October 2000 by Asher Intrater
That place. It's only a few hundred square meters. That place. It's the place where God told Abraham (Gen. 22) to take his son there and offer him as a sacrifice. It's that place that David then chose to be his site for building the Temple. It's also of course the place that is central to the ministry and future kingdom of our Lord Yeshua (Jesus). It's only a few hundred square meters. We Jews call it the Temple Mount. The Moslems call it the Al Aksa Mosque. Both consider it a holy place. Sometimes I wonder if a place in and of itself can be holy.
Over the past year the Palestinians and Israelis have been coming close to a peace agreement. Both were ready to make large concessions. Despite all the slogans about Jerusalem, most Israelis were ready to make even serious compromises about control of East Jerusalem. (Which is of course totally Arab inhabited.)
Everything was ready for a compromise. Everything was ready for a peace agreement. Except. that place. Except for those few hundred square meters. Jewish people just can't consider a compromise on that hill above the wailing wall. The Moslem world has decided to make an existential identification with the Al Aksa mosque as well. Some Moslems are claiming that it is not a holy place at all to Jews. As one Palestinian said this week, "You have pagatem (wounded, hurt, insulted) us. You have pagatem the Al Aksa. And by that you have pagatem all of us."
A little over a week ago Netanyahu was cleared of corruption charges. While he has not yet declared his return to politics, the door is now open and his return to the leadership of the Likud party and its prime ministerial candidate seems imminent.
Almost immediately after the clearing of Natanyahu and publicity about him in the Israeli newspapers, Ariel Sharon, the current leader of the Likud party, announced his intentions to "visit" the Temple Mount. He called for all the Likud leadership and Knesset members to go with him. (Actually only a small number showed up.) Of course this wasn't a simple visit but a political statement.
To many it seemed as an attempt by Sharon to show dynamic leadership in the Likud, more than even a statement to the Arabs. It seemed as if he wanted to show some bold leadership to be compared with the image of the possible return of Netanyahu. Of course the policy statement was - in the midst of all the peace talks we want to make it known that the Temple Mount is holy to us as Jews. It is in our possession, will stay in our possession, and we have the right to visit it any time we want to no matter what mosque is there and no matter how angry it may make the Palestinians.
The Palestinian and the Israeli Arab leadership warned that it would cause a big reaction. However, I don't think anybody thought it would cause this big a reaction. In some ways the violent reaction from the Palestinians may have been a secondary or subconscious goal of the right wing. In other words, let's show everyone that there really are no real peaceful intentions by the Palestinians. Let's do something to provoke them into disturbances which will ruin the image of coming peace.
It's also interesting in the light of Sharon's statement that the Temple Mount is holy to Jewish people, to note that according to rabbinic law, Jews are forbidden to visit the Temple Mount. Sharon of course is a secular Jew. No religious Jew would ever go up to the Mount. The rabbinic reasoning is that you might accidentally step on the place where the Holy of Holies was, and therefore commit a grave sin by defiling the Holy of Holies. In any case, the disturbances were more than anyone expected. More violent and more widespread.
To us as Jews and Jewish believers in Jesus it is inconceivable and unacceptable that the entire Moslem world would claim that the Temple Mount is not holy to us, and that we have no right to be there. It's as if the whole Moslem world is saying that the Temple Mount belongs to them and not to the Jews. And not only that but they are willing to cause a world war over that point.
That is where the peace talks broke down. That is where neither Jews nor Moslems can compromise. There is something about that location that inspires uncompromising, even suicidal, religious fanaticism. That is why the Jews in Jeremiah's time were so angry with Jeremiah. It is also why the religious Jews of Jesus' time were completely shocked at his seemingly incomprehensible statement and prophecy that soon "not a stone will be left upon a stone" at the Temple.
The situation here is the most serious it has been since the Gulf War. We are only a couple of steps away from war. This touches us personally as our eldest son will be entering the Israeli army in a combat unit in another four weeks.
One of the sad and serious aspects of the disturbances from the Israeli viewpoint has been the reaction of the Israeli Arabs. Over the past ten years there has been a slow but steady trend to see themselves as Palestinians instead of Israeli Arabs. Many of them feel that that have tried their best to be Israelis, but have failed because of lack of acceptance within the Israeli society. They seem to be giving up. The prejudice cannot be overcome. This is sad because many Israeli Jews and Arabs would like to live together. It seems that the forces of darkness are too great.
Another serious aspect is the immediate, widespread and violent response of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Obviously the pot was already boiling more than we had thought. To the extent that the enormous reaction of the Palestinians is just a religious response to the Temple Mount, I think it is utterly reprehensible. (It is particularly aggravating in the sense that whenever Arabs have been in control of Jewish sites, Jews are completely forbidden to enter. On the other hand, when the Israelis have been in control of Moslem sites, they have done their best to give them full access.)
On the other hand, the huge reaction of the Palestinians is an indication not only of blind religious fervor, but also of economic, social and political frustration. To my mind the Palestinians have been the victim of a clash between historic religious and ethnic forces which are far beyond their day to day existence. On the day to day level, the Palestinians are suffering. They have gone 33 years without political representation. They are living in often horrible economic conditions. They are so frustrated that they are ready to explode. The incident at the Temple Mount gave them an opportunity to vent that frustration. And explode they did.
In a strange way both Israelis and Palestinians are subconsciously happy with these violent disturbances. Both sides are frustrated. Both sides want to demonstrate their patriotism. Both sides want to show that they still have a kind of macho strength in the face of the emasculating peace process.
The old definitions and stereotypes are easier to live with. Both sides want to say, "We are the good guys, they are the bad guys." Both sides want to be the religious elite. Both sides want to be David throwing the stone at Goliath. Both sides want to be the innocent and suffering saints, persecuted for righteousness' sake.
The Arab side finds unity in hating the common Israeli enemy. Heads of State among the Arab nations are hugging and kissing one another and calling for a united Arab summit. The Israelis are also more comfortable with the common Arab enemy. Even Shas leader Eli Yishai has talked about the need for supporting Barak during this difficult time. The Likud and the Labor parties are giving signs of a possible unity government if the disturbances continue.
In short, we know how to hate one another; we don't know how to love one another. We know how to make war, we don't know how to make peace. Both sides go home now feeling self-justified and righteously indignant.
At this tender point, the situation could go in one of three ways. 1. The tensions could increase and we could move directly toward a bloody war, 2. We could go into a tense stalemate for a period of time with the peace talks frozen and both sides re-entrenching themselves in status quo animosity, 3. In the strange theatrics of Middle East bargaining, the current violent and well-publicized disturbances could be just the thing to set the stage for a reluctant signing of peace accords.
From everything we can tell from internal Israeli communiqus, the Israeli army is doing its best to restrain armed responses. Their orders were not to shoot unless there was a life-threatening situation. Of course with hundreds of thousands of rioters, though mostly unarmed, the situation often turned life threatening. In addition, there were some instances in which the soldiers in these situations began to lose control and react violently when not needed.
The current total shows over 50 Palestinians killed and almost 2,000 wounded, while on the Israeli side there are a mere handful. To the Palestinians these statistics are proof of Israeli military aggression. Yet I can think of no other country in the world where the numbers of killed and injured would be so small facing an uprising of this scale. In any other place there would have been a massacre. What can soldiers do at an outpost when they are being attacked by a mob of angry rioters.
It must also be said that during this whole uprising, the Israelis have wanted to stop at any and every moment. It is clear that the Palestinian leadership has wanted the disturbances to continue. Israel knows that it has nothing to gain by these disturbances. Apparently the Palestinian leadership with Arafat feels they have a something to gain. On the other hand, those statistics can't be argued with. The real suffering of the Palestinians is painful and devastating.
In summary, the situation is complicated, dangerous and painful. We as believers must beware of simplistic solutions and superficial slogans.
Let us pray to bind the forces of Islam that stand in militant opposition to Biblical values. Let us pray for wisdom and righteousness for the political leaders. Let us pray to bind the forces of violence and bloodshed. Let us pray for a righteous solution for the plight of the Palestinians. Pray for the Israeli people to know how to react in a godly manner.