The Jerusalem tinderbox in the wake of the Har Nof attack

Nov 21, 2014

The Jerusalem tinderbox in the wake of the Har Nof attack

Update from AIJAC

Nov. 21, 2014
Number 11/14 #04

Much is being written about the potentially explosive situation in Jerusalem in the wake of the bloody synagogue terror attack in the west Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof on Tuesday, which left four rabbis and a Druze policeman dead. This Update features some particularly insightful contributions.

The first comes from noted Israeli author and intellectual Yossi Klein Halevi (who recently visited Australia). Halevi begins by comparing the reaction to the latest attack – cheered by large segments of Palestinian society – with the reaction in Israel to the comparable actions of the Jewish mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, who gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers at prayer at a shrine in Hebron in 1994. He notes that the current wave of terror in Jerusalem – of which the Har Nof attack is only the latest and bloodiest incident – feels like a new development in the status quo in the city, different to past terror waves, discusses recent Palestinian incitement over the Temple Mount, and urges that for the time being, the difficult status quo in the city is the only sustainable option. For his analysis in full, CLICK HERE. More on the apparent “holy war” brewing in Jerusalem from Israeli rabbi and pundit Daniel Gordis and Israeli academic Kobi Michael.

Next, Liel Liebowitz of Tablet magazine, who asks whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be trying to encourage a third intifada, focusses on claims about Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. While Leibowitz discusses some disagreements within Israel about Abbas’ intentions and the degree of his culpability, he speculates that Abbas may be trying to duplicate the strategy employed by his predecessor Yasser Arafat in 2000, who used claims about the Temple Mount to launch the second intifada in an effort to shore up his political position. Leibowitz warns that Abbas may succeed in unleashing an explosion of violence over the issue, but may regret it if he does so, given the current situation internationally and in the West Bank. For more discussion of Abbas’ potential motives, CLICK HERE. More on Abbas’ role and intentions from Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, and David Pollack of the Washington Institute, who also offers some suggestions about how the international community should respond.

Finally, British scholar Dr. Alan Johnson takes on some of the international media reporting which seemed to try to exculpate the Palestinians from responsibility for the Har Nof attack on worshippers at prayer. After citing some examples, he suggests that media efforts to minimise or obscure the Palestinian role in the attack are part of a larger intellectual trend which argues that Palestinians do not have agency and choice, and so cannot be held accountable and responsible” only Israelis can. Johnson identifies a number of intellectuals who openly espouse this view, which appears to be leaking into the mainstream media, and argues that this trend is not only destructive to peace hopes, but is in fact racist against Palestinians, treating them as children or “noble savages” who have no responsibilty for anything they do. To read all that Johnson has to say, CLICK HERE.

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The War on the Israeli Home Front

Tuesday’s massacre and other recent Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem have been intimate, the terrorism of neighbors.

Wall Street Journal, Nov. 18, 2014

On the morning of Feb. 25, 1994, the Jewish holiday of Purim, Baruch Goldstein, a far-right activist living in the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba, entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and gunned down 29 Muslim men at prayer.

The horror within Israeli society was overwhelming and unequivocal. Speaking from the Knesset podium, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin excommunicated Goldstein from the people of Israel. The country’s two chief rabbis denounced the attack as a desecration of God’s name, the ultimate Jewish sin. The official publication of the West Bank settlement movement, Nekudah, denounced Goldstein, a settler, as a stain on its camp. Only a radical fringe sought to justify and explain the massacre as a response to Palestinian provocations.

Tuesday’s massacre by two Palestinian terrorists of four Jews at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue is the Palestinian Baruch Goldstein moment. Yet rather than respond with shame to the murder of those Jews, as well as of an Israeli police officer, the Palestinian reaction has ranged from reluctant condemnation to outright celebration. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, reportedly after being pressed by Secretary of State John Kerry, condemned the attack—even as he cited Israeli “provocative acts.” Less equivocal was Mr. Abbas’s adviser on religious affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, who said of the terrorists: “We are behind them. The leadership is with them.” Palestinians cheered in the streets of Gaza.

Since 2000, when the Oslo peace process collapsed, Israel has been fighting one long war, interspersed with prolonged cease fires. In this war, the primary targets on the Israeli side are not its soldiers but its civilians. The first phase of this new unnamed war—and what might be called the war of the Israeli home front—were the four years of Palestinian suicide bombings on Israeli buses and in cafes, ending with Israeli victory in 2004. Then came the Lebanon War of 2006, when the Lebanese terrorist militia, Hezbollah, fired missiles into towns and villages in northern Israel. At the same time, thousands of missiles fired by Hamas from Gaza were falling on Israeli communities in the south.

Now a new phase of this open-ended war against the Israeli home front has begun, concentrated in Jerusalem as it has been in the past. But this latest wave feels different. In recent weeks, terrorists in Jerusalem have twice driven their cars into crowds of Jewish pedestrians and on another occasion stabbed a Jewish passerby with a screwdriver. The synagogue attackers, who were killed by police, wielded axes in the murders. This is not the impersonal terrorism of suicide bombers and rocket launchers. This is an intimate war. The terrorism of neighbors.

As the madness intensifies, the argument for dividing Jerusalem as it had been before the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel assumed sovereignty over all of the city, will be revived. “Separating” Palestinians and Israelis will take on a new urgency. Initially, the argument is compelling: If these two populations cannot coexist, then why not redivide the city?

But an Israeli withdrawal from parts of Jerusalem might well result in a Hamas takeover of those areas. Hamas, after all, is far more popular among Palestinians today than Mr. Abbas’s corrupt regime. For all the agony of the status quo, the alternative of “sharing” Jerusalem with Hamas is far worse.

For at least the time being, the status quo will remain sustainable. By far the majority of Palestinians in Jerusalem have rejected violence. Even as the region has disintegrated, the mixed city of Jerusalem has maintained, almost unnoticed, its civility and common decency. Most Palestinians I know in Jerusalem have tacitly accepted the status quo. East Jerusalem Palestinians have equal access to Israeli social services; Jews and Arabs routinely mix, as patients and doctors and nurses, in the city’s hospitals.

Not that Palestinians aren’t angry at Israel for inequities in allocating resources, and especially building permits. For many Palestinians, though, the alternative to Israeli control over united Jerusalem has seemed worse, given the disarray in the Palestinian national movement.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government needs to continue reaffirming the status quo on the Temple Mount, a site sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians but long administered by Muslims. Many religious Jews are deeply pained by that status quo, which denies them the right to pray at Judaism’s holiest site. Still, nothing threatens Jerusalem’s peace more than a change in the Temple Mount status quo. For that reason, Islamist extremists have been claiming falsely for decades that Israel intends to permit Jewish prayer there. And Palestinian spokesmen are now repeating that lie to justify the synagogue massacre.

In an era of moral madness, in which much of the world judges Israel more harshly than it judges Hamas, this must be said: Nothing Israel does or doesn’t do is responsible for provoking young Palestinians to hack to death Jews in prayer. The provocation is Jewish prayer itself, the right of the Jewish people to live in its land.

One image from the synagogue massacre will haunt Jews for a long time to come. According to a medic on the scene, terrorists severed an arm wrapped in the straps of tefillin, the phylacteries in which religious Jews recite their morning prayers. That terrible image has reinforced the prevailing sense within Israeli society that the war against the state of Israel is only the latest phase of an old war against the Jews.

Mr. Halevi is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation,” now in paperback from HarperCollins.

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Abbas’ Dangerous War

Unlike Arafat, the Palestinian leader can’t have his peace and eat it, too

By Liel Leibovitz

Tablet Magazine, November 18, 2014

The terrorist attack this morning in which four rabbis were murdered at prayer inside a synagogue in West Jerusalem is the latest installment in a violent spree that has left 10 Israelis dead over the past month alone, leading some to argue that what we’re witnessing is the bloody birth of a third Intifada.

It’s possible to argue otherwise. It’s possible to remember that a similar bubbling of violence erupted last fall, when two Israeli soldiers were killed in short succession and many pundits believed that a serious surge of Palestinian attacks was inevitable. Back then, it took no more than a few weeks for the hostilities to die down. This time, it’s different. The current spate of murders, it seems, may be the opening salvo in Mahmoud Abbas’ war—the Palestine leader’s attempt to re-define his legacy after a decade of public corruption and dissatisfaction, his failure to make peace with Israel, and the loss of Gaza to Hamas.

When it comes to Abbas’ culpability, current opinions in Israel seem mixed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside several other senior security officials, has clearly laid the blame on the Palestinian president, while the head of the Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, has argued that Abbas is only culpable inasmuch as his followers choose to interpret his speeches as an invitation to violence, but he bears no direct responsibility for the murders. It’s a discussion worth having—healthy democracies foster precisely this sort of dissent among its top officials—but even as we observe events unfold in real time we ought to look to history for clues as to their meaning.

Unlike traditional wars, which are fought by standing armies with clearly delineated lines of command, surges of terror come into being in more amorphous ways. The first Intifada, for example, caught the PLO’s senior leadership off guard but nonetheless soon became a mighty instrument of violence. To call this recent spate of murders “a leaderless revolt,” as some chronically inept publications have, is to miss the nature of the dangerous and duplicitous game Palestinian leaders have been playing for at least two decades now.

Credit the late Yasser Arafat for this two-handed tactic: Fan the flames of popular rage on the one hand, and on the other position yourself as the sole guarantor of calm and quiet, the lesser of all available evils, and the last, best hope for peace. This is what Abbas is doing now: vowing that he doesn’t want another Intifada while presiding over a torrent of incitement designed to keep passions at just the boiling point. One recent rant, broadcast 19 times in three days recently on the state-controlled PA TV station, serves as a good introduction to the Rais’ general mindset: In it, Abbas calls for religious conflict in the Al-Aqsa mosque and urges his followers to prevent the Jews, “in any way whatsoever,” from entering the sacred space. This is not just a hothead’s attempt at playing hardball: By saying that he wished to prevent the Jews from “contaminating” the Temple Mount, Abbas, the author of a Holocaust-denying doctoral dissertation, is purposefully using the language of ancient religious hatreds to spark new ones.

Here, too, Abbas is nothing more than a mediocre student of Arafat’s playbook: The second Intifada was launched when Arafat, using Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount as an excuse, unleashed a torrent of religious frenzy centered on the Temple Mount, sounding much like Abbas sounds now.

It worked well enough the first time around, but that was before ISIS and the war in Syria and the rest of the crest of instability and intolerance and killing that has washed over almost every Arab nation. Now it’s no longer enough to speak of peace while fanning violence. The bad old tricks no longer apply.

But Abbas may have his way still: As he continues to shout about the need to defend the holy site—his Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash, recently called on all governments to help defend Jerusalem and protect its Christian-Muslim identity from the Jewish usurpers—more and more Israelis are asking themselves why they should continue to put up with the Waqf, the Islamic trust that has controlled Al Aqsa since the 10th century and that Israel restored to power after its triumph in the 1967 war. The claim that Jews alone should be denied access to the sacred spot is deeply upsetting, and when it is presented with the shrill notes of religious warfare it is likely that even moderate Israelis will soon demand that prayer arrangements on the Temple Mount be changed. That, most likely, would lead to an all-out explosion of violence, a third Intifada grander and bloodier than any before.

Which, as all available clues suggest, is precisely what Abbas wants; his Fatah movement could hardly have been more clear than it was this morning, posting praise for the perpetrators of the synagogue massacre on its Facebook page.

Still, Abbas may be bitterly disappointed. The genocidal beheaders and their cohorts have lowered the tolerance for religious killing, and once Abbas unleashes hell, he may find himself, unlike Arafat, the first victim of his own war.

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Blaming Israel for Palestinian violence is racist: it denies that Arabs are moral agents

The media response to the Jerusalem killings betrays a widespread assumption: that Palestinians are “noble savages” who are not responsible for their actions

There were some odd media reactions this week to the murder of four Jews at prayer (and the heroic Israeli Druze first responder Zidan Saif who tried to rescue them) by two Palestinians perpetrators in Jerusalem.

• The Canadian Broadcast Company tweeted “Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack http://ift.tt/1AaVAdn

• The CNN headline read ‘4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead in Jerusalem’ without noting that the two Palestinians were the terrorists. (CNN later apologised. See the memes here.)

• The Guardian altered a Reuters dispatch about the massacre in Jerusalem to remove any reference to Palestinians.

• In the Left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the writer Amira Hass wrote about “the despair and anger that pushed the Abu Jamals to attack Jews in a synagogue (emphasis added).”

Of course not all reporting was of this character. But still, what explains the exculpatory impulse, also widespread on social media?

Part of the explanation lies in the profound influence that the anti-Zionist ideology (a system of demonising ideas and representations about Israel and the Jews) now exercises in our culture. At the heart of the ideology is a deeply buried, often unconscious, assumption about the dichotomous natures of Israelis and Palestinians that warps our understanding of the conflict. Here it is: Palestinians (and Arabs in general) do not have agency and choice, and so cannot be held accountable and responsible. Israelis do and can; always, and exclusively.

Palestinians are understood as a driven people, dominated by circumstance and emotion, lacking choice, below the age of responsibility, never to be held accountable. Israelis are the opposite; masters of all circumstances, rational and calculating, the root cause of everything, responsible for everything.

It is, palpably, an Orientalist view of the Palestinians as the Other, except this time they are affirmed as noble savages. It’s a bit racist, to be honest. For example, the Liberal Democrat David Ward MP tweeted that the Palestinian synagogue terrorists had been “driven to madness” – which not only removes agency from them but also sanity.

This groupthink is the reason that parts of the media are reluctant to challenge the Palestinian national movement when it is guilty of rejectionism, terrorism, authoritarianism, corruption and the promotion of a vile culture of incitement, demonization and antisemitism. After all, those things are just not the “the Israel story“, are they? As Matt Seaton, comment editor at the New York Times, tweeted recently, his opinion pages will only cover Palestinian racism when “they have [a] sovereign state to discriminate with.”

The world view is being spread by a network of hugely influential public intellectuals. They are shaping much of the debate about the conflict in Britain because their ideas are not remaining in the seminar room but are being ‘translated’ and popularised by determined activists with status and authority in universities, churches, trade unions, NGOs, political parties and popular culture.

• Academic and writer Jacqueline Rose says Israel is “the agent” that is responsible for Palestinian suicide terrorism. She uncritically passes on to her readers a defence of the suicide bomber given by Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Ratansi (“If he wants to sacrifice his soul in order to defeat the enemy and for God’s sake – well, then he’s a martyr”).

• The Israeli novelist (and Peace Now founder) Amos Oz complains that incitement by extremist Palestinian intellectuals leads some Palestinians to be “suffocated and poisoned by blind hate.” The anti-Zionist writer Yitzhak Laor is outraged, denouncing Oz for… “incitement” against the Palestinians.

• Shlomo Sand – whose books are found in Waterstones stores across the UK –expresses his disgust at Jewish Israeli intellectuals who opposed Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. Now, Saddam was firing scud missiles at Israeli civilians at the time, so how did he justify his stance? Palestinians felt “joy” at an ““Arab” show of force”, he wrote, and that should have been decisive.

• Ilan Pappe’s recent book The Idea of Israel (Summary: it was a very Bad Idea and should now be Corrected) offers an apologia for the pro-Nazi war-time Palestinian leader Al-Husseini. So keen was Al-Husseini on Adolf that he formed a Muslim SS Unit, but Pappe reduces all this to “an episode” in the “complex” life of a nationalist; a “foolish flirtation” that should only be of interest to the reader because it has been exploited by Zionists to “demonise” the Palestinians. Pappe argues that Al-Husseini was – here it comes! – “forced” into the alliance with Hitler.

The idea that good/innocent/authentic Palestinians are in a Manichean struggle against bad/guilty/inauthentic Israelis is part of a mind-set – a “theory” of sorts – that became dominant on much of the Left after the 1960s. Let’s call it reactionary anti-imperialism. It divides the world, and everything in it, into two opposed “camps”: Imperialism versus Anti-Imperialism. Anyone shooting at Imperialism (the USA, the UK, Israel, “the West”, “the Global North”, or just “the Man”) is now part of the progressive anti-imperialist “resistance” to imperialism. Once in thrall to this ‘theory’, parts of the left redefined themselves as (not very) critical supporters of, or at least apologists for, the reactionary forces doing the shooting, including radical Islamists.

Here is the Socialist Workers Party theoretician John Molyneux instructing the members in the finer points of reactionary anti-imperialism:

“To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate conservative superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).”

And here is Judith Butler – a professor at Berkeley and one of the most influential academics on the planet – drawing the political conclusions: “[Hamas and Hezbollah are] social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.” (See 16:24 in this video.)

What we learnt (again) this week was that the anti-Zionist ideology, the ludicrously simplistic assumptions it makes about Palestinians and Israelis, and the demonising/exculpatory framework through which it distorts our understanding of the conflict, is now bleeding from the cloisters of academia into those wider structures of feeling and patterns of response that shape our public square. A prediction: we ain’t seen nothing yet.

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