The current Palestinian protests, related to the shootings at Al-Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem over a week ago and subsequent Israeli altering of security arrangements at the site, could, as some Israeli analysts observe, “turn into an intifada in the blink of an eye.” (Nir Hasson in Haaretz).
The Israeli narrative here is that it is trying to prevent “terror” – referring to the shooting attack on July 14 by three Palestinian citizens of Israel on Israeli security forces, killing two Border Police officers on July 14th, with the attackers shot dead on scene. Prime Minister Netanyahu has assured the world that “this is a measure to prevent the use of weapons on the Temple Mount, something that happened for the first time.”
But it really depends whose weapons you are counting, and whether Israeli weapons count. And whose ‘terror’. There is a problem in defining the event as terror, something that Israel’s politicians from left to right are doing – see for example Labor’s new leader Avi Gabbay, calling it a “vile terror attack” and the gunmen “despicable murderers”. But as Gideon Levy notes in Haaretz, “the shooting of two police officers on the Temple Mount has a motive, a reason and deep roots. But discussing them is considered treason and a justification of terror”. Indeed, the gunmen were acting solely against security forces of an occupying power. That the Palestinians were citizens of Israel (over 2/3 of Palestinian citizens of Israel identify as Palestinians and not as ‘Israeli Arabs,’ as Israel defines them), does not change their affiliation as Palestinians, and Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem does not change the fact that this annexation is considered null and void by international law.
But for the Israeli mainstream, such discussions are hardly being had, even in cases where the alleged assailant is a Palestinian who is not a citizen, as in the case of Fadi Qanbar who ran over a gathering of soldiers, killing four before he was shot dead, on January 8th, also in East Jerusalem.
These considerations and definitions may seem somewhat pedantic to some, but they are, actually, rather crucial towards the understanding of a bigger paradigm of terror, of which Western media often obscures our understanding. Thus, I would like to take us back to 1967, when Israel conquered East Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the recent half-century paradigm of occupation, under which Al-Aqsa is geographically and politically placed.
The first act of Israeli state-terror conducted near the Al-Aqsa compound was the razing of the Mughrabi (Moroccan) quarter adjacent to the Al-Aqsa compound and the Western Wall, in the immediate wake of the war (10th-11th June). The quarter, dating back about 7 centuries, was ethnically cleansed of its 700 residents, and 135 homes flattened. Certain structures on the neighborhood‘s periphery were initially retained, most notably a mosque near the Bab Maghribeh, and the Zawiyya Fakhriyya. Both, however, were eventually razed in 1969.
This crime was undertaken for the ‘holy purpose’ of clearing a huge plaza in front of the Western Wall so that Jews could access it more easily. The decision to do this was made by the top military echelon, specifically Defense Minster Moshe Dayan, and Chief of Central Command Uzi Narkiss, but it also involved Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek as well the Military Governor of East Jerusalem Shlomo Lahat (later mayor of Tel Aviv). There was no formally written decision on this razing (in order to avert opposition), and they used private contractors, who performed the task with a rather religious zeal and called themselves “The Order of the Kotel”, meeting under this nostalgic fraternity until the 1990’s.
Bear in mind, that the decision-makers here, as well as those carrying out the job, were generally seculars, leftists, ‘liberals’ – not some overtly religious fanatics.
But there were also more overtly religious fanatics.
One of these was Chief Military Rabbi, General Shlomo Goren. Goren had quite explosive plans for Al-Aqsa. He was one of the first to arrive at the scene after the Israeli conquering of the Old City. As Tom Segev notes in his seminal ‘1967’:
‘General Goren the chief rabbi of the IDF, told Narkiss that this was the moment to blow up the Dome of the Rock. “Do this and you will go down in history,” Goren said, and explained that such a thing could only be done under cover of war: “Tomorrow might be too late.”’
Fortunately, Narkiss refused, and ‘only’ implemented the ethnic cleansing of the Mughrabi quarter. It is almost impossible to imagine what would have happened if Narkiss had heeded the advice of the zealous General-rabbi.
The wall and the history of the plaza in front of it are unknown to many. But for some of those who have learned it, including Orthodox Jews such as Michael Lesher, this has become a “wall of shame.” As Lesher notes, “the Talmud rules that a Jew who sees that site [Western Wall] must tear his clothes in mourning for the ruined Temple–hardly a triumphal gesture. The breathless sentimentality with which Israeli propaganda has invested this bit of stolen architecture is as untraditional as it is vulgar. Nor did anyone, before the advent of Zionism, consider the Wall a proper place for communal Jewish worship. To quote Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, “The Kotel was never a synagogue; nor should it ever become one.”
But Goren cared not one bit for these notions. He was all triumph. As Segev notes:
‘“The divine spirit, which has never left the Western Wall, now walks before the armies of Israel in a pillar of fire to light our way to victory,” he [Goren] said when he reached the wall with the first of the soldiers. Over the next weeks he blew his shofar all over the country, from Mount Sinai in the south to Mount Hermon in the north. On August 10, Goren came to the Temple Mount and found the gates blocked. He and a group of soldiers began to break the gates down so they could enter and pray, thus reoccupying the compound from the Muslims.’
Israel’s recent closing of the Al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers in the wake of the shootings is noted as a very rare event. Such a closing occurred in 1969. This was due to… Judeo-Christian terrorism.
On the 21st of August 1969, an Australian Christian named Denis Michael Rohan set fire to Al-Aqsa mosque.
Rohan was a volunteer in kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, and was a member of the Church of God, a California-based evangelical sect which had founded Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. His engagement consisted chiefly of listening to the sect’s “World Tomorrow” program beamed from Radio Amman in Jordan, according to an investigation by the Jerusalem Post.
One day, Rohan had a revelation at the kibbutz:
“I’m Jewish, I’m Jewish,” he cried. He spoke to his companion of the imminence of the Messiah’s coming and the construction of a new temple.
“What about the Dome of the Rock?”, asked his companion, referring to the shrine at the Al-Aqsa compound.
“Who knows,” said Rohan. “Maybe it will be destroyed by an act of sabotage, maybe the Arabs will do it themselves for political reasons, maybe there’ll be an earthquake.”
After his arson attack, Rohan was arrested on the 23rd of August, tried, and found to be insane.
But if Rohan was ‘insane’, what does this say about Rabbi Goren? Rohan was merely attempting to enact what Goren was advocating. Had Rohan himself been a military commander, he may have had more impressive success. And his ideology? If that was insane, what does this say about the millions of Christian Zionists the likes of John Hagee? Or for that matter, what about US Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and his Judeo-Christian white-supremacist ‘Camp of the Saints’?
When an assumed terrorist is Muslim, we don’t have to wait very long to call it terror. Islamic terror, of course. But it’s interesting how, when a terrorist is Christian, and even explicitly notes their Christian ideology (as with Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik), then it begins to go funny. Bill O’Reilly said on Fox News that it’s “impossible” that Breivik was a Christian – because “no-one believing in Jesus commits mass murder”. Fox news is, by far, the most trusted news channel in USA. In addition, Breivik had specified clear Zionist affinities in his 1,500-page manifesto. Former head of the Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman opined that this advocacy was ‘bizarre’: “One bizarre twist to Breivik’s warped worldview was his pro-Zionism – his strongly expressed support for the state of Israel”, Foxman wrote in the Washington Post.
To which Ali Abunimah answered: “Who does Foxman think he is kidding? There is nothing ‘bizarre’ about this at all. Indeed Foxman himself has done much to bestow credibility on extremists who have helped popularise the Islamophobic views he now condemns. And he did it all to shore up support for Israel.”
So, if it’s not Muslim, the notion of Christian, or Jewish, or Judeo-Christian or Christian-Zionist terror is generally considered quite ‘bizarre’, even ‘impossible’. And do we even see it when it is enacted at state level, on behalf of the Jewish State–that is, in a very Jewish sense?
According to former Likud Member of Knesset Ehud Yatom, who was a security official and commander of the operation to seize the members of the “Jewish Underground” terror group, the members were “very close” to blowing up Al-Aqsa in 1984. Speaking on the Channel Two “Meet the Press” program in 2004, Likud MK Tzahi Hanegbi said: “There is no information about specific individuals, because the Shin Bet [security service] and police would not let them continue [with their plot]”.
Oh, that sounds reassuring. They promised to behave, I suppose. I wonder what would have been the fate of these people if they were Palestinians, plotting to, say, blow up a Tel-Aviv mall. Indeed, these people speak freely and incite terrorism on public radio. And not just any radio – Israeli Army radio. One of the leaders of the Jewish plot to bomb Al-Aqsa, Yehuda Etzion, spoke on Israeli Army Radio in 2004 and called the plot a “worthy” goal.
Yatom spared no adjectives in warning about the bombing of Al-Aqsa. He said it would be a “horrible, terrible” thing, something that would put “the entire Muslim world against the state of Israel and against the Western world, a war of religions,” and that “with all of their pain and suffering, today’s terrorist attacks would be nothing compared to what could happen – even World War III.”
But now compare that to the practical assessment which Haaretz conveys:
‘Due to stringent security routines at the Temple Mount, Israeli security officials said Saturday, right-wing extremists would find it virtually impossible to use conventional routes to penetrate the site with explosives. Hence, the possibility of a large bomb being planted at one of the Muslim holy sites is “a lower-level possibility.”’
So, apparently, Israel was very confident in its assessment of security concerning the Al-Aqsa compound as mentioned. But apparently its failure to detect weapons at the compound on the 14th of this month, meant that it would immediately and unilaterally impose a set of metal-detectors and new security screenings, because for once, the weapons and the threat came from within the Al-Aqsa compound, rather than against it. Israel acted unilaterally in imposing this, as well as in closing the site for two days after the attack, although under the status-quo agreement (signed under peace agreement with Jordan 1994), Jordan is the custodian of the site and the Islamist Waqf is the protectorate.
“Bottom line is that Netanyahu and the government did two things wrong,” says Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli historian and journalist. “They ignored that the conflict over [the] holy site is a conflict over legitimacy and ownership” and that “you have to handle it delicately and behind the scenes.”
So Israel was basically saying to the world, to the Palestinians, to Muslims: ‘we own this place’. It was saying, that since its security personnel was killed, that’s just a red line and then we can do as we like. All in the name of ‘security’, of course. To hell with how many will die due to the way we handle it.
The greater paradigm
The greater paradigm here is that of continued occupation. For so many Israelis and Israeli apologists, when it comes to East Jerusalem, the occupation doesn’t exist. It’s because it’s a ‘united capital’ according to Israel’s basic-law definition (1980) which cemented the illegal annexation from 1967. All of that is illegal under international law and according to the whole world. But in Israel’s universe, that world doesn’t exist. That’s why people like the influential New-York Times columnist Thomas Friedman cite ‘420,000 settlers’ of the West Bank, omitting East Jerusalem settlers (another well over 200,000) from the count – essentially ‘giving’ East-Jerusalem over to Israel – as he did in a recent column.
The greater paradigm is that of Israeli state criminality, Israeli state-terror, which pertains to much more than just Al-Aqsa. But Al-Aqsa is admittedly a very sensitive scene, where a drop of Israeli arrogance can serve as a match to light the highly combustible Palestinian, and Muslim, street, just as the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did in his Al-Aqsa visit in 2000, ‘demonstrating presence’ with 1,500 security personnel and igniting the 2nd Intifada.
Those who think that this is all just about some metal detectors, and that it’s ‘unreasonable’ for this to be such a big deal, are missing a bigger picture. For them, focusing on metal detectors alone, and forgetting the rest of the oppression, serves to confirm their view of this being ‘unreasonable’. For them, this is an “artificial crisis”, the term which Haaretz analyst Amos Harel uses. Calling this ‘artificial’ is arrogant, because it suggests that there is nothing in the situation itself to justify a crisis.
But Israel’s control of East Jerusalem is a crisis from day 1. It started with a massive war-crime, and this is etched in the minds of many Palestinians, even if many others have forgotten it or are ignorant of it. The Al-Aqsa compound is occupied as is the whole of East Jerusalem, and it exists within and under this occupation, even if Israel refuses to acknowledge it. It’s all part of a bigger story of oppression, state-terror, state violence. This situation will result in clashes. I have not listed other bloody clashes around Al-Aqsa, such as the Al-Aqsa massacre of 1990, where an extremist Jewish group called the Temple Mount Faithful attempted to place a cornerstone for the Third Temple at the compound, sparking riots in which between 19-23 Palestinians were killed with live ammunition and 150 more wounded; or the 1996 riots following the opening of a set of tunnels that Israel dug under the compound, during which about 80 Palestinians and 14 Israeli soldiers died.
In such a violent paradigm, which this colonization and occupation represent, even archaeology is seldom benign, and archaeological sites such as the ‘City of David’ site in Silwan, just south of the Al-Aqsa compound, are serving as a pretext for ethnic cleansing and Jewish takeover, the same pattern as the ethnic cleansing of the Mughrabi quarter. So it is clear that there is a real basis for fear on the part of Palestinians, that every step Israel takes unilaterally is another step in a design for further takeover.
It’s a matter of nature for colonialists to be arrogant. You have to be arrogant in order to consider yourself worthy of oppressing others. When you’re arrogant, you tend to not see other people’s existence, history, dignity. They disappear under your self-righteous sense of ‘right to exist’ at the cost of the other. And when you do that, you’re playing with fire. You don’t need much to cause an explosion. And then you wonder ‘what have I done wrong?’. Then, in order to preserve your self-righteousness, you call them ‘unreasonable’, and say that you live in a ‘tough neighborhood’.