Hanukkah's Temple Mount Incitement

The 'hunt for incitement' by both Israelis and Palestinians sometimes veers toward the hysterical, and is too often steeped in ignorance of the other's religious texts and traditions.

"From tomorrow night, for more than a whole week, Jews around the world, led by Israeli army generals appearing on Israeli television, will lead the incitement against the Muslim presence on the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, which they call the 'Temple Mount'. Every evening they will chant to their god: 'Let our house of prayer be restored – and there we will bring You a thanksgiving offering. When You recover the sacrificial site from the barking enemy who holds it now, then we will celebrate the altar's re-inauguration with song and psalm.'

"If this is not incitement, what is? Plainly this Jewish text doesn't see the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa remaining in operation on the Mount when the Jews are back there praying and sacrificing. We are merely dogs in their eyes ('the barking enemy'), to be swept away."

The above quotation did not appear anywhere, as far as I know. I made it up. But it could have appeared – that is the point – in a Palestinian site purporting to monitor Israeli or Jewish 'incitement' against Arabs or Muslims.

"Maoz Tsur," sung by Jews everywhere at Hanukkah candle-lighting, and partly paraphrased above, is accessible in any prayer-book. What is forgotten is the fact that most Israelis, starting with the generals who lead their soldiers singing it each night and broadcast on television, have never actually thought about what the popular hymn says and means – and absolutely do not want a return of animal sacrifice. Nor are they campaigning for the forcible restoration of the Temple in place of the mosques.

By the same token, similarly misguided and hysterical "condemn incitement" texts can and do appear on Israeli sites monitoring the Palestinian media and wider Muslim world, inevitably exacerbating the tensions between the two nations.

I do not contend – it would be inane and blind to do so – that there is no incitement against Israel and Judaism on the Arab side. Sadly, the Palestinian media and public rhetoric drip with it. The Egyptian media are not much better. Israel has every right to monitor it all and point it up to the international community. Naturally, this inspires similar efforts by the Arab side to identify and condemn alleged Israeli incitement (of which there is plenty of the real thing, particularly in ostensibly religious settler-literature).

The danger, however, is that this mutual incitement-hunting is becoming a self-perpetuating element of the conflict fuelled by a zealous dynamic of its own. But it is too often steeped in ignorance of the other side's culture and especially of the other's religious texts and traditions. What reads in the eyes of one side as uninhibited incitement is for the other an ancient hallowed text, recited for centuries, and irrelevant to the current conflict.

Again, this is not an argument for either side to ignore the poison of real incitement. But, perhaps surprisingly, both sides – and the prospect of peace – could benefit from authentic efforts by both sides to familiarize themselves with the other's culture. Distinguishing between texts passively commemorating historical episodes transformed over the centuries into tradition, and those that incite in the here and now, may have the effect of reducing the output of the various monitoring organizations. But it would allow a far clearer focus on the incitement that really matters.

Moshe Gilad