During the Israel-Arab war of 1947-48 that ended with an armistice between Israel and its Arab attackers, Jews were ethnically cleansed from all territories occupied by the Arab armies. The Jewish population of East Jerusalem, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque that was built on top of the Jewish Temple Mount, went from being the majority to being non-existent. Jews were not even allowed to visit their own holy sites, in contravention of the 1949 armistice agreements, and some of the sites were desecrated and damaged by Arab authorities.
In the 1967 Israel-Arab war, Israel retook East Jerusalem in one of the toughest battles of that war. At that point, Israel could have exacted revenge on Arabs by doing to them what the Arabs had done to Jews. But instead of ethnically cleansing East Jerusalem of Arabs and desecrating their holy sites, Israel allowed them to remain and even astonishingly placed Al-Aqsa under the management of the Muslim Wakf.
If Israel had treated Arabs the same way as Arabs had treated Jews, only hypocrites would have blamed it. But Israel chose the high road, for which Arabs and Muslims should be deeply thankful.
If Israel had done what was in all fairness its right to do, Muslims would not today have had to worry about going through metal detectors to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque. They would not have to worry because no Muslim would be allowed on that ground and Al-Aqsa would have been desecrated and dismantled.
Luckily for Arabs and Muslims, Jews do not behave like Arabs, and the Israeli government never even contemplated the possibility of barring Muslims from the Al-Aqsa Mosque or damaging the mosque in any way. In fact, Israel chose to write as one of its basic laws, a law banning the desecration of the holy sites of any religion.
Are we seeing today Muslim gratitude towards Jews for Israel’s unparalleled act of generosity and equanimity? Well, not exactly.
After a terrorist attack that resulted in several deaths caused Israel’s security forces to use metal detectors at the entrance of the mosque, the reaction of many Muslims was violent protests, the refusal to enter the mosque, calls for a “day of rage”, threats that the “Arab world will rise up”, and a PA decision to “halt to ‘all contacts’ with Israel”.
Wow! No, not exactly gratitude.
Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel’s Middle East analyst, recognized that the detectors’ removal would be a victory for extremists, but he recommended their removal anyway. The White House called for “the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to make a good faith effort to reduce tensions and to find a solution that assures public safety and the security of the site and maintains the status quo”. In other words, the White House would like Israel to compromise.
Increased security at public sites around the world, including holy sites, has been the rule rather than the exception in the last few years. It is reported that, “In Mecca there are more than 5,000 CCTV cameras and over 100,000 people employed to provide security during the annual Hajj. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia faces terrorist threats and has upgraded its security in recent years.”
Already two years ago, Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh had reported that “Palestinians have been smuggling stones, firebombs and pipe bombs into Al-Aqsa Mosque”. Newsweek published “footage of three Arab attackers preparing their ambush, smuggling the weapons that would kill two policemen”.
This is what the opponents of metal detectors want to be able to continue doing. This is why Hamas has called for a “day of rage”. They are enraged that their ability to commit crimes, at a site that is holy to their own religion, is being curtailed.
Muslims who consider the Al-Aqsa Mosque to be a holy place, would be thankful that not only they still have access to it but also that the metal detectors make it less likely that their prayers will be interrupted by shootings or explosions.
Compromising might lead to calm in the immediate future, but it is certain to embolden the terrorists who see Al-Aqsa not as a holy site but as an opportunity for violence, and it would lead to even more violence later.
Instead of asking for compromise on Israel’s security, Israel’s friends should remind Muslims that Israel already gave them a greatly unappreciated and undeserved compromise in 1967. Israel’s friends should demand that Israel’s security decisions be respected immediately and without conditions.