Right vs Smart: Smart Prevails…Always

We know how the current crisis over control of the Temple Mount will end.  Under incredible internal and external pressure Israel will eventually remove the metal detectors and perhaps the cameras as well.  That’s always the way these things end and, in the process, for no reason, lots of people will die as families mourn, children go on to live without a father, mother, siblings or grandparents as the case may be, and both sides feel they have won, or lost.

The dictionary defines “smart” as having intelligence, being astute and able.

The dictionary defines “right” as true, or correct as a fact.

So, for sure, Israel is right in wanting to protect our military from danger as they patrol the temple mount.  We certainly don’t want an incident similar to what happened 10 days ago to happen again when two of our soldiers were shot dead by terrorists.   (Interestingly one wonders why they did not have protective vests on and why that has not been raised since.)

But the issue is not simply who is right. Sometimes we need to be smart as well and being smart would dictate that we make no changes to the arrangements on the temple mount without discussing them with the Waqf who controls day-to-day activities there and, even more importantly, with the Jordanians who have overall responsibility for the mount which the Muslims call the noble sanctuary.  But we did none of that.

Of course, there was an internal discussion in the Israeli Security Cabinet about what to do.   At that discussion, and subsequently as well, the army and the Shin Bet took the position that leaving the metal detectors in place would inflame Muslim passions and lead to potentially deadly violence.  But Education Minister Bennett and others agreed with the police who argued that Israel needs to demonstrate sovereignty over the area and, as a result, at the most recent cabinet discussion, the cabinet backed Bennett and repudiated the army, nine to two.

Indeed it might have been a good temporary measure to install metal detectors at the entrance to the mount in the initial aftermath of the killing of the two soldiers.  But keeping them there and adding cameras as well was, to be perfectly blunt, ill advised.

Sadly we have a lot of experience with doing things on the temple mount that raise the ire of our neighbors and the greater Muslim world.  In September 1996, when newly elected prime minister Netanyahu ordered that archaeological tunnels under the Western Wall be opened for tourists, Palestinians rebelled, fearing that Israel was planning on digging under the Temple Mount compound and undermining the sacred Muslim shrine. A brief shooting war erupted between the Israeli army and the still-untested Palestinian security forces, leaving 19 Israelis and nearly 100 Palestinians dead.

In September 2000 then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon made a visit to the mount. It was intended as a demonstration of Israel’s sovereignty over the site. Palestinians reacted with a four-year wave of violence, the Second or “Al Aqsa” Intifada.

Two years ago, again in September, there was an attempt by religious nationalists to reenact the biblical pilgrimage to the temple during the Sukkot festival.  For weeks groups of Israelis, including Knesset members and even cabinet ministers, made public visits to the mount. The result was a wave of so-called lone wolf attacks, mostly stabbings and car-rammings that only petered out the following spring.

And here we are again acting as if we have not seen this play previously.  Well, we have and, as before, we know how it will end. Too many have already died, more may yet die, the ire of the world will turn against us again and, at the end of the day, we will capitulate and remove the metal detectors.  In this instance it is more important to be smart than right.

George Santayana said “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  How true and how sad!


About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.