Maybe We Should Welcome International Observers

It has been a difficult month here in Israel. Once again we find ourselves in the midst of a wave of nationalist terrorism directed at Israelis. Once again we walk with no headphones in our ears, without looking at the internet on our smart-phones.

Yes, we live our lives even with the fear, but some of the color has left our daily routine. Whether it is your White Stripes morning mix while waiting for the bus or checking last night’s football scores on your tablet at the light rail stop, there are little daily things that are missing from life for Israelis right now. We aren’t going out as much. We are aware of every sound, every person, every flashing light or siren send prayers of “no please God, not again.”

It’s nothing new mind you, it is a mode Israelis are all too familiar with. With every upswing in violence, Israelis begin to modify their routine. Military service for most and wave after wave of terrorism has battle-hardened the Israelis. It is the reason that even with such brutal attacks coming on a daily basis, along with all of the ones foiled along the way, more people haven’t been killed. It is the reason more children have not lost their parents. The Israeli bunker mentality is forced upon us, but it serves us well, year after year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that we will be allowed to let go of this mentality any time soon, in the short term or long.

While our bunker mentality serves us well, it can also create a tunnel vision, seeing everything as a threat, everyone else as an enemy, and possibly missing opportunities that could be used to our advantage. Currently the French are working on a draft for the U.N. Security Council that would call for international observers to be placed on the Temple Mount to monitor the situation and document cases of violations of the so called “Status Quo.”

For anyone who doesn’t know, the “Status Quo” in reference to the Temple Mount, refers to the situation that has been in place since Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from Jordan in 1967. It was decided at the time that only Muslims would be able to pray on the Temple Mount, while Jews (and more than a few Christians) wanting to pray at the site would use the Western Wall. Jews and Christians would be allowed to visit the top of the Temple Mount, the location of the Jewish first and second Temples, and housing the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine, but they would not be allowed to pray on top of the Temple Mount.

The “Status Quo” and the Israeli Peace Agreement with Jordan also give administration of the Mosques and the top of the Temple Mount to the Waqif Islamic organization. Israel is also expected to do all that is reasonable to maintain access for Muslims to the site, as it is has important significance to Muslims from all over the world, as well as having significance to Jews from all over the world. Lastly, under the “Status Quo” the Waqif is expected to maintain order for and access to the site for all visitors.

While Israel has done its best to maintain the “Status Quo” others have fought against it. The largest threat to the “Status Quo” comes from the Waqif and Palestinian leaders who have fought a campaign of lies against Israel, claiming that Israel is attempting to change the “Status Quo” and destroy the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa. It has been a recurring theme in the anti-Israel rhetoric so commonly heard from Palestinian leaders. They have done this knowing that it is patently untrue. The “Status Quo” has been in place for 48 years without change, despite almost continuous claims that Israel is trying to change it.

The Palestinian leadership has a history of creating fictitious threats to Al-Aqsa to motivate and justify waves of terrorism aimed at getting Israel to respond and crackdown. Those responses and crackdowns will then be used as evidence of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. We can look to the second Intifada for an example, but we need look no farther back than the last few weeks, with Abu Mazen calling on the world community to vilify Israel for executing Palestinians, without any mention of the fact that these Palestinians were killed in the act of attempting to murder random Israelis.

When France began talk of international observers, the Israeli government answered quickly and decisively, Israel would not accept any international observers on the Temple Mount. From the Israeli mission to the United Nations all the way up to Bibi himself, the idea has been dismissed without a second thought. For a moment, at least, let’s give it a second thought. In any idea, there are positives and negatives, no matter what the situation. From the statements of Israel government officials, I would imagine the Israeli government would say there are no potential benefits to the idea of international observers, but I think there might be a few.

The first benefit I can think of is truth. The Israeli government is not attempting to change the “Status Quo” on the Temple Mount, there is not a shred of evidence to this claim, and that is what international observers will clearly see. They will see Muslim teenagers with explosives and rocks, they will see the abuse that is leveled against non-Muslim visitors (more on that in a moment.) They will see all this, document all this and with such scrutiny on the situation, they will have to tell the world the truth.

Truth though, is not the only benefit to this idea. When these politically motivated waves of terrorism are started by Abu Mazen, and Yasir Arafat before him, they often, well usually, quickly get out of the control of the PA. Is there anyone who thinks Abu Mazen has more than a minimal leash on his people? Once the genie is out of the bottle, he isn’t able to get it back in. These observers are going to become targets. Just like any non-Muslim visitor that has come from anywhere to any Muslim nation, they will become targets. Just like the U.S. Marines in Beirut, trying to stabilize the Civil War, just like U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia protecting from Iraqi invasion became targets, just as French troops in Mali or British troops in Iraq. Anywhere in the Muslim world where soldiers, international observers, or just plain civilians go, they become targets. Just the same they will become targets here. Just like every other non-Muslim visitor to the Temple Mount.

These international observers should come from countries that are not Arab/Muslim and not Jewish. All other countries should be asked to join the observation team. Jews are targeted here in Israel every day, it is time for the international community that is so quick to condemn Israel at every opportunity, to see what it is here. These people won’t be targeted by Jews. They will be targeted by the same people targeting Jews every other day of the year here in Israel. Some of these international observers might be injured or killed. That would be terrible, but that is the truth of Israeli life.

That is the truth that we live with here in Israel every day, that no matter how good the IDF, Shin Bet and the police are, no matter how prepared we are, no matter our bunker mentality, Israelis will die from terrorism. Even for those of us hopeful enough to think about life after the establishment of the State of Palestine, Israelis will still die from terrorism. There is a segment of the Muslim population, I don’t know how small or large, but I know they wield power out of proportion with their numbers, that will always try to kill Israelis, will always try to kill Jews, no matter what, no matter where. For them, there is not occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, there is an occupation of the whole of the land of Israel. For them there is no possible settlement, there is only the complete destruction of the Jews. At the end of the day, the sad truth is that no matter what, Israelis and Jews will always die just for being Israelis and Jews.

So maybe it is time for the international community to have some blood in the game here. Maybe if they see their own people at risk from these terrorists. God forbid their people are harmed, how will they respond? They condemn Israel again and again, what will they do when standing in our shoes? Will they ask Israel to find the terrorist? Will they ask the Palestinian Authority? Will they run away? The world will quickly see what Israel goes through on a daily basis when it is their citizens returning home injured, or worse.

Another benefit is that it might just calm the situation down and stop the wave of terrorism for now. I know, it’s a crazy thought, but it’s possible. It’s possible that with these non-Muslim international observers in place, the Palestinians, and more importantly, the Israeli Arabs will start to see that the claims of the PA about the Temple Mount are false. It’s possible….

Obviously there are possible negatives to the idea of international observers. I wouldn’t be presenting an honest argument if I didn’t talk about them.

The biggest potential negative that I can see is that it might set a precedent. The idea that Israel won’t be in as strong a position to say no if they say yes now. What is to stop the U.N. from calling for the placement of international observers at every checkpoint and settlement across the West Bank? And if they do, how can Israel disagree when they accepted them here. This is a valid concern, but I would offer another way to think about it. First I would connect this to my earlier point, the more international observers from more countries, the more of them will be targeted by the terrorists and the higher number of countries that have their own blood in the game.

Beyond that, the government should stand by what it does. We have many policies that I don’t agree with, but this is a democracy and that’s the way it goes. That said, whatever our policies are, they should be carried out in a legal manner. Our actions should be able to stand up to legal scrutiny. We should never fear being observed if we are taking actions that are moral and legal under Israeli law. If we have people who are committing illegal acts, we want them taken care of like the criminals that they are. All our actions should be able to stand up to the scrutiny of observation, we are a just and lawful society.

Another potential negative is that these international observers might lie. They might be used for propaganda by our enemies. Of course they might, I would say it would be probable. I also think if there were international observers who lied, they would be few and there would be more telling the truth. Contact with Israelis is the greatest vaccine for anti-Israelism. They will also be used for propaganda, but everything and everyone involved in any way here is used for propaganda. It is matter of course that any word uttered by anyone whose name is recognizable to more than 3 people in this country will be used for propaganda by both sides. So even if this potential negative turns out to be what happens, we are in pretty much the same situation we are in now anyway. No big loss.

The last negative I can think of is that people within the U.N. will lie and distort the facts. This is another potential negative that is not so much potential because it is the current situation with everything involving Israel at the U.N. We know we cannot trust the U.N. to be unbiased in its dealings with Israel. We have seen it over and over again. The sheer size of the Arab/Muslim block of countries, and its majority in many U.N. bodies makes it fertile ground for any anti-Israel resolution. But that is what the situation is today and we accept it.

We know that whether we let in international observers or not there will be resolutions against us in the General Assembly. There is another battle to be fought at the U.N. though and that is in the Security Council, and there may be something to change there, and if Israel can show some compromise in this situation, there might be some long term benefit with France, England and China in the Security Council. With some goodwill there, we may be able to secure ourselves against real damage coming out of the U.N. So while yes, there is potential negative in the idea of dealing with the U.N., we already do it, and we already know it’s stacked against us, but we still play the game in the U.N. and if we are going to play the game in the U.N. we should get as close to the veto wielders as we can, and this could help in that regard.

While there are potential positives and negatives to this idea and while it runs against our bunker mentality, the government rejected it without a second thought, as this government often does. Maybe this idea deserves a second thought, maybe even a third before rejecting it out of hand. Maybe our government ought not to dismiss any idea without a second thought. Maybe it is the job of our government to remain rational while it’s citizens are afraid and to give all ideas their due consideration when it’s citizens are too focused on paying attention, on getting ready for the next attack.

About the Author
Michael Hilkowitz holds degrees in History and Secondary Education from Temple University and is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for International Affairs. Living in Israel since 2012, he serves as the Chief Content Office for The Israel Innovation Fund, a 501.c.3 working to promote Israeli culture, art, and humanities innovation abroad.
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