October 6, 2000. In the face of bloody riots at Temple mount, and in response to Muslim threats, Ehud Barak decided to evacuate the Israel Police from Temple Mount and deploy it below, at the Western Wall. The result: The Waqf forbade Jews from visiting the Mount; Palestinian cheekiness grew.
Every Friday, during prayer time, the Arab preacher delivered a sermon of hatred against Israel and fanned the flames; the Islamic Movement declared, resorting to the regular mantra, that the Jews are endangering the al-Aqsa Mosque; following prayers, a barrage of stones was hurled at worshipers near the Western Wall; the Palestinians charged both in the local and international media that this was an Israeli provocation.
The police, who were instructed to hide their presence in order "not to irritate" and "not to give Arafat a pretext to start a fire" turned to Waqf leaders and asked that they calm down the rioting youth. After about 25 minutes, "tensions were gone" and the stoning of the empty Western Wall area ended. Would a different policy towards Palestinian provocations have led to a different story? The facts show this is the case.
In March 2001, the first Sharon government was sworn in. Growing Palestinian terror was in the midst of the "Oslo Intifada"; meanwhile, massive excavations that erased any trace of Jewish history were being undertaken at Temple Mount; the Palestinian Authority's "security apparatuses" were operating in Jerusalem; Faisal Husseini conducted himself as a "chief commissioner" who carries out Arafat's orders out of the Orient House at the heart of the State of Israel's capital.
Quite a few security experts and police officers, still under the threatening shadow of the Or Commission, and still affected by the dispirited Barak government, warned: If the police are sent in, in a bid to end the throwing of stones, people will be killed on Temple Mount. This was precisely Arafat's wish – to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious conflict pitting Jews against Muslims.
The officials recommended continuing the current arrangement, while showing determination. The implication: The continued stoning of Jewish worshippers and their banishment from the Western Wall. This bad situation had to be changed.
Government must stop apologizing
Remember the movie "Revolving Doors?" As it turns out, just like in the movie, in reality too a different policy we adopted in a familiar scene (youth, Waqf, incitement, tempers flaring, stones, and so on and so forth) changed the rest of the story.
In the spring of 2001, once the first stone was hurled, large police forces immediately stormed Temple Mount, without weapons or rubber-coated bullets, removed the rioters from stoning range, and worked to bring those involved to justice.
The police also ordered the Waqf to end the excavation work, closed the Mount's gates to trucks that were removing earth and bringing in construction materials, and forbade any changes at Temple Mount, including maintenance work, without first securing a permit. The police started to enforce its orders. The stoning ceased almost immediately.
Of course, the policy adopted in Jerusalem cannot be isolated from the determined anti-terror policy adopted by the government in the years 2001-2002, particularly following the Park Hotel suicide bombing. In all matters of internal security, the police were instructed to enforce the law with determination and fairness.
The Orient House and all its cancerous branches were closed down; Palestinian "security apparatus" were limited, until they were paralyzed; the offices of the al-Quds University's administration were closed down until Chairman Nusseibah signed a pledge to end any supervision and terror-sponsoring at the offices; police units in civilian clothing started frequenting Temple Mount in order to pave the way for renewed visits by Jews.
It goes without saying that the Islamic Movement did everything it could in order to test Israel with the familiar script: Youth, incitement, tempers flaring, demonstrations, protests, stones.
They started to construct the Shihab al-Din mosque in Nazareth in defiance of the Christian Church of the Annunciation; they attempted to stir up emotions and riot during "Land Day" demonstrations and in events commemorating October 200o, and back then we also heard words of incitement to violence from Sheikh Salah similar to those we heard this week in Nazareth. "Those who play with fire – will be burned."
They went with their script, and we went with ours: Strictly ensuring the law is being enforced and never giving in to threats. The result: Israeli sovereignty gradually returned to Jerusalem; the Temple Mount's gates were reopened to Jewish visits; the Islamic Movement kept a low profile for some time and its leader was sent to prison.
I provided great detail of the above-mentioned story for the benefit of one reader, Defense Minister Peretz, who apparently didn't see the movie, and therefore is recommending that the government adopt the capitulating script. Chronicle of more terror foretold.
Following the Lebanon defeat, and while Qassam rockets continue to land in Sderot – Israel's power of deterrence is "down," like a defeated body that can and should be punched again. The Mugrabi gate is merely a pretext. In order to shape the story in a manner that is favorable to us, we must do what needs to be done for the sake of public welfare at the Mugrabi Gate.
The Israel government in its entirety must stop apologizing and ensure that both the letter and spirit of the law are being followed, and never ever capitulate in the face of threats backed by the culture of terror. Only one possibility is worse than violence – capitulation in the face of violence.
The writer is a former minister of internal security and currently a research fellow at the International Counter-Terrorism Policy Institute