Jerusalem expert Nadav Shragai notes, Dayan’s concession was punctuated by a fear of turning what he viewed as a territorial conflict into a religious one. Ironically, though, to extremist terror organisations, the conflict is fundamentally a religious one, a fact still widely misunderstood by South Africa and the West.

The religious underpinnings of the conflict have also been underemphasised and even wilfully ignored. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have for decades implemented a policy of erasure of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of “Judaizing Jerusalem” for archaeological digs in the Old City of Jerusalem, shamelessly destroying Jewish Temple artifacts in the 1990s after the Oslo Peace Accords had already begun. Hamas has used Jerusalem-related issues as pretexts to launch its rocket wars against Israel. The 2000s’ Second Intifada, called the “Al-Aqsa Intifada”, cost hundreds of Israeli lives.

These claims were merely a continuation of a century-old Muslim Brotherhood inspired legacy. The first Palestinian Arab leader, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the British appointed and Nazi-affiliated “Grand Mufti” of Jerusalem, accused Jewish worshippers of endangering the Al-Aqsa Mosque by requesting a small partition be erected to separate men and women worshippers.

Historical context and perspective are key to understanding Ben’s Gvir’s actions. His symbolic turn away from what has been a tepid and concessionary Israeli approach to Jerusalem in the face of decades of violent PLO, Palestinian Authority, and Hamas policy regarding Jerusalem may appear confrontational and aggressive.

However, his approach is well understood by Palestinian adversaries who for years have succeeded in convincing Israelis and the West to adopt docile, tepid, and concessionary policies in response to both rhetorical and physical aggression. As uncomfortable and unpleasant as the optics appear, in the Middle East, the culture and language of power, honour, self-confidence, and both individual and national resilience, are concepts that Israel’s uncompromising adversaries and new regional allies understand.

  • Dan Diker is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and directs its project on the Study of Political Warfare and BDS. Please visit the centre’s website at jcpa.org. Senior Researcher Tirza Shorr assisted with preparing this article.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Shimon Z. Klein

    January 12, 2023 at 8:40 am

    An excellent article that explains the confusing “legalese” accurately. Israel is moving in a dangerous direction by politicising the Courts and dispensing justice according to the party lines of the evil, homophobic, fascist government in power that is shooting holes in Israel’s present faulty democracy. The courts will be subservient to the present evil, right-wing government that Paul Mirbach so accurately describes. The solution does not lie with the Israeli electorate, as there is a move to destroy the left and possibly the centre opposition. Demonstrations will not change the government. Apartheid SA ended by boycotting SA sports as starters followed by boycotting South Africa economically brought the end to apartheid. When boycotts harm Israel, sanctions and divestment, democracy and an end to the occupation of Palestinian lands will end and a two-state solution will be negotiated. If Israel is hit economically and things go bad for the Israeli citizen, then the evil, messianic, religious, racist, homophobic Netanyahu Government will lose support and disintegrate. I never supported BDS in the past.It may be the beginning of the end of fascism in Israel, which is now on the increase.

  2. Steve Tan

    January 12, 2023 at 4:34 pm

    Oh nonsense. The Israeli supreme court under Barak usurped the authority of the elected government to make laws. It drastically overstepped its bounds and the new government is now setting things right. What’s the point of having elections if an unelected, self-perpetuating cabal has taken power into its own hands, declaring that “everything is justiciable”?
    To call the current government “evil” is to call the majority of Israeli voters evil. You have fallen prey to the propaganda of Lapid and his lackeys, who can’t stand the fact that they were voted out of power in a democratic election.
    The Palestinians and the Israeli left brought this situation upon themselves.

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