The Ascent.

Ancient cities all around the eastern Mediterranean were built on an “acropolis,” a piece of easily defended high ground. There is one in Jerusalem, called the Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition, this is where God made Adam and where Abraham came close to sacrificing his son Isaac. Regardless of whether that is true, it is the site on which King Solomon built the First Temple (c. 1000 BC) and it later served as the site for the Second Temple (516 BC). The Western Wall is all that remains of the Second Temple.[1] So, it is a holy place for Jews. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven from the Temple Mount to receive Islam’s “Five Pillars” from Allah (621 AD). So it is a holy place for Muslims. Both the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock were later built to commemorate Muhammad’s journey.[2]

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, as someone said. From 1187 to 1967, Muslims ruled the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews were barred from entering the Temple Mount compound. In 1967, Israel seized the Old City during the Six Days War. A new regime allowed Jews to enter the Temple Mount compound, but not to pray there.

This arrangement didn’t please Muslims, but it drove some Jews crazy. They have demanded that Jews be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. After an Israeli-American murdered two Muslim in the Dome of the Rock in 1982, tensions rose. Sometimes Jews on the Temple Mount were attacked by rock-throwers. Eventually, in 2010, Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the opposition in Israel’s parliament (Knesset) visited the Temple Mount to visibly assert the right of Jews to be on the Temple Mount. This led to rioting by Palestinians that initiated what is called the “Second Intifada (Uprising).”

Then skip ahead to late 2014. More and more Israeli settlers have moved into East Jerusalem over the years, stoking fears that Arabs would be pushed out entirely. Without success, Jews had continued to lobby for the right to pray on the Temple Mount. One of the most vocal of these was shot by a Palestinian who was, in turn, killed by the Israeli police. Palestinians again rioted and the police pushed back hard. This bitter quarrel then became entangled in the equally bitter quarrel between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After Israel closed off access to the Temple Mount, Abbas called it “a declaration of war.” Rumors soon spread—almost certainly originating with Abbas—that Israel planned to take control of the site and to allow Jews to pray there. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied this, to no avail.

A whole series of knife attacks by Palestinians against Israelis have occurred. By early November 2015, eight Israelis were dead.

The dispute over the Temple Mount provides an excuse to fight rather than a cause to fight. Why are young Palestinians disposed to fight right now? One answer could be that yet another generation of Palestinians has grown up with the failed “peace process” that never yields a self-governing Palestinian state. The First Intifada (1987-1993) and the Second Intifada (2000-2005) were expressions of this frustration. Now a Third Intifada is beginning.

Another answer could be that the same forces that have sent so many young Muslim men to fight for ISIS and other Islamist groups are now gaining a hold on young Palestinians. This is by far the more ominous explanation. So far, the Palestinians only have knives. If ISIS can find a way to arm the rebels with guns and explosives, Israel will face a daunting threat.   A big “If.”

[1] The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 79 AD.

[2] “The struggle over the Temple Mount,” The Week, 20 November 2015, p. 11.

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