The air in Israel is heavy with tensions, but in many instances, for the wrong reasons. We are subject to so much nonsense: unfortunate sparring between persons in the political sphere; undue attention to the trivial.
Perhaps what is currently happening is inevitable during a campaign, but I would prefer to think not. There are so many issues of great import to deal with.
Hamas in Gaza:
It feels as if we are going in circles and not getting anywhere. That is because we are going in circles and not getting anywhere.
After a period of relative quiet, a month ago the nightly riots at the fence were resumed; this is in addition to the usual Friday mob actions, which were escalating.
Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Hamas, a week later, that the upcoming election would not prevent him from going to war, if rioting did not cease.
Tough talk, but Hamas either does not take him at his word or wishes to lure Israel into war, for the aggressions and provocations have simply increased.
By the beginning of March, a cluster of balloons bearing an incendiary device was released from Gaza into Israel. The IDF responded by firing on Hamas posts in the south of Gaza.
That clearly was not effective as a deterrent, nor should we have expected it to be.
On Tuesday, March 5, a number of balloon clusters carrying explosives were launched into Israel in the area adjacent to Gaza. That’s explosives, my friends, not incendiary devices.
IDF airstrikes inside Gaza followed, and were in turn followed on Wednesday by the launching of three additional balloon clusters with explosives, launched into the Eshkol area and detonated.
Later that day, a mortar shell was fired into Israel.
That, of course, was not the end of it. On Friday a rocket was launched at Israel, and that night there was another IDF attack in Gaza, on a military compound in northern Gaza and two vessels belonging to Hamas. Friday saw considerable violence along the fence, as well.
On Saturday, there was yet another balloon cluster launched into Israel. This one carried not explosives, but a warhead from an anti-tank missile. It was located in the Sdot Negev Regional Council and sappers initiated a controlled explosion.
On Saturday night another projectile was launched, and the IDF then responded by hitting an underground Hamas infrastructure and two naval facilities.
Is your head spinning yet? But here’s the clincher: Just days ago, the practice of distributing Qatari money inside of Gaza was reinstituted. Qatar envoy Mohammed al-Emadi carried in $5.5 million, with $100 to be distributed to 55,000 needy families.
It was being said that none of this money would be going to pay the salaries of Hamas people. This may be the case, officially, but there is no way to determine whether any of these dollars, distributed via post offices according to a list compiled by Qatar officials, will end up in Hamas hands.
Various reasons have been offered as to why resuming this practice is a good idea, including the fact that it causes a division between Hamas and the PA.
Please, do not ask me to justify what is going on: I cannot.
And it gets worse, for now there is a new method for distributing the Qatari money: UNRWA, the organization that has been in bed with Hamas for decades, will be hiring some 6,000 unemployed, educated Gazans on a temporary basis and paying them salaries. In this manner, $3.6 million will be distributed. What temporary jobs they will be paid to do is not clear.
Underlying everything that goes on with regard to the Mount are issues of sovereignty and control.
In theory, sovereignty over the Mount belongs to Israel, although we do not always adequately assert our rights as sovereign. A Muslim Wakf (trust), controlled by Jordan, administers the Muslim holy sites on the Mount. There is some input by the Palestinian Authority – the Islamic Wakf Council on the Mount, headed by Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, was recently expanded to included PA and Fatah officials.
The Wakf persists in asserting that the entire Mount is holy to Muslims and that thus they are in charge across the board. The peace treaty between Israel and Jordan granted Jordan a “special role” in overseeing the administration of the Mount, and this role is interpreted very broadly by Jordan.
Every so often, violence flares on the Mount, and this is what has happened recently. The focus this time has been on the Gate of Mercy (also called the Golden Gate) area of the Mount. That area had been closed off in 2003 because it was being used by Hamas, and had remained closed since to prevent illegal construction work there by the Wakf, which led to the destruction of Jewish antiquities.
In late February, thousands of Arabs on the Mount broke through the fence and flooded into the compound. You can see the broken gate looking into the compound here and the mobs inside the compound below:
Once inside, they began yelling “with spirit and blood we will redeem Al-Aqsa.”
The Wakf announced that it was going to begin renovation to make the Muslim presence there permanent. They declared intention to establish a mosque, as well as Wakf office space.
In early March, an Israeli court ordered the Gate of Mercy compound to remain closed. (There had been discussion about whether the earlier court order still applied.) The Wakf, however, declared intentions to defy the court order and continued to encourage worshippers to go to the compound to pray.
Tzachi Dvira, the archeologist who heads the team that sifts through soil that had been illegally excavated from the Mount by the Wakf, urged the prime minister to immediately order the evacuation of the Golden Gate compound.
“Dvira said that militant elements who had previously been responsible for destroying antiquities in Solomon’s Stables [a mosque constructed on the Mount] had joined the Waqf Council, warning, ‘This is a worrying incident of harm to Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount…’
“We are returning to the post-Oslo era when Arafat took over the Wakf. In recent years Israel has succeeded in returning the Wakf to Jordanian control, and now it is going to return to the hands of Palestinian extremists who want to ignite the area,” he added, calling for the Golden Gate to be evacuated even at the price of riots…
“…They will renovate the site and damage the antiquities. There are remnants there from the period of the Second Temple…” (Emphasis added)
What Dvira recommended did not happen, of course. Gilad Erdan, in an interview three days ago, said, “There won’t be another mosque on the Temple Mount.” However, he conceded, prayer rugs were being smuggled into the area and used for worship. He explained that no action was being taken because high level diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue were about to take place.
But the escalation – the challenge to the status quo on the Mount – is by the Wakf. A report from the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs provides further insight into the situation:
This challenge is “an apparent provocation as part of the Jordanian-Palestinian plan to torpedo Trump’s ‘deal of the century.’”
A February editorial in Al-Quds stated:
“’Ever since Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Israel has been racing to Judaize Jerusalem and divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the way to its removal and the establishment of the Temple in its place…,’
The Jordanians speak of a “dangerous escalation” by Israel.
“…Fatah officials say that the battle against Israel on the Temple Mount will escalate toward the expected publication of President Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ plan.
“…Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are cooperating in accordance with the understanding between King Abdullah and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on the subject of the Temple Mount to thwart Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ program.”
The diplomatic meetings between Israel and Jordan held last Thursday (March 7) in an effort to resolve this issue were not successful. The best I have been able to glean from various sources of information is that Israel was willing to allow Wakf office space – but not a mosque – to be constructed in the compound, but insisted on a period first during which the compound would be gated again and remain as is, in recognition of Israel’s control of the area. This, Jordan would not agree to.
On Saturday, Jordan’s King Abdullah left for talks in Washington that were to include this issue.
Two days ago, the violence on the Mount was exacerbated when a firebomb was thrown an Israeli police station there, causing a fire. For one day, the Mount was shuttered, but was re-opened on Wednesday.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court is expected to allow the police to again close the building in the Gates of Mercy Compound if the Wakf does not submit a statement by Sunday.
They will not submit a statement, because this would constitute recognition of the authority of the “occupier.” And it is almost certain that if the building is closed, there will be significant rioting. That is the Arab trump card.
My friends, I have devoted consider space to this issue because I consider it so important.
Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, is at the heart of our right to sovereignty in the land, which fact the Arabs understand very well. It is the site of our most significant holy place, and a key to our heritage.
Every time we hesitate to act in the face of threats of major Arab violence, I grieve. It is a huge mistake. Me? I would send in a battalion of our best, if necessary.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Zahor, which comes right before Purim. After the regular Torah reading, we are commanded to hear the reading from Devorim 25: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt.”
We are commanded to remember, and with the remembering to recognize what is possible, what our enemies can do to us if we are not ever vigilant and strong.
This applies to what I have written above, and to what I wrote last week regarding anti-Semitism in the US and even in Congress.
After Shabbat I will return to share some good news. (Yes, there is also good news.)
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.