Halamish attack: The writing was all over the wall
Op-ed: Ministers’ attempt to satisfy right-wing voters has been replaced with a fear of a new intifada. Now, terribly late, wisdom has suddenly kicked in: Metal detectors will be removed, the Temple Mount will be opened, and government must pray to Allah and hope things will calm down on the ground.
The murderer is responsible for this murder, and so are all those who incited and helped him, from his relatives to the instigators on social media. The lightness in which young Palestinians are tempted to carry out horrid, unfounded acts in the name of religion casts a heavy shadow on the chance for a real reconciliation.
But we are the sovereign power and we are the neighbor on the other side of the fence, beyond the curve in the road. We have no option of ignoring them. We don’t have to fall in love with them; we have to work vis-à-vis these people undauntedly, coherently and sensibly.
Unfortunately, all these components were missing from the Israeli government’s moves since last Friday’s attack at the Temple Mount gates. There is no determination, no consistency and—most importantly—no wisdom.
After the attack, the police suggested placing metal detectors at the Temple Mount gates. The government ministers were enchanted by the suggestion. They thought a metal detector would be a trump card, that it would boost their prestige among right-wing voters without overly irritating the moderate Arab governments. The queues that will built up in front of the machines would make good pictures.
The exact opposite happened. Anyone who knows something about metal detectors, security and the reality at the Temple Mount, knew that metal detectors can’t prevent the smuggling of weapons into the compound, especially when 100,000 or 200,000 worshippers enter at the same time. Placing the detectors doesn’t really benefit security.
The police didn’t bother coordinating the move with the Waqf leaders. The Waqf is not exactly the landlord at the mountain, but its leaders’ statements play a very important role in shaping the public opinion outside. We cannot go around them without paying a price.
The writing wasn’t just on the wall—it was on the table, in every internal discussion. It was in the mouths of professionals, Shin Bet and police veterans. It was also here, in the press.
The problem likely begins with Jerusalem District Police Commander Yoram Halevy, who acted this week as if he doesn’t know or doesn’t understand the sensitivity and explosiveness of the Temple Mount issue. The same applies to Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. The Shin Bet and the IDF were not in on the initial decision. In discussions held after the metal detectors were placed, they both warned that the decision could spark a wave of serious violence in Israel and in the territories and undermine the moderate Arab regimes. They presented proof—a rise of hundreds of percentage points, from several dozen to thousands, in social media posts supporting the attacks. When Border Police officer Hadas Malka was murdered in a terror attack in Jerusalem, the Palestinian public reacted with a protest: You ruined our Ramadan. This time, it reacted in a consensus, in a mass call to act against Israel.
Erdan refused to listen. After climbing up a tree, he didn’t know how to climb down. The commotion was joined by Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who spotted a golden opportunity to push Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a corner, and Culture Minister Miri Regev, who was looking—as always—for ratings at the Likud Central Committee.
The most puzzling conduct was Netanyahu’s. He is the only one among the ministers who has experience with a developing incident beginning at the Temple Mount. Seventeen IDF soldiers and nearly 100 Palestinians were killed in the riots that broke out after the Western Wall tunnels were opened in September 1996. Netanyahu knows how explosive that compound is.
This time too, it happened while Netanyahu was abroad. In their telephone discussion, the Shin Bet and IDF heads tried to convince him to have the metal detectors removed. He refused. He didn’t want to give Bennett a political gift among right-wing voters. On Thursday night, he convened the cabinet. The discussion ended with a decision not to decide. The police would decide. Netanyahu is that afraid of his own shadow.
The result was a Friday prayer at the Temple Mount without worshippers. Regardless of how Israel saw the empty mountain—as far as the Muslims are concerned, it was a humiliation that must not be accepted. Riots broke out, at first in relatively small gatherings, which allowed right-wing speakers to launch a campaign mocking the Shin Bet and IDF warnings. And then came serious riots, which ended with casualties, and the horrible murder in Halamish on Friday night.
The fear of right-wing voters was replaced with a fear of a new intifada. Now, terribly late, wisdom has suddenly kicked in: The metal detectors will be removed, the Temple Mount will be opened, and Bennett is backing the prime minister. All that is left for the government to do is to pray to Allah and hope things will calm down on the ground.
P.S. On the margins of these explosive days, Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi faced the police, trying to tempt them to use violence against her. It was shameful. Zoabi really wants Jews to hate her; that’s easy. What she fails to understand is that she is making Arabs hate her too. Good for her, she has become a consensus.