Israeli chutzpah over the Temple Mount, Western Wall

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Photo: Kristoffer Trolle

You would think from the Israeli reactions (even, surprisingly, from Haaretz) that the title of the UNESCO resolution passed on Thursday was, “There Was Never Any Jewish Temple In the First Place.” Haaretz’s headline said the agency was guilty of “nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount.” Isaac Herzog said UNESCO was “completely invent[ing] the fantasy that the Western Wall and Temple Mount have no connection to the Jewish people.” You can imagine what Netanyahu and the right wing were saying.

This is Israeli propaganda that I’m sorry Haaretz fell for. (I don’t expect any better from Herzog.)

The resolution, put forward by the Palestinians and six Muslim countries, protests Israel’s actions in and around the Temple Mount and against Muslims praying or seeking to pray there. (Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand on the site.)

No mention of these complaints, however, is made in Israel. The only thing in the resolution that got noticed here was that it referred to the Temple Mount, which is what Jews and Christians call the place, only as “Al-Haram al-Sharif” – the “Noble Sanctuary,” which is what Muslims call it. (The measure also referred to the Western Wall as “Al-Buraq Plaza” followed by the words “Western Wall Plaza,” but with the latter in quotation marks, which also pissed Israelis off.)

I don’t know if all the claims made in the UNESCO resolution are true. I don’t know if, as claimed, Israel is blocking Muslim restoration projects or harming Muslim interests with its own earth-moving work. One thing I do not believe is that the State of Israel is deliberately “endangering Al-Aqsa,” as Palestinians and other Muslims are convinced. Moreover, the common Muslim dismissal of Jewish roots at the holy site is a deep insult to Jews, and speaks very badly for popular Muslim attitudes.

But while Palestinian and Muslim notions about the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif are a problem, it’s quite a display of blind arrogance for Israeli Jews to insist that Muslims include the Jewish name for the site in a complaint about Israel’s rule over it, and that if they don’t, they’re guilty of, effectively, anti-Semitism. (Incidentally, the resolution “affirm[s] the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions …”)

I say “blind arrogance” because only the most fastidiously even-handed Israeli Jew ever refers to that site as anything but the Temple Mount. It’s safe to say that most Jews are unfamiliar with the name “Haram al-Sharif.” An even greater majority draw a blank on “Al-Buraq Plaza.”

Should they be accused of “nullifying Muslim ties to Haram al-Sharif”? Does speaking only of the Temple Mount make them, in effect, Islamophobes?

Western Wall Plaza/Al Buraq Square.
Western Wall Plaza/Al Buraq Square.

Also, the Israeli reaction is quite a display of colonial hauteur given that the Jewish state is the ruler over the holy site, that Israeli cops are stationed in the general area of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, that Israel determines who can go there to pray and who can’t, and that it blocks Palestinians in the West Bank from getting not only to Al-Aqsa but to any part of Jerusalem.

Finally, it’s incredible chutzpah for Israelis to insist that the resolution’s Muslim sponsors mention the Temple Mount and the Western Wall (and the latter without the insolent quotation marks, thank you) – when Israel has deliberately erased the names, and often the actual physical presence, of so many Muslim holy sites over the decades.

Israelis don’t forget how Jordan desecrated Jewish holy places in Jerusalem when the Old City fell under the kingdom’s control after the 1948 war. Yet in May 2001, historian Benny Morris (evidently before he swung so sharply to the right) told me in an interview:

“What the Jordanians did to the synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem pales in comparison to what Israel did to many more mosques all over the country.”

Mosques stood in about half of the 400-plus Arab villages that Israel destroyed during and after the 1948 War of Independence, and except for a few isolated instances, the mosques were destroyed with everything else, Morris said. Another “several dozen” mosques were demolished in cities where Arabs fled or were forced out, such as Jaffa and Ashkelon, he added.

In some cases, mosques were left standing and repurposed, so to speak, by Israel. For instance, Morris said, the mosque in the prewar Arab village of Zakariyya was turned into a fuel storage dump in the postwar Jewish village of Zecharia. He noted:

“If this had been done to a Jewish synagogue, we would call it desecration.”

And in the decades since 1948, as I was told by Meron Benvenisti, author of “Sacred Landscape – The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948” and one-time deputy mayor of Jerusalem, “A great many Muslim burial sites were turned into the graves of Jewish saints.”

So I ask myself: If I were a Palestinian Muslim, and all this was my history, and now I was barred from going to Jerusalem, or at best I had to pass through an Israeli police cordon to pray at Al-Aqsa, and there was of course no way in hell Israel would let me visit Al-Buraq Square, and I wasn’t hearing Jews using the names “Al Buraq” or “Haram al-Sharif” – would I make sure to mention the name “Temple Mount”? Would I be careful to take out the quotation marks when I mentioned the name “Western Wall”?

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Further reading:

“Full text of new UNESCO resolution on ‘Occupied Palestine,'” Times of Israel, October 13, 2016.

“UNESCO backs motion nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount,” Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury, Haaretz, October 13, 2016.

“Where are the mosques of 1948?” Larry Derfner, Jerusalem Post, May 18, 2001.

Israel’s most brutal combat unit is now No. 1 choice among draftees

Israeli Border Policeman facing Palestinian boy.
Israeli Border Policeman, backed by Israeli soldiers, facing Palestinian boy, September 28, 2012. Photo: Palestinian Solidarity Project

A sign of the times: The most preferred combat unit among Israeli draftees is now the Border Police, the security forces’ most notoriously brutal unit, the lead enforcer of the occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The announcement comes from the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, and was reported this week by Haaretz.

Why has the Border Police jumped ahead of previously most favored, legendary brigades like Golani, Givati and Paratroops? After all, the Border Police has long had the reputation as a dumping ground for the poorest, worst educated, most violent and racist Israelis, mainly Mizrahim but also some Druze and Bedouin Arabs who’ve gone over to the Israeli side with a vengeance.

What’s happened is that the only “action” left for a gung-ho 18-year-old Israeli boy anymore is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The wars that the army’s prestigious brigades used to fight with Lebanon and Syria, and before that with Egypt, Jordan and others, seem a thing of the past; the neighboring Arab states don’t want any part of the IDF anymore. Gaza flares up every couple of years or so, but if you want sustained action for your three years’ military service, it’s in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that means, first and foremost, the Border Police.

I had the pleasure of serving alongside them during a month of reserve duty in Gaza City in 1990, and guarding their base in the Strip for a month in 1991. They were scary; cranked on adrenaline and itching to lay into Arab flesh. I’d wake up to them revving their engines and screaming as they drove off to the refugee camps.

The question of motivation

It’s tempting to say that the upsurge in the Border Police’s popularity shows that more and more Israeli youth are attracted by the unit’s reputation for violence and cruelty toward Arabs; that would fit with the general shift to the Right in Israeli society, especially among young people. But such a conclusion would be premature: Not every 18-year-old Israeli boy or girl who wants action in uniform is a racist or sadist, by any means.

The thing is, though, you can’t rule out attraction to anti-Arab violence and cruelty as a reason for the Border Police’s new popularity, because everybody knows where they work and whom they police, and everybody knows their reputation. It’s kind of hard to imagine an 18-year-old choosing that unit if he or she and their family had a serious problem with “aggressive tactics” against the Palestinians, or with the occupation at all.

No doubt many of them would say, “I don’t hate Arabs, I just want to fight terror, and the Border Police are on the front line.” Yes, the Border Police are on the front line against terror, but they’re also Israel’s front-line goon squad against Palestinians who aren’t terrorists, and so it’s impossible to argue that they don’t create terrorists, too. The unit is saturated with Arab-hatred and brutality; these are at the core of its unofficial “battle heritage.” A given Border Police recruit may simply want to fight terror, but he or she has to know that they will be fighting very, very dirty.

Another thing that can be deduced from the unit’s new status is that the stigma which once attached to it is gone.

Also gone is the once-common notion that the proper role of Israeli soldiers is to defend their country against attack by enemy armies, not to police a foreign, subject population.

Like I said, it’s a sign of the times.

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Further reading:

“Border Police is now Israel’s most popular combat unit among new recruits,” Haaretz.com, September 8, 2016

“Israel allocated the work of the occupation unfairly, but that’s changing,” Haaretz.com, September 9, 2016

“Israelis’ heartwarming response to shocking police brutality,” +972, May 25, 2016

“Israel police documented savagely beating Arab in central Tel Aviv,” Haaretz.com, May 22, 2016

“When a police officer is actually a soldier,” Mondoweiss.net, June 23, 2015