If Israel wanted to provoke yet another war with Gaza, it couldn’t be doing any better than what it’s doing now. After four shocking terror attacks in the south and center of the country (Beersheva, Bnai Brak, and Tel Aviv), Israel flooded the West Bank with thousands of troops which rampaged through villages arresting hundreds during violent late-night raids. Even more provocative were the almost daily assaults by Border Police thugs armed to the teeth on the Haram al-Sharif. The desecration of the Muslim holy places elicited an angry response from worshippers who flocked to the compound to defend it. The security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades directly into the precinct causing panic.
Israel has no right to determine what does or doesn’t happen within the Muslim hole sites. They have no sovereignty there, any more than the Waqf has authority over the Kotel. Can you imagine riot police entering the Notre Dame Cathedral or St. Pauls and brandishing billy clubs and whaling on the worshippers? Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue? Yet no religious figures outside of Islam are denouncing these acts of desecration.
Gaza is currently under attack by Israel. With around 2 million Palestinians, half of them children, on some 362 square kilometers, Gaza, is considered one of the most densely populated cities in the world. #StandWithPalestine pic.twitter.com/qLW8UIPGLj
— Supporting Humanity (@SocialistAnyDay) April 19, 2022
Several days ago, the Police escorted nearly 750 settlers into the Al Aqsa courtyard, led by Kahanist extremist MK Itamar Ben Gvir. They arrested 400 and wounded 150 worshippers. Israeli media barely covered this outrage. Meanwhile, Arab governments expressed their displeasure. The normally go-along-to-get along King Abdullah expressed support for the defenders of the holy sites. Even Morocco, one of the signers of the Abraham Accords expressed its displeasure. Though Egypt reportedly pressured Hamas not to respond, as the Islamist group did before last year’s Israeli invasion, to the Israeli provocation, the first rocket fired from Gaza ( allegedly by Islamic Jihad) sounded air raid sirens in Israel for the first time in a year. Hamas followed this with a missile launch of its own. The IAF responded with its own attack on Gaza (see above tweet). So the fight is on.
We know where this is headed. If the Israelis aren’t warned and reined in by allies like the Biden administration, we are headed for yet another war. Last year’s invasion lasted 11 days and brought 250 Gazan dead, most of them women and children. The only reason the war didn’t last longer was a concerted intervention by Biden which, with stern warnings, brought the mayhem to a close.
Settlers’ goals: destroy the Noble Sanctuary, rebuild the Temple, and vanquish Islam
The overall goal of the security forces and their settler allies is to provoke a massive, final holy war between Jew and Muslims, in which Israel finally and unequivocally asserts dominance and control of all of Jerusalem including the holy sites. The more violence, the closer they get to achieving their largest aims. They intend not just to provoke rioting among worshippers. but to lay a Jewish claim to this Muslim sacred space.
The underlying subtext for this incitement is the goal of destroying the Haram al-Sharif and replacing it with a Third Temple. To this effect, settlers annually prepare to conduct the animal sacrifices prescribed in the ancient Biblical texts. They have also designated a priesthood to conduct these services. To some, this appears as the acts of wild-eyed extremists. They dismiss such extremism as marginal or that of outliers. The problem is that history offers numerous examples of such behavior becoming normalized in society; and then being embraced by an entire nation. This is how, to offer but one example, in ten short years the Nazis went from laughingstock perpetrators of a poorly organized putsch against the Bavarian government, to control of the entire state of Germany.
Kahanism itself has, over the past 50 years, transformed itself from the rantings of Meir Kahane, declared persona non grata by Israel, to state policy. It is but a few steps (albeit major ones) from where we are today to a full-fledged fascist Davidic monarchy-dictatorship prepared to engage in mass expulsion and even genocide.
I find this settler-messianists urge to wage holy war on behalf of a rebuilt Temple repulsive as a Jew. The Temple served as the center of Jewish worship for less than a millennium. But it has been a ruin for two millennia. Jews survived twice as long without a Temple as without one. Not only do we not need a Temple, the worship of what I call “stones and bones” is repugnant to my Jewish values. Our ancestors (the “bones”) may have trod these hills and lived in these valleys, but these places are stones. They are distant ruins, historical relics. And why do we need a priestly class? Why do we need religious authorities performing animal sacrifices on our behalf?
How do we even know these Biblical stories are true? How do we know whether or not Solomon’s Temple was a magnificent place of God or a glorified hut? Can we trust the Biblical narrative to describe historical reality? And do we wish to base life and death decisions today on such a weak historical foundation?
Jews don’t need relics. They shouldn’t worship objects. Doing so is a form of pagan idolatry. Judaism is a religion of values and vision. A religion of prophetic universalism. Not a religion whose insular vision is confined only to those infused with messianic fervor.
Equally disturbing is that neither rabbinic figures nor Diaspora communal leaders have clearly articulated their opposition to such outrageous distortion of Jewish values. Either they are too afraid to speak up, or they themselves share some of this messianic vision of restoration. As long as we don’t articulate our own vision, and declare that they are worshipping false idols, we are betraying our religious beliefs. And our religion will lapse into irrelevance.
Bennett: Why did he do it?
What a change a month makes. Back then, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was basking in his role as a newly moderate leader of a center-right coalition government. He appeared to be taking a different approach to the Palestinians than his Likud predecessor, Bibi Netanyahu. While Bennett refused outright to negotiate with the Palestinians or discuss a Palestinian state, he permitted his ministers to meet fairly regularly with PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The iron club had been replaced by the light touch of a feather.
But the terror attacks destroyed that delicate equilibrium. Bennett unleashed the full force of the police and army to root out not just terror or violence, but to show the Palestinians that Israel will grind their faces into the dirt should they dare to resist the boot heel. Bennett probably didn’t feel he had much choice. Violence has always been the Israeli response to acts of Palestinian resistance. Palestinian violence is met with even fiercer Israeli violence leaving both sides–as Martin Luther King said about the Biblical phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”–toothless and blind.
Other reasons for Bennett’s policy about-face may be: as mentioned above, he must always look over his shoulder at the Likud Opposition, which watchfully seeks signs of weakness on security issues. In addition, amid the crisis a key MK abandoned the Coalition, leaving it with no majority and in danger of falling. Bennett then realized he needed a course correction, as he was losing the more militant members of his Yamina Party.
Further, the history of the past 20 years shows that a war against Gaza never hurt an Israeli leader’s popularity. It is Israel’s punching bag. An example of Michael Ledeen’s notorious saying:
“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business”
In Israel’s terms, to establish deterrence, it must do so every year or so. Bibi Netanyahu did it several times. Ehud Olmert before did it as well. The Palestinian enclave is small. Resistance is relatively weak compared to the force the IDF can muster. Israelis respond favorably to any security operation whose rationale is defending the homeland or exacting revenge on Palestinians for their militancy. World opposition to such Israeli aggression is fractured and disorganized. There is no coherent and long-lasting movement successfully lobbying international bodies like the UN or ICC to take urgent action. Over time, whatever outrage there is, is replaced by other crises to distract attention. This is an approach Israel has perfected to a “T.” As the saying goes, “it works for them.”
Israel shows no signs of backing down, no signs of calming the situation. The longer it maintains maximum repressive force, the closer we are to full-fledged Hamas retaliation in defense of the holy places. From there, the scenario demands direct attacks on Gaza. To dramatize Israeli power, the IDF will devise a shocking display of force as it did when it toppled the high-rise residential tower last year. The intention will be to invoke the Shock and Awe of NATO’s attack on Serbia. It will neither shock nor awe Gazans, who have seen every form of Israeli barbarity it can muster. It will disgust much of the world, which will mount a feeble response. Once the Israeli invasion ends, we will await the next cycle of violence.
Because neither side can land a knock-out blow and both sides maintain firm faith in the righteousness of their cause; and because the world refuses to intervene to stop it as it did in Serbia and Kosovo, Israel-Palestine is a Groundhog Day of blood and mayhem. No end in sight. No let-up. As James Taylor once sang: “It looks like it goes on like this forever.”
Please note, I have decided to adopt a new policy toward commenting here. Instead of the elaborate set of rules I’d developed and implemented over the past 20 years and 100,000 comments, mostly to moderate the large impact of pro-Israel apologists in the thread, I will no longer have rules. Despite repeated warnings to hasbara commenters to read and respect them, most ignored them. So instead, I will moderate comments without explicit rules. There will no longer be warnings or messages explaining editorial decisions. Comments may be deleted, moderated or banned based on my discretion and without explanation.
It was taking too much time away from writing the blog itself. It created stress and anxiety given the load it placed on me to respond to every gotcha and hasbara argument. While I will continue to respond to comments as I choose, I didn’t get into this to spend hours every week acting as the editorial police. This new approach will give me the freedom to do as I see fit without having to answer to anyone other than myself.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.