Opinion

The Temple Mount Is in the Fanatics’ Hands

Stun grenades explode as Israeli police clash with Palestinian worshipers on the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, August 11, 2019.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

It’s clear that the Jews have to mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – all Jews, not just the “handful” of messianic fanatics sewing together robes like the ones worn by the ancient priests. All Jews who love the Jewish people and seek peace, particularly those who are liberal, abhor racism and for whom human rights, freedom of religion, equality and freedom of expression are important, must go to the Temple Mount.

But that’s not to mark the destruction of the ancient Temples but to mourn for our country, where chilly drafts blow through wrecked walls – a country whose leaders are corrupt, whose judges expel children and their mothers from the Promised Land and whose cabinet members stand trial. We have to mourn for its army, which is occupying 5 million people, for the high priest, the official in charge of supervising the government, who’s a willing prisoner in the lap of the dictator, and for the citizens who own the country and are still convinced they’re the Chosen People.

Even Haaretz’s editorial Monday, “A Surrender to a Few Extremists,” fell into the trap laid by that “handful.” Granted that only about 200 zealots, bullies of religion, thronged the entrance to the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, but they’re not a handful. They forced the police to let them in even at the price of a violent confrontation. And they forced the authorities’ hand with the knowledge that much of the public is behind them.

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Most of them have never visited the Temple Mount. Some even object to the closing of movie theaters and cafes on the eve of Tisha B’Av, but they still can’t stand that Muslims could be able to dictate to Israel the times for prayer and visitation rules at holy sites.

At one time, this handful was labeled aberrant and strange, wild weeds, hilltop youth – monikers designed to play down the threat they pose. Now they’re the second and third generation of musclemen who have taken control of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, which is also holy to Muslims, and have set the rules for prayer there. They have taken over Beit Hadassah in Hebron, gloried in the building of the Jewish Avraham Avinu neighborhood in the heart of the Arab city, and purged entire streets of their Arab residents.

From there they’ve gone on to building wildcat outposts in the West Bank that have become legalized neighborhoods and communities under governments that at first were “only” succumbing to nationalist pressure and then eagerly joined the rampaging gangs. In their honor, the law was changed, billions of shekels were generously provided and the army was enlisted to protect their property and lives. And after about 50 years, political leaders from the right and center have been imploring this “handful” to open their hearts and give the leaders their stamp of approval as patriots.

Other than the radical left and the Arab parties, no one bothers to ask anymore if you’re for or against a withdrawal from the territories, for building settlements or uprooting them, not to mention partitioning Jerusalem. Such a question makes the asker sound weird because it requires a response on whether someone prefers political suicide or remaining alive.

One of the last remaining tests of nationalist racist credentials for those in power and those who seek to gain a spot at the cabinet table or in the Knesset is the Temple Mount. The “handful” demands to know who’s for and who’s against giving Jews access to the Mount at any time. And that scares the politicians. Other than Labor Party chief Amir Peretz, who took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to task for surrendering to right-wing pressure (but isn’t this the same Peretz who might be willing to join a Netanyahu government?), it has been hard to find a straight answer on the subject.

Benny Gantz? Yair Lapid? Moshe Ya’alon? Ehud Barak? Orli Levi-Abekasis? The moderate right, maybe? Anybody? They’ve become paralyzed by the threat from the “handful” – as long as God forbid, you don’t get labeled Muslim lovers or defeatists.

This is the new focus of national interest. The country can be destroyed over and over because the right to mourn over the ruins is the true test of courage and leadership. The real “handful”? It’s those who look on in horror at the destruction, wring their hands and realize that this is their future.