JCRC Update | October 23,2015

Terrorism in Israel and Its “Root” Causes

Over the last several weeks we have seen a horrible escalation in tensions in Israel, brought about by a false narrative. Propaganda and irresponsible fear mongering have caused Israel to descend into its worse security crisis since last year’s war, and it will take herculean efforts to restore calm. This latest crisis also has to cause us all to rethink (but not necessarily abandon) our ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is easy to assign blame whenever there is conflict in Israel, and usually there is enough blame to go around for everybody. But this most recent flare up in violence falls is based on misinformation … and when you combine that with religion it is highly combustible.

Yes, it is possible (and often times correct) to blame heightened tensions on both sides of the conflict, but the latest turmoil started with a rumor that Israel was planning on changing the status quo with regards to prayer at the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Since 1967 when Israel took control of Jerusalem, Israel has maintained that Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but are not allowed to pray there. Prayer is held exclusively for Muslims. It is a formula that has kept the peace for a long time, and it has also been helped by Rabbinic rulings that Jews should not go to the Temple Mount because it is unknown where exactly on the Temple mount the Holy of Holies was (where Judaism forbids Jews to walk), so Jews have avoided it for years.

This Rabbinic prohibition started to break down recently and, particularly from the religious Zionist movement, Jews are increasingly brazen in going up to the Temple Mount. But the state of Israel strictly enforces the no prayer rule and will arrest Jews for even suspicion of praying. Israel has no interest whatsoever in upsetting this balance. Still, rumors started that Israel was in fact changing their policy. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas added fuel to the fire with his charged (and anti-Jewish) statement that Jews will not desecrate Al Aqsa with their “dirty feet.”

Members of his Fatah party are praising these attacks, and the Palestinians have gone so far as to have a petition submitted on their behalf to the U.N. that the Western Wall (the holiest site in Judaism) be declared Palestinian. This extremism has inspired these attackers to think they are defending Al Aqsa by killing innocent people. This extremism has also inspired Palestinians to burn down Joseph’s tomb in the West Bank (another holy site for Judaism).

Israeli authorities have been responding to the immediate threats, confronting the perpetrators during the attacks and often killing them before they can hurt anyone else. In response, the Palestinian leadership is asking the U.N. to investigate Israel for summary executions of these attackers.

As I see it, this latest flare up of violence is indicative that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is about much more than land, and it is not about settlements. It is something deeper – a religious conflict, a tribal hatred – and that is much more difficult to overcome.

How it got to this point is irrelevant. The question must be how do we restore some measure of calm, and then some measure of optimism so a discussion on a resolution of the conflict can take place. The incitement must stop and, in this latest round of violence, it is coming from one side (mostly). The violence must be condemned. Security must be increased.

Israel, for its part, must avoid the temptation to be heavy handed with its response so that an atmosphere of calm can be restored. And the Israeli government must also be the first to condemn the “mob justice” that is occurring, as in the case of the beating death of an innocent man by a mob after he was mistaken for a terrorist.

But I am starting to think that it is much easier to dismantle a settlement, release a prisoner, agree on water rights, and even provide compensation to refugees than it is to change an attitude that your religion is under threat and you must violently defend it.

A final peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is that much harder now, and it will require brave leaders on both sides to do what is in the best interest of their people, and not necessarily bend to the will of their people. I hope and pray that I will be surprised and see this kind of bravery soon in our days.

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