Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: Deadly Myth

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Colin Rubenstein

 

Is the current wave of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis - mainly involving stabbing attacks on the street - a response to settlement activity and frustration by Palestinians over "lack of movement" in the peace process, as US Secretary of State John Kerry and many in the media have suggested?

Hardly. Listen to what the attackers themselves say. Overwhelmingly they say they set out to kill Jews to save Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque. Never mind that it has never been in any danger - the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas, groups like Hamas and the Islamic Movement, Al-Jazeera and social media are bombarding Palestinians with frantic claims it is.

There's actually nothing new about Abbas' latest round of incitement against Israel. Almost exactly one year ago, his comments calling on Palestinians to "use all means" to stop Jews from supposedly threatening the Mosque were part of the incitement that led to a similar round of bloodletting against Israelis at that time.

That round of violence was known as the "car intifada" - when Palestinian attackers killed Israeli men, women and children by ramming public transport stops with cars and hacked to death ultra-Orthodox Jews worshipping inside a Jerusalem synagogue.

The fact is, claims of supposed dangers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque have been used to incite violence for almost a century.

Today, while Abbas is reportedly trying to prevent the violence from escalating into widespread armed conflict, he continues to double down on incitement - even accusing Israel of cold-bloodedly "executing" a 13-year-old Palestinian youth in a speech on Oct. 14 on top of his inflammatory falsehoods about Al-Aqsa at the UN and on Palestinian TV.

Yet not only was the boy in question caught on camera stabbing two Israelis - including a 13-year-old riding his bike - he is decidedly not dead. He is recovering in an Israeli hospital after being hit by a car while fleeing police.

Similar false claims transforming murderous attackers into innocent victims are commonplace in the Palestinian media and statements by officials.

Sadly, we appear to be living in an age when the world has elevated lies against Israel to sit on equal footing with the truth.

Take the media's insistence on treating as at least plausible and understandable the demonstrably false claim that Israel is trying to change the status quo of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

The site is the third holiest in the world to Muslims, who call it the "Haram al-Sharif", but - as the location of the two biblical Temples according to Jewish, Christian and Muslim scripture as well as abundant archaeological evidence - it is also the most holy place in the world for Jews. Even so, the existing arrangements at the site are extremely generous to Muslim beliefs and sensibilities. Muslim religious authorities control the entire site. Non-Muslims may visit the 15-hectare Mount at certain restricted times - but are forbidden to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself or to engage in any prayer anywhere.

The perverse irony of the Palestinian claims is that if there is any side that has been acting to undermine the status quo, it is not Israel. While Jews, like other non-Muslims, have always had the right to visit the Temple Mount since 1967 (and also before 1948), today the Palestinians are trying to use violence to change this reality and effectively ban Jews.

Further, Palestinians and their Arab allies are now trying to use international organs like the UN cultural body UNESCO to officially erase international recognition of the Jewish connection to their holiest place of prayer - Jerusalem's Western Wall. They introduced (but later withdrew) language in a resolution insisting this too is in fact a solely Muslim religious site - just as they succeeded in the past to have UNESCO recognise the shared Jewish/Muslim holy site, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, as exclusively Muslim, as well as Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem - which historically has never been anything except a Jewish shrine.

Meanwhile, even as Palestinian leaders accuse Israel of desecrating Muslim holy sites, the Jewish shrine of Joseph's Tomb in Nablus has been firebombed yet again by Palestinians.

But what about claims that "massive" increases in settlement activity and frustration over the lack of movement in the peace process are the real "root cause" of the violence?

First, there simply is no "massive increase" in settlement construction. In fact, on October 14, the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that, since Netanyahu took office in 2009, new housing construction in Israel's West Bank settlements has dropped to the lowest annual average levels since 1995. While there is growth in the population of settlements, the overwhelming majority of that growth is natural increase - ie. babies being born.

Second, history contradicts the idea that Palestinian violence is caused by a lack of peace negotiation progress. The second Intifada followed the first ever offer of Palestinian statehood, while there was an explosion of terror in the mid-1990s following the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Finally, if there is a lack of movement in the peace process, it is because the Palestinians have steadfastly refused to come to the negotiating table. Israel has offered negotiations without preconditions on a two-state resolution on an almost daily basis. Abbas, for his part, explicitly rules this out, saying at the UN, "It is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations."

Attracting the Palestinians back to the negotiating table is important, but more so is for donors and international advocates of peace to pressure the Palestinian leadership to stop the incitement built on lies against Jews and Israelis and prepare their people for compromise and peace.

Creating a Palestinian state requires ending the Palestinian war against Israel's very existence on a grassroots level. At a time when any power vacuum in the region is being filled by ultra-radical actors like ISIS, this should be obvious.

 

This article is featured in this month's Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.

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