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The Heart of the Current Battle
Jerusalem today is a detonating device with no fail-safe, a loaded pistol at a poker dispute, a driverless coach careening toward a blind curve. No other item on the entire Middle East peace agenda forebodes such potential mayhem as the city's future status.
L. Lyons, "Jerusalem: Besieged by the Sacred"
Jerusalem is the very soul which unites and fortifies the nation [of Israel] in its entirety.
Sharansky, Israeli diplomat
An ancient text records a debate of Jewish sages about why Cain murdered his brother, Abel.
By identifying what drove Cain to kill, the sages hoped to discover the root of human violence on earth.
According to one sage, a twin sister was born with Abel, so the two brothers fought over a woman. Another sage said the brothers agreed to divide everything in the world, so one promptly claimed the clothes on his brother's back and ordered him to disrobe, while the other claimed the ground beneath his brother's feet and ordered him to fly.
A third sage agreed the brothers must have decided to split the world. But then, he said, one claimed the land where the temple would be built, the other insisted the place was his, so Cain rose up and killed his brother.
The history of murder began, said the rabbi, in an argument over who would own Jerusalem. Specifically it began with an argument over the Temple Mount.
In mid-July 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat came together at the presidential cabin in the Catoctin Mountain retreat at Camp David. American President Bill Clinton had invited them to the meeting, and before both men was a copy of a peace agreement that had been years in the making.
The Israelis had made remarkable concessions. They would relinquish nearly all of the West Bank occupied in the 1967 war, including the highly strategic
Jordan Valley. They would set up joint patrols with Palestinian security forces.
They would recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the "State of Palestine" and accept a number of refugees into Israel.
In return, the Palestinians would "demilitarize" their land. They would allow the Israelis to maintain three reinforced battalions and other forces on the West Bank within military compounds. The Israelis would also operate three early-warning stations and three air-defense units on the West Bank until
May 2007, or until peace agreements had been achieved between Israel and other
Then President Clinton addressed a thorny question: What about Jerusalem?
Barak was willing to make concessions never before considered by an Israeli prime minister. Though he did not want to divide the city, he was willing to consider the idea of a neighborhood swap-exchanging Palestinian neighborhoods for Israeli ones.
When Clinton took the idea to Arafat, the Palestinian leader became enraged.
Furthermore, he and his delegation became incensed over a casual suggestion
Barak had made: in exchange for giving the Palestinians de facto control over the Temple Mount, the Israelis could build a small synagogue on the northeast corner of the holy site.
Arafat, an international terrorist whose hands are stained with a river of blood from the veins of innocent women and children, a thug so repugnant that he was not permitted to enter the U.S. until recently, glared at Clinton and said, "These arguments are explosives and will set off massive fires in the region . . . Do you want me to throw the region into a new age of religious conflict?"
Arafat's words proved prophetic-but only because he lit the fuse that ignited tensions into violence.
Tempers Grow Short in Autumn
In late September 2000, Ariel Sharon, the seventy-two-year-old retired Israeli general and military hero, planned to visit Har Habayit (the Hebrew term for the Temple Mount), the holiest site in Israel. Before arranging this trip on the day prior to Rosh Hashanah, Sharon spoke with the police and Israeli security services. They approved his visit. Shlomo Ben-Ami, the minister of foreign affairs,
then talked with Jibril Rajub, the head of Palestinian security, who promised there would be "no problem" with Sharon's visit to the holy site,
currently administered by Muslims.6 Rajub also told Ben-Ami that as long as
Sharon did not enter the mosques, there would be "no reason for concern."
But even before Sharon got into his vehicle that breezy day in late September,
Islamic violence cast its threatening shadow over the proposed outing. Earlier in the month, Israeli security officials had noted a sharp increase in violent attacks by Palestinians against Israeli security forces and civilians in the area of Netzarim.
Wednesday, September 27
On Wednesday, an Israeli soldier was killed and two others wounded by a roadside bomb detonated by remote control at the Netzarim Junction. According to Voice of Israel radio, Palestinian police did not assist their Israeli counterparts in pursuing the three attackers, but neither did they prevent Israeli security forces from pursuing.
On this same day, youth activists from Fatah, the first guerrilla/terrorist movement, called upon supporters from Jerusalem and Yesha to come to Jerusalem to participate in a demonstration to block Sharon's procession from reaching the Temple Mount. The Fatah organization, one of the most disciplined and loyal groups aligned with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser
Arafat, spent the day before Sharon's proposed visit distributing flyers that called upon the masses to protest the visit by Sharon and other Likud Knesset members.
Thursday, September 28
Nerves tightened. On Thursday a Palestinian police officer participating in a joint security patrol on the West Bank suddenly shouted "Allahu Akbar!"
(God is greater!) and opened fire at point-blank range on his Israeli partner,
Yossi Tabaja, who died shortly after arriving at the hospital. Joint Israeli-Palestinian security patrols, which had been considered an important part of the peace process,
were suspended as a result.
Also on Thursday, as planned, Israeli Knesset member Ariel Sharon visited the
Temple Mount with a six-member Likud Knesset delegation, including Moshe Arens,
Reuven Rivlin, Naomi Blumenthal, Joshua Matza, Gideon Ezra, and Ayoub Kara.
Because security forces were concerned about disruptions, one thousand police officers escorted the group as they walked to the entrance of the Temple Mount at the Mughrabi, or Western, Gate. At no time did Sharon or any members of the entourage enter the mosques.
At the time of Sharon's entry to the Temple Mount, approximately 150 Muslims were praying in the mosques, including members of the Palestinian Authority's
Legislative Council and Arab Knesset members. At first the Arab Knesset members walked alongside the Likud delegation, talking and even joking with them. The images were captured by Israel Television's Channel 2. According to the
Israeli daily Ha'aretz, however, as soon as the Arab Knesset members saw the television cameras, "they began hurling abuse at Sharon."
The delegation stopped at the area called Solomon's Stables, where they were provided a briefing on the site. Demonstrators tried to approach but were pushed back by police. One Palestinian boy was slightly injured and given medical attention.
While Sharon and the others made their way back to the Western Gate, dozens of Palestinians began to run after them in an apparent attempt to break the police line. As they departed, a crowd of one thousand Palestinians threw stones at the police. Sharon's delegation left the site after only an hour's visit, and thirty policemen and four Palestinians were slightly wounded in the ensuing scuffle.
The serious violence spread throughout the country twenty-four hours later,
following the broadcast of inflammatory statements by official Palestinian radio and television stations. Four hours after Sharon's visit to the Temple
Mount, at noon, the Voice of Palestine radio broadcast a statement by Yasser
Arafat declaring the visit to be "a serious step against Muslim holy places."
Arafat called upon the Arab and Islamic world to "move immediately to stop these aggressions and Israeli practices against holy Jerusalem."
By four o'clock that afternoon, Palestinian Legislative Council speaker
Ahmad Qurei had taken to the airwaves, asserting on Voice of Palestine radio that the visit "defiled" the mosques and was "a clear and flagrant expression of the Israeli schemes" against Muslim holy places. In the same broadcast, Palestinian Culture and Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo declared that Israelis from both ends of the political spectrum have a goal of "Judaizing"
or controlling Jerusalem.
Friday, September 29
During Friday prayers on the Temple Mount, A'akramah Sabri, the Palestinian
Authority's officially appointed mufti of Jerusalem, called for a jihad,
or holy war, "to eliminate the Jews from Palestine." At 1:00 p.m.,
immediately after the conclusion of prayers in the mosques on the Temple Mount,
hundreds of Palestinians attempted to overpower Israeli border guards at the
Mughrabi Gate leading to the Western Wall Plaza (the Wailing Wall), where Jewish worshipers were engaged in prayer prior to the Rosh Hashanah holiday. Many of them threw rocks from the platform of the mosque onto Jewish worshipers in the plaza below. When rioters broke through the gate that leads into the plaza,
Israeli border guards entered the Temple Mount and opened fire with rubber bullets.
Israeli Police Inspector General Yehuda Wilk noted that Israeli police never enter the Temple Mount under normal circumstances while Muslims are praying:
"For all the years that I have been an officer and also when I was the
Jerusalem Police Chief, I never prevented any prayers at the Temple Mount. But there cannot be a situation whereby the Muslims pray on the Mount and then attack policemen and try to stone Jewish worshippers below."
In the initial outbreak of violence, four Palestinians were killed and more than one hundred wounded in clashes with Israeli police. Over the ensuing weekend,
fifty-eight Palestinians were arrested for throwing rocks and firebombs throughout
Jerusalem. Sixty policemen were injured, including Jerusalem Police Commander
Yair Yitzhaki, who suffered a concussion from being hit in the head by rocks.
On Saturday, a Palestinian mob attacked Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, burning
Jewish religious texts and destroying the building. An Israeli of American origin,
Hillel Lieberman, was brutally murdered as he ran to the tomb in an effort to save the texts. The attack occurred just after Israeli troops withdrew from the site after the Palestinian Authority assured them that they would keep order in the area.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian and Israeli security forces engaged in a furious gun battle for more than an hour at the entrance to a Jewish settlement. A Palestinian policeman was killed in the exchange, and a father and son were caught in the crossfire. They clung together, twelve-year-old Mohammed Aldura and his father,
Jamal, and tried to shield themselves behind a wall. "The child, the child!"
the father yelled, waving his arm in the smoke.
The incident, caught on television and broadcast on Israeli television Saturday night, revealed the instant when the boy screamed in panic, then slumped in his father's arms as he was fatally struck in the abdomen. The father,
also wounded, trembled with convulsions, then rolled his eyes and lost consciousness.
He was later hospitalized in Gaza and was expected to recover.
His son was not so fortunate. But at a news conference in late November, Israeli
General Yomtov Samia stated that an inquiry found that the boy had been hit by a volley of gunfire from a Palestinian position.
Saturday's fighting was one of the bloodiest confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians in recent history. In a blunt official statement, Prime Minister
Ehud Barak said Israel "is exercising maximum restraint but is determined to preserve public order and protect its citizens."
Bassem Naim, a Palestinian activist in the West Bank, said, "The battle over Jerusalem has begun. With our blood and with our souls we fight for you,
On October 7, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution stressing the importance of establishing a mechanism "for a speedy and objective inquiry" into the violence that claimed the lives of more than one hundred
Palestinians over a three-week period. The United States, Israel's ally,
abstained from that resolution but did not veto it, and U.S. Ambassador Richard
Holbrooke said that if the Security Council agreed to debate the issue a second time, the United States would veto any resolution on the subject.
The Israelis did not welcome the American action. The extremely one-sided resolution did nothing to quell Palestinian violence. I'm disappointed that our country did not veto the resolution. The action is nothing more than Arab propaganda designed to influence the world community against Israel, and it teaches one valuable lesson: violence pays. Stir up a little strife, charge another nation with bully tactics when it acts to stem your violence, and smile as the rest of the world chastises the stronger nation.
On October 12, two Israeli reserve soldiers were brutally murdered by an enraged
Palestinian mob when the soldiers took a wrong turn and entered the West Bank city of Ramallah. There they were brutally lynched by a bloodthirsty mob. I
have seen video of the incident-with my own eyes, I watched as one man's body was tossed out a window, then subjected to burning, stomping, beating,
and dragging by an infuriated crowd of shouting Palestinians. I saw the blood-stained window, men lifting their arms in celebration, flags waving, and one flag in flames-the Stars and Stripes of the United States of America.
One of those murdered men was thirty-five-year-old Vadim Norzich, son of Anna and Issai, residents of Or Akiva. The Norzich family fled from Russia in the early 1990s and had been living in Israel since then.
Vadim had married his sweetheart, Irina, one week before his death. The wife pulled out wedding pictures to show a reporter, and there was Vadim-handsome and strong, wearing a white satin kipah beneath the canopy with his bride.
On that same day, Arab terrorists attacked the U.S.S. Cole as the ship refueled at a port in Yemen. The explosion killed seventeen sailors and injured thirty-nine.
Yemen, the poorest nation on the Arabian Peninsula, has cooperated with the
U.S. in the past, but the country's leaders sympathize with the Palestinians and are angered by American support for Israel. To appease his people, Yemeni
President Ali Abdullah Saleh asked that the injured Cole be removed as soon as possible.
In November, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could spin out of control and spread to other countries in the region.
A Media Barrage Incites Violence
Since the beginning of the Palestinian-initiated violence against the Israelis,
the Palestinians have consistently broadcast extreme incitement, calling upon the Arab masses to harm Jews and Christians wherever they may be found. I have watched video of Arab children racing to assemble guns as a sort of game. I
have heard Palestinian broadcasters, reporting against a background image of the mosque on the Temple Mount, proclaim, "The supreme Monitoring Committee of the National Arab and Islamic Forces calls upon the masses of our people to immediately assemble in the streets and public squares in order to express their rage and strong stand against the barbaric Israeli aggression, and their determination to continue the intifada [uprising]."
During the Friday sermon broadcast live on Arafat's official TV station,
the cleric at a Gaza mosque made the following statements:
The Jews are Jews, whether Labor or Likud, the Jews are Jews. They do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all liars. They are the ones who must be butchered and killed. As Allah the Almighty says, fight them . .
. Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are,
kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them, and those who stand with them. They are all in one trench, against the Arabs and Muslims.
I watched a video of this sermon, saw the earnestness of the cleric, who wore white from head to toe, saw the agreement flashing on the faces of men who sat cross-legged on carpets in the mosque.
I have seen video footage of Arab children, probably not more than six or seven years old, who are trained to quickly assemble automatic weapons while blindfolded.
I have heard these children boldly proclaim in treble, childish voices, "But if I starve, I will eat the flesh of my conqueror! Beware of my hunger and rage!"
On October 16, television cameras also caught a young Arab man who told the media, "We shall remind them that the Palestinian people and the Palestinian mothers bear their sons in order for them to become martyrs."
One of the most distressing realizations to come from the days of violence was that many of the protesters were not Palestinians proper, but Arab Israeli citizens. Thirteen Israeli Arabs were killed in the early days of violence when police fired on protesters who were blocking roads and throwing stones in towns stretching across northern Israel. Until the uprising of autumn 2000, the 20
percent of Israelis who are ethnically Arab had never demonstrated, thrown stones,
or identified with the Palestinians of the territories in such a public way.
In early November, three Israeli soldiers and six Palestinians died in gun battles throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israelis said the struggle was no longer a civilian uprising. "This isn't an intifada,"
said an Israeli captain as he fired tracer bullets that cut red streaks through the dark sky during one battle north of Jerusalem. "This is a war."
The Truth of the Matter
Yasser Arafat would like the world to believe that a bellicose and bullying
Israel is to blame for the latest bloodshed, or that Ariel Sharon's approved and preplanned visit to the Temple Mount provoked the unrest. But Thomas Friedman put his finger on the matter in a New York Times editorial:
The roots of this latest violent outburst can be traced directly back to President
Clinton's press conference after the breakdown of the Camp David summit.
At that time, Mr. Clinton pointedly, deliberately-and rightly-stated that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had offered unprecedented compromises at the summit-more than 90 percent of the West Bank for a Palestinian state,
a partial resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem and Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem-and that Yasser Arafat had not responded in kind, or at all.
Arafat and his cronies couldn't believe their ears. Barak's offer was like an unexpected gift, more than they had expected and certainly more than anyone else had ever offered. And there was Clinton, smiling and sure,
telling them that Barak and the Israelis deserved an answer-a good one.
Mr. Arafat had a dilemma: make some compromises, build on Mr. Barak's opening bid and try to get it closer to 100 percent-and regain the moral high ground that way-or provoke the Israelis into brutalizing Palestinians again, and regain the moral high ground that way. Mr. Arafat chose the latter.
The concessions Barak made addressed every demand Arafat had previously made,
but the PLO chairman flatly refused them in hopes of gaining more. It has been said that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Because Barak's concessions were so extraordinary and totally unexpected,
he went home to face an openly hostile Israeli public and Knesset. His administration collapsed.
Here is the dilemma Arafat now faces: because he refused to negotiate, and because Barak has dwindling support in the Israeli government, there is little hope that Arafat will see such a generous offer again. The door of peace seems to have been slammed shut by the hand of Arafat himself.
The cycle continues. Israel offers an olive branch; the Palestinians swat it away with both hands while screaming for world pity and support. If this latest uprising is a war-and it certainly looks, sounds, and smells like war-then let's name it after the man who bears responsibility for it: Yasser Arafat.
The Heart of the Conflict
On my desk I have a stack of published news reports that claim the unrest was sparked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. Listen to the voices of reporters who have again missed the big picture:
Israeli officials yesterday claimed that Palestinians, provoked by sermons at Friday prayers, had attacked Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall . . .
But Hanan Ashrawi, a respected Palestinian leader, said later that this was untrue and that Israeli police had invaded the grounds of the Dome of the Rock.
("Bloodbath at the Dome of the Rock," Independent, 30 September 2000)
Violence continues for the fourth day today . . . the trouble began with a visit last week by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem's
Temple Mount, the city's holiest and most contested site. Palestinians charge the visit triggered a religious war. ("Violence in Jerusalem Continues
Between Palestinians and Israelis Over the Temple Mount," National Public
Radio, 1 October 2000)
To thousands of Palestinian youths throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and
Jerusalem, it was Sharon who drove them into the streets by leading a delegation of hard-line Israeli lawmakers on a one-hour tour of Jerusalem's Temple
Mount, Judaism's most sacred place. ("Arab Uprising Spreads to Israel;
Israeli Defends Visit to Contested Site," Washington Post, 2 October 2000)
Palestinian leaders said Wednesday as Sharon planned the visit that the hawkish opposition leader wanted to show Israeli sovereignty claim over the contested holy site by the tour. Meanwhile, Israeli Environment Minister Dalia Itzik also told Israel Radio that in her opinion, Sharon made this visit without good intentions,
and only wanted to ignite hatred and violence between the two ethnic sides.
("Sharon's Visit to Temple Mount Causes Violence," Xinhua [China],
28 September 2000)
I believe that Ariel Sharon's visit-which had been approved by the
Muslim authorities-was only an excuse, a convenient and public situation that would give Arafat an opportunity to storm and release the intifada and create terrorism and strife in the battle for Jerusalem.
But knowing as he did that the situation was touchy, why did General Sharon risk so much for a visit to a holy place? The general said his purpose was to reaffirm the Jewish claim to the site and to demonstrate his firm conviction that Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount-captured in 1967 when
Jordan attacked Israel-must remain under Israeli sovereignty and not be surrendered in a bid for peace.
"You must understand," he told a reporter, "the Jewish people are having one tiny small country, and that is Israel. And in this tiny small country, Jews, thank God, are having the right and the power to defend themselves by themselves. And we are going to keep it. All our history is here. That's where we started as a nation. And no one will be able to prevent any Jew from going to the Temple Mount."
The Temple Mount, or Har Habayit, is the ancient site of the first and second temples. Nothing remains of either temple but the holiest shrine in all of Jewish civilization, the Western Wall. When the Romans burned and demolished the temple in a.d. 70, just as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:2, all that remained was a single outer wall. According to traditional Judaism, the temple cannot be rebuilt until the Messiah comes, and religious Jews regard the Western Wall,
or Ha'Kotel, as their most sacred shrine. The wall is commonly known as the Wailing Wall, where the Jewish people come to mourn the destruction of their temple.
When the Jordanians captured the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948, Jews were forbidden to worship at the wall. So in June 1967, when the Israeli army retook the Old
City, people watched in awe as television cameras revealed footage of Israeli soldiers praying and weeping at the Western Wall. General Moshe Dayan, who handed the Islamic mosques back to Muslim control a week after their capture, came to the wall and said Jews had "returned to their holiest of holy places,
never to part from it again."
The Israelis, on the other hand, have never forbidden the Muslims to visit their holy sites atop the Temple Mount. Immediately upon the reunification of
Jerusalem in 1967, Israel passed the Protection of Holy Places Law, which guarantees the sanctity of all holy sites and makes it a punishable offense to desecrate or deny freedom of access to them. Under Israeli rule, Christians and Muslims have always administered their own holy places and institutions. The principle of free access to holy places for all religions was reaffirmed in the Basic
Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, enacted by the Israeli Knesset in July
1980. Under these procedures, since 1967 Israel has authorized and allowed the
Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount to be administered by the Islamic religious authority, the Waqf.
Yet the rhetoric of war has inflamed passions to the point where a man called
Khalil, an administrator at a United Nations office in Nablus, told a reporter,
"They [the Jews] took our land in 1948, they took our land in 1967, they stopped us from putting food on the table, and now they want to take away our religion. What is left for us but to fight?"
This is pure Palestinian propaganda. Arafat is engaging in the politics of fear. A National Public Radio (NPR) report on the uprising quoted Arafat as he spoke about the Palestinian fighters: "A salute to the heroes and the faithful ones for your noble battle for dignity," he said, "the battle for holy Jerusalem and for Palestine." The NPR reporter went on to add that while political analysts disagree on whether Arafat planned the current spasm of violence, he clearly hopes to gain from it. Yiev Aluaha, a spokesman for Arafat's Fatah, says the days of violence "will only benefit the peace process."
When asked if the Palestinians had used his visit to the Temple Mount as a pretext to start a planned outbreak, Sharon said,
Yes. They had several motives. They wanted to get some more concessions from
[Prime Minister] Barak. But almost nothing was left. Being inexperienced in negotiations, he thought that he would come to Camp David and put all the concessions on the table and that Arafat would embrace him, thank him, kiss him and love him, but Arafat is experienced. He immediately took everything and started to demand more . . .
Maybe he [Arafat] wanted the last phase before establishing an independent state to be a battle. Our intelligence says [the uprising] was pre-planned and orchestrated by Arafat. He is using the Tanzim, a paramilitary force that reports directly to him. I believe there are thousands of them, equipped by the Palestinian
Authority. Arafat signed an agreement that their weapons would be confiscated,
but he never implemented it.
As I write this in December 2000, the intifada continues. Newsweek magazine reports that a gray-haired mourner at a funeral deferentially asked Marwan Barghouti,
a leader of the Tanzim, when the dying might end. "We are at the start of this intifada," Barghouti answered, dry-eyed and relaxed. "It has only been two months." As the violence continues in the weeks and months ahead, he said, "Israeli politicians will start to take us seriously."
Twenty-six years ago, Yasser Arafat made his first appearance in the United
States. He gave a dramatic speech at the United Nations, telling the General
Assembly that he had come "bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun." He ended with a warning: "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
Arafat is far more willing to lower the olive branch than the weapon . . .
and in the next chapter, you'll learn why.