Laura Wharton
Jerusalem City Councilor, adjunct lecturer in political science

The Temple Mount and the mounting violence

Palestinians are losing hope, Israelis are turning a blind eye to their distress – the future depends on Israel facing, not ignoring, the problem
Thousands of Muslim worshipers attend the first Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 8, 2022. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Thousands of Muslim worshipers attend the first Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 8, 2022. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Anyone who thinks that the current government is the first to close the Temple Mount to Jewish worshipers should know that this has been the policy during the last 10 days of Ramadan for almost a decade. Anyone who thinks that the current government is planning on allowing changes to the status quo and the building of a synagogue next to the mosques should know the government and the president of Israel have repeatedly and explicitly denied this. Unfortunately, both Israelis and Palestinians are being overwhelmed with fake “news,” in the midst of circumstances that deepen the divide between them.

Palestinians have a lot about which to be frustrated. The Abraham Accords and the expanding peace agreements have mostly skirted issues of Palestine. The current government in Israel, while bringing in more parties of the left, has focused on addressing the health crisis and reviving the economy and was founded on an understanding that no decisions would be made regarding a peace process with Israel’s closest neighbors.

Apart from this, after 55 years of occupation, the pace of land-grabbing and illegal settlement expansion has only been increasing. The killings of innocent Palestinians as “collateral damage” in attempts to foil terrorist attacks is painful to Palestinians and usually unreported in the Israeli media. Thus ironically, at a time when most Israelis are becoming accustomed to hearing about peace with Arab and Moslem neighbors, the most critical dispute has been taken off the agenda and left Palestinians isolated in their desperation. In these conditions, they are ready to believe the wildest rumors spread.

For Israelis, recent terrorist attacks and a renewal of rocket fire from Gaza are ongoing sources of tension that are keeping alive the rightist claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unsolvable. Many have forgotten the significance of the green line, are unaware of the loss of innocent Palestinian lives and are ignorant regarding the violations of international law to which they are party or the fact that they are responsible for military rule over 2.5 million people. Israel is a growing, modern, thriving state and many Israeli are bewildered by the hate directed towards them. Rather than taking time to consider the reasons that drive young men and women to set out on suicide missions, they assume that more restrictions, more policing and greater firepower are reasonable solutions to their security concerns. They are willing to justify almost anything that they perceive as promoting their safety.

And then there is the Temple Mount. According to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and most Jewish religious authorities of stature, it is forbidden for Jews to visit the Temple Mount out of fear of treading on the “Holy of Holies” or of attempting to “force” the coming of the messiah. However, in recent years extremist rabbis of the ultra-right have begun advocating visiting and praying on the Mount. Hence, it’s not so much that Jewish groups ascending to the Mount are overtaken by extremists;  but rather that it is extremists (or curious secular Jews) who are the ones that go there.

Those demanding to visit the Temple Mount are not concerned with security issues or the political ramifications: on the contrary, they advocate going to the Mount as a way to exacerbate the security situation, bring about clashes, and change the political situation. Their goal is to bring about a collapse of the government and, if necessary, a war along the way. For the Palestinians, the Temple Mount is their last hold. They have lost many of their freedoms to military rule, lost their land to settlers, lost their hope of help from the Arab countries around them, and cling more fiercely than ever to the Mount. Seeing growing numbers of Jews ascending to their holiest site in Jerusalem is a nightmare.

Ramadan is half over and the police have implemented some lessons from the May 2021 disasters. Passover is almost over. The young Palestinians who brought rocks and Molotov cocktails onto the Mount were met by police armed with grenades and weaponry but so far a wider outbreak has been prevented. Now the question remains whether the wide outbreak of violence that many have feared will begin after the holidays, or whether calm will resume. Much depends on whether the sides will understand the other’s positions or whether false rumors will be spread. More importantly, the future depends on whether the stronger, Israeli side will realize that not only does ignoring the problems make them impossible to solve, but increases the frustration that will make them worse.

About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the government department of Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. For research that later served as the basis for her book "Is the Party Over? How Israel Lost Its Social Agenda" (Yad Levi Eshkol, 2019) she was awarded the Prime Minister's Prize in Memory of Levi Eshkol. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than two decades.
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