Josef Olmert

Har Habayit Shelanu. Really?

I am not an observant Jew, not ”shomer Shabbat”, and I do not spend most of Saturday mornings in Shul. When I go [pardon me for it, but mainly when there is no soccer to watch…], I do it in a Conservative Shul. I hope, that this intro is not SO bad in the minds of my readers [I hope they exist…], so they will continue to read. Yes, I hardly pray, but I am angry, in fact, mad as hell, that Jews who do pray, Jews who do go to Synagogue and Jews who fast on Tish’a B’av [btw-I do], have so much difficulty exercising their indisputable right to pray in Har Habayit, and all this happens under a National-Religious government in Israel, under Likud and the Jewish Home Party. This state of affairs is a national disgrace, one which has far reaching implications.

Let us put it all in order. First, any expression against the Prophets of other religions, which we do not accept, yet have to respect, whether on Har Habayit or elsewhere is reprehensible, and this settler who screamed the obscenity against the Prophet Muhammad is a religious zealot, and she said something offensive and idiotic. She, however, is NOT the cause of the riots which occurred in the last few days. One idiotic comment from an individual like her cannot justify riots which were carefully planned in advance. Moreover, days before, Palestinian leaders, not private individuals, were engaged in an orchestrated campaign against the prayer of Jews in Har Habayit, with the specific goal of fomenting riots exactly on Tish’a B’av. Why? Because Tish’a B’av IS the day which indicates the eternal connection of the Jewish people to their historic capital and spiritual center, Jerusalem. Jews may take it for granted, but is there any other people in the world which still remembers and commemorates an event which happened 2000 years ago? This is exactly why the other side is so opposed to Jews being in Har Habayit. How do you refute the rights of others, if not by simply totally negating both these rights, moreover the very existence of the people which claim to have them?

So, the most official spokespersons of the Palestinian Authority [PA], tell us that there was no temple in Jerusalem, and if there was it was built by King Solomon, who was a Muslim[!…], and they oppose the very use of the words Har Habayit. All with the intent of obliterating any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the entire land of Israel.

There is nothing new in that. Go back to the Kotel riots of 1929, no occupation there, no settlements, no Jewish state, but no agreement to Jews praying in their Holy place. Go back to 1949-1967, when the ONLY religious group not allowed to practice freely their rights in Jerusalem were the Jews. But there was an occupation, the illegal Jordanian occupation and annexation of Jerusalem.It is about time to stop the hypocrisy and double standards. There is much more religious freedom to non-Jews in Jerusalem under the Israeli control than what it was to Jews under Jordanian control. This is a struggle over praying rights, also over politics, but much more importantly over historic narrative, and we are losing this battle,as painful as it is. It is amazing that a people with such a long history loses the battle over the narrative.Violence and boycotts were the weapons of the past against us, not doing the job for the enemies, and while they still exist and even painful, the real battle zone now is over the basic rights of the Jewish people, the recognition of its very existence. Those who negate this very basic recognition do it, exactly because they know that if there is a Jewish people it has only ONE homeland, Eretz Israel, so if there is no people, there also is no homeland, surely no Jerusalem.

It is to be expected from a government like the one we have now to understand it, deal with it, fight it, but yok, the struggle is against the Jews who want to materialize their historic rights. That said, it should also be stated clearly, that there are others who claim religious rights in Har Habayit. No theological debate here is needed, as we shall not be able to agree, but we can as the sovereign in Jerusalem create a regime of co-existence, whereby the Muslims will continue to enjoy the rights which they already have, and alas, EVEN the Jews will enjoy their rights. Unilateral surrender to the rioters is not the response, nor is it a provocative behavior of religious fanatics on our side. A strong determined government is needed here, one which realizes sensitivities of Jordan, the PA and other Muslims, but one also which realizes that this is a crucial test of wills.

Those who want to buy quiet in Jerusalem now, will achieve the opposite. In a paraphrase of a Hebrew saying, it is the case here, that those who think they bring quiet now, will reap the fruits of a much bigger religious conflict in the very near future.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina