On the night of September, 27, 2000, I found myself at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. Shimon Shiffer and I had interviewed Ehud Barak ahead of Rosh Hashanah, and a number of loose ends needed to be tied up before press time. The conversation went on until after midnight. Before we parted, I asked Barak if he planned on going to sleep. Sleep, he asked. Ariel Sharon's decided to visit the Temple Mount tomorrow morning. I need to call the police chief, to make sure that the police are okay, and there are more things to coordinate.
Why is Sharon visiting the Temple Mount all of a sudden, I asked.
Barak waved his hand dismissively. "It is an internal Likud issue," he said. "Sharon needs it to screw Netanyahu."
Why are you allowing him, I asked.
"Because if we prohibit him, he'll go the High Court of Justice," Barak said. "We can't prohibit him."
The following morning, Sharon conducted a walking tour of the mosque plaza surrounded by several Likud party hacks and dozens of police. The visit passed peacefully, subject to understandings reached behind the scenes; but seven Palestinians were killed in the riots that broke out in Jerusalem the next day, the fire spread into Israel and the West Bank, and thus began the second intifada.
The interview with Barak focused on political problems that were threatening his government at the time. The subject of the Temple Mount didn't come up at all – not in questions, and not in answers. The clouds, dark and threatening, were gathering on the horizon, but we didn't sense the approaching storm – not us, and not Barak, and not Sharon.
If there's a topical lesson to be learned from this story, it touches on the difficulty decision-makers encounter when it comes to understanding God's place in the lives of their subjects. God is an omnipotent rival, a dangerous opponent. When Yitzhak Rabin decided to hand over Bethlehem to the Palestinians, he included Rachel's Tomb in the area to be ceded. Rabin read the map that was placed before him, not the feelings of the men and women who believe in the Matriarch Rachel's wonderful mystical qualities. Popular protest threatened to undermine support for the agreement, and Yasser Arafat, who appreciated the power of religion more so than Rabin, chose to forgo the bequest.
Benjamin Netanyahu knows just how volatile the Temple Mount is. At the beginning of his first term as prime minister, he agreed to open the northern end of one of the Western Wall Tunnels. The Palestinians responded with riots, which cost the lives of 100 Palestinians and 17 Israelis and cast a dark shadow over the remainder of his term in office. Once bitten, twice shy: Ever since the tunnel affair, Netanyahu has sanctified the status quo on the Temple Mount.
But when members of the Likud faction, Moshe Feiglin and Miri Regev, and Uri Ariel, a cabinet minister, visited the Temple Mount in a show of protest and pushed for legislation to change the status quo on the Mount, Netanyahu allowed them to do as they pleased.
The lengthy text messages that the Prime Minister's Bureau sends out several times a day are abundant in verbs. Netanyahu "ordered," "instructed," "determined" or "decided." Netanyahu is an excellent texter, but he's prompted into action only when he feels a knife at his throat. He fears, with some justification, that if he issues a directive to the pyromaniacs in the Likud faction, they'll thumb their noses at him. That's the kind of people they are; that's the kind of person he is.
Police waylaid Feiglin on his way to the Temple Mount on several occasions. The commissioner took up the matter with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein; and Weinstein gave his backing. Feiglin petitioned the High Court. In the end, the police gave in. The police tried to block Miri Regev too. Who are you to forbid me, Regev lashed out at chief of police Yohanan Danino, and he was forced to back down.
The phenomenon is a far graver one than the mere obtrusiveness of two headline-hungry politicians. Recent years have seen a turnaround in the religious-Zionist sector's attitude vis-à-vis pilgrimages to the Temple Mount. We've seen the emergence of groups that have allowed themselves to violate the religious prohibition on pilgrimages to the Mount. Rabbis have been found to sanction the move. What started out as a romantic adventure, semi-clandestine, undertaken by just a handful of individuals, as was the case with the rose-red city of Petra during the early years of the state, has become a fashionable trend, the sector's order of the day. The goal was political – to strip the Muslim Waqf of control on the Mount, and its ultimate Judaization.
From a legal perspective, they were right. A state that upholds freedom of worship cannot prevent Jews from praying in keeping with their customs in a place where their Temple once stood, from erecting synagogues at the site, from showing a presence. Had the state imposed such an arrangement immediately after the Temple Mount was taken, in 1967, it may have been possible to divide up control over the site. But the rules and regulations laid down at the time by Moshe Dayan turned sacred, and any attempt to change them gives rise to war. The settlers should be the first to understand how things work. They sanctify every fact on the ground, even a fact determined by an illegal outpost established just an hour ago.
Intifada in their eyes
I was approached last week at a conference in Brussels by a guest from Qatar. He wanted to know if it's true that the Knesset is about to approve a law that would change the status quo on the Temple Mount. The law won't be passed, I said. He wasn't convinced. All the media in the Muslim world is filled with this story, he said.
He was telling the truth: Currently doing the rounds on YouTube is a video in which Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, deputy religious affairs minister and a member of Tkuma, the ultra-Orthodox-nationalist faction of the Bayit Yehudi party, calls for a change in the game rules on the Temple Mount. The video has become a hit in the Muslim world.
Netanyahu has instructed his spokespeople on several occasions to issue statements clarifying that the status quo on the Mount will be preserved. The Arab media didn't believe him, assessing instead that his support for the status quo is similar to his support for a two-state solution: He says one thing, and does the opposite.
And then came the events of the summer – the abduction and murder of the three teenagers; the murder of the Arab youth in Shuafat; the war in Gaza; the spontaneous terror attacks in Jerusalem. Can it be called an intifada, the pundits are asking. Or perhaps it's merely a disturbance of the peace and it's too early to call it an intifada?
I see the intifada in the eyes of the Jerusalemites, in the anxiety with which they say farewell to their children on the way to school, in the suspicious, frightened glance they flash at the Arab getting on a bus, in the immediate disappearance of Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods and Jews from Arab ones. I hear it in the depressing quiet that has descended on the city.
On Wednesday afternoon, groups of yeshiva students who had skipped classes at nearby yeshivas gathered along Bar-Lev Road, the route of the terror attack. With no Arabs around on which to vent their energies, they cursed the reporters from the various television networks. Within a few hours, Kahane members would turn up and recruit the young men for an organized hate rally. From time to time, the light rail train crossed through the intersection. Its cars were empty.
The other side readied for action too. Unrest kicked off again in the Arab neighborhoods along the seam line. Here and there, demonstrators took to the streets to express their admiration for the new martyr. Youths even came out to demonstrate on Salah a-Din Street, across from the Justice Ministry. The Arab social media sites were flooded with crude hate-speech against the Zionist enemy, sometimes using real names and photos. In Arabic, like in Hebrew, the Internet stomachs anything and everything.
Arab youths stockpiled fireworks, stones and Molotov cocktails in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount. Police were at a loss as to how the Palestinians were able to smuggle so much ammunition onto the Mount. One way of doing so came to light this past week: A rope and basket are lowered over the wall, the basket is filled, and then back up it goes – just like in the old days. The method added a Biblical touch to the conflict.
As called for, the prime minister convened an emergency meeting that same evening. The situation, everyone felt, required a new and effective security measure, something that would affect an immediate change in the game rules, lest we get caught up in an intifada routine. What cannot be achieved by force must be achieved with even more force.
Subsequently, as expected, they realized there's no such patent. Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen is leading the militant approach. He's believes devoutly in collective punishment as a deterrent – prison sentences and fines for the parents of children caught throwing stones, house demolitions, deportations to Gaza, pressure on the population by means of tax collection by force. And Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat shares his views.
Attorney General Weinstein is opposed to collective punishment. His opposition is principle-based and practical. He doesn't believe that punishing family members or neighbors creates deterrence. The opposite may occur: Their hatred is exacerbated; and they seek revenge.
His opposition was put to the test during the summer, during the course of the effort to locate the abducted teenagers and Operation Protective Edge. Yoram Cohen demanded the demolition of the homes of the families involved, along with the expulsion of Hamas activists to Gaza. Weinstein opposed the house demolitions, but viewed the expulsion idea in a positive light. He was of the opinion that expelling Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza is proportionate punishment. After all, he remains with his language, among his people, in his organization.
The Justice Ministry convened a discussion on the matter, and all the international law experts, from the army and the state prosecution, ruled that exiling was impossible, that such a move would see Israel in the dock in The Hague. The attorney general then summoned Prof. Yoram Dinstein, an expert in international law with right-wing views. Don't even consider it, Dinstein told him.
Netanyahu asked the attorney general for an answer – yes or no to deportation to Gaza. Don't pressure me, said the attorney general. If you oblige me to respond, the answer will be negative. Netanyahu got the message. He raised the issue at the cabinet meeting, and then turned to the attorney general. It's a complex matter, Weinstein replied. So you're still thinking about it, the prime minister queried. Yes, Weinstein said, and the cabinet moved on to the next topic.
The summer ended; fall arrived; and the attorney general is still thinking.
Weinstein understood, however, that he wasn't going to get away with conceding nothing. He approved the demolition of homes, in the West Bank and Jerusalem, in the wake of previous terror attacks, and he will do the same when it's the turn of the home of Ibrahim al-Akari, the terrorist from Wednesday. The homes of the Jews who torched and killed the Arab youth, Mohammed Abu-Khdeir, an act that contributed significantly to the current wave of violence, will remain intact. Al-Akari's apartment in the Shuafat refugee camp will be razed.
Hollywood on the Mount
The recent battles on the Temple Mount are being waged for the most part around one of the entrances to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, an entrance the police call "door number seven." The police's battle procedures begin with tear-gas grenades and culminate in forcing the door shut. The door is a large and heavy one that is very difficult to close. Once it is closed, the rioters are essentially imprisoned in the mosque. The police allow them out only after the tourists, including the right-wing activists, leave the Mount.
The Palestinians have learned to deal with the police. They build barricades that make it difficult to close the door, and hide behind them. From there, they fire hundreds of flares at the police. The videos filmed there by the police look like Hollywood-produced war movies.
The police storm forward in full riot gear, including helmets, bulletproof vests and, of course, shoes. According to one police officer, they have to go no more than 3-4 meters inside the mosque. Their entry into the mosque, in shoes, has been raised to the level of sacrilege in the Arab media. And apparently, it shook the soul of Ibrahim Al Akari. He was driving his Volkswagen Transporter and was on his way to the Temple Mount. Eran Degani, a Jerusalem resident who happened to be driving behind him, told me how al-Akari suddenly veered off the road, crossed the railroad tracks and sped into the group of Border Police who had disembarked at the station.
A 38-year old father of five, and not a frustrated youth dreaming of 70 virgins in paradise, al-Akari doesn't fit the usual profile. True, his family is very closely tied to Hamas; but Hamas didn't give him the order to carry out the terror attack. Allah gave the order, just like He gave it to others, Jews, Christians and Muslims: the Jerusalem Syndrome.
And Allah provided the place he comes from too. Israelis who live far from the seam line hear of the Shuafat refugee camp and picture one of the following two scenarios – either a refugee camp like in the past in Gaza – small homes, one or two floors, densely packed, without plaster, immersed in sewage, or an extension of the Shuafat neighborhood, an affluent, bourgeois suburb, north of Jerusalem.
Both are incorrect. The Shuafat refugee camp and Shuafat neighborhood are separated by several kilometers of land that was once rocky outcrops, a large Jewish neighborhood that was built on them, a security fence and a vast gap in the quality of life and standard of living. A for the refugee camp, it was and is no more. There's something else entirely there now.
When the lines of annexed Jerusalem were drawn the day after the Six-Day War triumph, the cartographers didn't make do only with the municipal area of the Jordanian city. They wanted more; and thus, villages, neighborhoods and camps that were not part of the city were added to Jerusalem. The separation fence has left the refugee camp outside Jerusalem. The municipality does not provide the camp with services, except on a symbolic level, using local contractors. There is no law enforcement. There is no authority. The camp is a hornet's nest, a no man's land: The Israel Defense Forces isn't deployed there because the IDF doesn't operate in Jerusalem; the Palestinian Authority isn't there because it isn't allowed to operate in Jerusalem; and the municipality isn't there because it can't work beyond the fence. The only Israelis who see the camp children are the Border Police.
The result is amazing. A series of high-rises, up to 20 floors in height, has sprung up along the mountain ridge. These are homes built without planning procedures, without a license, and probably without foundations, on plots stolen from their owners, Palestinians who emigrated abroad. Everyone who travels from French Hill to Ma'aleh Adumim gazes at the buildings in wonderment: From afar, they appear to be luxury residential projects. From up close, they are slums. And their surroundings are ruled by underworld criminals and the terror organizations. Whoever grows up there finds a place with one or the other.
Mayor Barkat is seeking diligence insofar as the enforcement of the tax laws in the Arab neighborhoods is concerned. When it comes to the Shuafat refugee camp, this presumptuousness invites a bitter smile.
The front line
All the police officers involved in the attack on Wednesday are members of the Border Police, and all are Druze - the fatality, Superintendent Jadan Assad from Beit Jan, H., the officer who shot and killed the terrorist, and the wounded too. The Druze are on the front line in the battle over Jerusalem. They bear the brunt of the Palestinians' violence, of Haneen Zoabi's vitriol, of the plotting and scheming of the Jewish right-wing activists and the Temple Mount crazies, and of the MKs' rebukes, arrogance and lawlessness.
With this backdrop in mind, the prime minister would do well to heed the words of former MK Assad Assad, a relative of the slain Border Police officer, who has called on Netanyahu to put an end to the provocations of the right-wing politicians. Human lives are not the only thing at stake here; Israel's foreign relations are on the line too, and the future of the peace with Jordan first and foremost. Netanyahu is trying to exploit the Jerusalem attack to win the propaganda war with Mahmoud Abbas. Too bad he isn't thinking to the contrary – of negotiations with Abbas in order to win the battle for Jerusalem.
Back to the Border Police: H., the officer who shot and killed the terrorist, had only one request – to be allowed to be one of the pallbearers for the fallen officer.