Increasing violence in Jerusalem has prompted completely different reactions from Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Israel's Prime Minister and Chief Rabbi have both appealed for calm and restraint. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction have, in contrast, inflamed tensions and incited violence that have steadily escalated from riots to terrorist attacks, resulting in the murder of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue on November 18th.
In response, the Canadian Jewish community organized a national Shabbat of Solidarity to reaffirm its support for Israelis at this difficult time, and the inviolability of the synagogue as a secure place of worship. The time for such a message could not be more fitting, given recent events in Jerusalem and specifically around the Temple Mount.
Located in the heart of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and home to the two ancient Jewish Temples, as well as the location of the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims. Since the reunification of the city, the site has been open to Muslim prayer and Jewish visitation, though Jewish prayer is strictly forbidden. This status quo, however imperfect, is what Israel seeks to maintain. Israel has repeatedly denounced outrageous Palestinian claims that it plans to alter this arrangement, which has maintained peace for nearly fifty years. Ironically, the Muslim religious authorities that preside over the site have repeatedly upset the balance by destroying Jewish archaeological relics from the Temples in an effort to assert Muslim exclusivity.
Despite explicit assurances that there is no devious Israeli plot threatening the site, the Palestinian Authority launched an online campaign featuring a cartoon depicting an Israeli soldier raping the Temple Mount and glorifying attacks against Israelis. Abbas also issued an incendiary warning to Palestinians about Israelis "contaminating" the Temple Mount, calling on them to "defend" the site "by all means necessary." Shortly thereafter, Jerusalem rabbi Yehuda Glick, an advocate for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, was shot four times at point blank range for simply suggesting that maybe Jews should be allowed to pray there too.
No matter what one thinks of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, those who speak about it do not deserve to be shot. No democratic country would allow its capital to devolve into such lawlessness. Those fomenting this disorder and chaos are not just rejecting the millennia-old connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. They are rejecting Israel's core liberal democratic values that ensure access to holy sites for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, values that Canadians also hold dear. These regressive forces seek to return to the illiberal regime that prevailed before the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967: a status quo that grievously limited non-Muslim rights for centuries, culminating in the utter destruction of the Jewish quarter and expulsion of its inhabitants in the aftermath of the 1948 war.
Israel's capacity to compromise with its neighbours is expansive but not endless, and its willingness to accommodate certainly does not extend to national suicide. It is unacceptable for Israel, or any other state, to allow public policy to be dictated by those driven to violence by uncompromising Islamic supremacy. Israel cannot allow a terrorist veto when it comes to the rights and freedoms of the Jewish people in their aboriginal land, particularly since these rights - including equality and freedom of worship - are universally considered inalienable in liberal democratic societies. It is time for the international community to connect the dots between the staggering rise of Islamist extremism and the threats confronting Israel, and it is time for Israel to draw a clear line in the sand.
First, Palestinian rioting on the Temple Mount and terrorist attacks elsewhere must not establish a new status quo that bans Jews from the holiest site in Judaism. Calls from Israeli authorities for Jews to avoid the Temple Mount may be warranted as a temporary precaution against bloodshed, but cannot become a permanent reality.
Second, the dangerous situation in Jerusalem cannot continue. Entire neighbourhoods must not remain "no-go" zones for Israelis, many of whom, fearing violence have stopped using Jerusalem's newly minted light rail system, a symbol of progress that unites Jews and Arabs across the city.
Third, we must recognize that escalating Palestinian incitement and violence is destroying the foundation of a future peace. Recent events at the Temple Mount do not portend well for a Palestinian state that oversees Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Joseph's Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), which was destroyed shortly after being transferred to the Palestinian Authority and where Jewish pilgrims have been murdered.
For more than 3,000 years, these sites have been central to Judaism and places that Jews have visited for prayer, meditation, and spiritual comfort. Palestinian leaders calling on their people to attack Jews at the Temple Mount signal that Jews will never be free and secure to visit Jewish holy sites in a future Palestinian state. Israel simply cannot hand over control of those sites absent a peace agreement that includes measures to guarantee access. The Palestinian national movement must accept a reality it has scorned since 1948: the Jewish people are not leaving the Middle East.
Despite Arab rejectionism, Israel has taken great strides toward peace - withdrawing from Gaza, transferring governance of approximately 95% of West Bank Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority, and numerous good-faith offers for a comprehensive end of conflict agreement. Abbas' decision to fan the flames of hatred, extremism, and violence in Jerusalem, his partnership with Hamas, and rejection of an "end of conflict" as the object of peace talks thwarts further progress.
The onus is on the Palestinians to put an end to anti-Jewish incitement and violence and to publicly recognize the legitimate right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in their spiritual and historic homeland. Without these modest steps, the international community must realize that demands for Israel to offer further unilateral concessions will do nothing to advance a genuine, reciprocal peace. The world must send a clear message that the legitimacy of the Jewish state's continuing existence, like that of any other country, cannot be debated as a credible matter of opinion.
When the Palestinians accept the legitimate rights of the Jewish people and choose to sign a comprehensive end of conflict agreement with Israel, I will be among the first to welcome a Palestinian state. I will do so en route to praying at the graves of my ancestors in Hebron, Bethlehem, and Shechem, as the Jewish people have done for thousands of years. Sadly, this seems to be a distant prospect, with the November 18th attack on Jewish worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue demonstrating that Palestinian rejection of Jewish rights extends far beyond these sites.