At long last, I’ve found some sensible sentiments on the scary, sad situation in Jerusalem. They come from Americans For Peace Now’s Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann of Ir Amin, who have a piece in Haaretz.
They note a few other times when battles over Jerusalem’s holy places threatened to turn a nationalist conflict into an existential, religious war: “If the timing – in terms of the annual cycle – seems familiar, it is no surprise: Most eruptions in Jerusalem occur around the Jewish High Holidays. Recall the 25 Palestinians killed on the Temple Mount during Sukkot in 1990, the opening of the Hasmonean Tunnel during Sukkot in 1996, Sharon’s Temple Mount visit on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in September 2000, etc.”
They could have gone back even further. On Yom Kippur, 1928, riots erupted after Jews erected a temporary screen to separate men and women who were praying at the Western Wall. For months, there were charges and counter-charges, as local Arabs were revved up by nationalist and religious leaders to believe that the Zionist infidels wanted to take over the Temple Mount, and local Jews were revved up by nationalist leaders to stake their claim to Jerusalem. These escalating tensions eventually helped to spark the horrifying massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929. That occured after the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem claimed that Jews were endangering Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount, and incited Arab riots throughout Palestine.
Oh, Jerusalem…Tom Segev, in One Palestine, Complete, is a good source for the feverish conflict over holy places in that city during the British Mandate period. Lara Friedman and Dani Seidemann are a good source right now. They write:
The pyromaniacs are out in force, weakening the forces of moderation and dictating the agenda. Tensions are high, and the stakes could not be higher. To make it through these delicate days with the city – and prospects for peace – intact, it is vital that all sides act with utmost restraint and responsibility.
For Israel, this means that early intervention – such as prevention, for the sake of public order, of any inflammatory event (Israeli or Palestinian) – should be the operational imperative. It also means no provocations: no new settlement activity, tunneling, demolitions or evictions. No symbolic or ceremonial activities on the exposed nerves of the conflict. Israel’s actions in all these arenas will, perhaps more than any other factor, determine whether the current tension dissipates or escalates into a conflagration.
For the Palestinians and the Arab/Muslim worlds, acting responsibly means not stoking the fires of extremism with polemical rhetoric and hyperbole. This does not mean acquiescing to highly problematic Israeli policies in East Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa today is not in danger, but Palestinians in East Jerusalem constitute a community at risk, and the creation of an exclusionary settler hegemony around the Old City threatens to marginalize the Muslim and Christian presences in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority and forces of moderation in the Arab world can and should articulate genuine concerns, and demand that Israel act responsibly. Furthermore, they must also demand the same of all Palestinian factions, making clear that cynical manipulation of Jerusalem to gain domestic political points is not acceptable.