Israel plans to build West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France

Israel’s Construction Minister Uri Ariel is proposing expanding West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France (Times of Israel). There is some opposition and the proposal is scheduled to be reviewed next week (JPost), which quotes Ariel:

“Israel is the home of world Jewry. At this time when anti-Semitism is once more breaking out, we must act to allow for the smooth absorption of new immigrants,” Ariel said.“There is no doubt that the Jews of France, who already deeply identify with the Zionist settlement enterprise in the West Bank, will want to settle one of the Judea and Samaria communities once they arrive in Israel,” Ariel said.

In the background, there is a lot of discussion over the calls from French Jews to immigrate to Israel:Haaretz: Why Israeli call for French Aaliyah is so Offensive
NY Times: Do France’s Jews have a Future?

To quote the Op-Ed in Haaretz:

The old anti-Semitism that led up to the destruction of a third of all global Jewry was based on the rejection of the concept of the European Jew. Jews were never accepted as equal citizens, be they German Jews, Austrian Jews, Polish Jews or French Jews. When the fascists rose to power, they picked on the eternal otherness of the Jew to demonstrate that these were a people apart, different and despised. The alienation and dehumanization of the Jew was a direct rejection of the Jewish place in the nation state….

Unlike the anti-Semitism of old, the solution is not an abandonment of one’s home. The state is not rejecting Jews; in fact, it is trying to protect them, at least in the case of France. The fact that thousands of police are deployed to protect Jewish schools doesn’t detract from the terrifying reality in the aftermath of the attacks. There are deep systemic problems that need both physical and educational solutions if multiculturalism and pluralism are to win out. But we should not kid ourselves that the violence against Jews today is the same as it was in the 1930s.

This new reality explains why Israeli politicians’ call for French aliyah is so hurtful to France and its Jews. The correct response to the attacks came from President Reuven Rivlin, who should have been the dignitary representing Israel at the Paris unity march instead of politicians jockeying for votes. Rivlin stated that aliyah should be “born out of a positive Jewish identity, out of Zionism, and not because of anti-Semitism.”

For a bit of historical perspective, there’s a piece from March 9, 1960 in the NY Times: American Settlers in Israel Balk at inviting more from the US

The draft resolution that caused the protest called upon “American and Canadian Jews to come and settle in Israel and join the ranks of those who preceded them in building up the country.”Such resolutions are normally adopted automatically in Israel.

“How can we invite people?” exclaimed Arthur Ross, a textile merchant formerly of Brooklyn. “We have no jobs or houses to offer them!”

Ariel Markus, formerly of New York commented that immigrants might suffer a little, “but it won’t hurt them.”

and on October 24, 1949 in the NY Times again: Israel, Charging Iraqi Persecutions, Urges U. S. and Britain to Intervene

Israel has made urgent appeals to the United States and Britain for their immediate intervention against “persecution” of Jews in Iraq, it was announced here tonight. The Government said that anti-Jewish acts in Iraq were “liable to rekindle the flames of conflict in the Middle East.”…

Reports of a pogrom in Iraq, which the Israeli Government said it has confirmed, coincide with a reported offer by Iraq to exchange 100,000 Iraqi Jews for a similar number of Palestinian refugees.

most of the rest of the article discusses the arrest of Iraqi Jews on unknown charges and their detention in “Abu Grib” prison (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Both are worth a read if you have access to the Times archives.Meanwhile, there’s another debate brewing about Defending France and Free Speech (Bloomberg piece on prosecutions of “support for terrorism”:

In schools last week, there were about 100 incidents where (mostly Muslim) students refused to take part in a minute of silence to honor the magazine’s dead. Forty of these cases were referred to the police for potential prosecution, according to Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, because the words spoken amounted to “glorifying terrorism.”

The NY Times writes in French Rein in Speech Backing Acts of Terror.:

But French law does prohibit speech that might invoke or support violence….

The accused did not have to threaten actual violence to run afoul of the law. According to Mr. Cabut, who brought the case in Bourgoin-Jalieu, the man shouted, “They killed Charlie and I had a good laugh. In the past they killed Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Merah and many brothers. If I didn’t have a father or mother, I would train in Syria.”

If you’re going to prosecute “speech that might invoke or support violence”, every person carrying a “support our troops” bumper-sticker is liable for prosecution, as is anyone supporting the police shooting suspects. And what do you do about a six-year old threatening to beat another six-year old up in the playground? Perhaps statements supporting violence by the state are “protected speech”?This is why regulating speech is fraught with so many issues and the rushed prosecutions in France are likely a mistake.

A few other tangents below the fold:

Ilene Prusher wrote a very nuanced piece in Haaretz: Why did Hamas condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

To date, Hamas has so far limited itself to national aspirations only. It may think global, but it acts local. It hasn’t carried out known acts of terrorism beyond Israel, and has not participated, at least from any discernable account, in the global jihadist ideology that calls for the reestablishment of the caliphate.In fact, Palestinians who find themselves unsatisfied with Hamas’ “limited” nationalist goals have sometimes left the movement for Islamic groups with a more global focus, such as Hizb Ut-Tahrir, founded by a Palestinian from a village near Haifa. And, of course, some Palestinians and even Israeli-Arabs have joined radical jihadist groups with an even more violent outlook, including the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Iraq.

“Hamas condemns the desperate attempts of Prime Minister Netanyahu to link our movement on the one side, and terrorism throughout the world on the other side… These miserable attempts are doomed to fail,” Hamas said in a statement. In the Hamas release, provided in French to Agence-France Press, the group said that it “condemns the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists on the fact that differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.”

Hamas has been lobbying for more international legitimacy as a way to get funds to the Gaza Strip, and is worried about the slow progress on this front. There have been reports surfacing in the past week that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was asked to leave Qatar and is seeking a new base. Hamas denies those reports. But it is clear that Qatar, once seen as a moderate country, was beginning to take on the taint of an extremist Gulf outpost because of its backing of Hamas, and seems keen to back down from that image. All of this adds up to a Hamas in which political expediency is much more attractive just now than jihadist ideology in Europe.

I’m wondering whether the columnist’s analysis above would count as “supporting terrorism” under the French law?At the always perceptive 972mag: U.S. Consulate desegregates security staff, Israeli guards quit in protest

A number of Israeli guards working for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem quit in protest of a decision to arm and train Palestinian guards employed by the Consulate recently, according to Ynet.Unnamed “sources,” presumably the disgruntled Israeli guards themselves, accused the Consulate’s chief security officer of “raising an armed militia of Palestinians,” according to the report.

Israel demands that armed non-American guards be IDF combat veterans, according to the report.

The American consulate, like a host of other countries’ consulates in Jerusalem, primarily serves the Palestinian territories and its officials regularly travel to Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

perhaps this has something to do with this incident: Israeli settlers stone two cars belonging to US consulate staffLastly, Yassi Sarid in Haaretz asks: Israel, Do you remember what you did last summer?. He’s wondering why all discussion of the destruction wreaked on Gaza has disappeared from the public sphere in Israel.

eHistory: The invasion of America

Stumbled across the eHistory project today.  It has an interactive map of the Invasion of America which is described as:

Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from America’s indigenous people by treaty and executive order. The Invasion of America shows how by mapping every treaty and executive order during that period. It also contains present-day federal Indian reservations.

The interactive map and exploration of the various treaties and orders is fascinating.

They have a number of other projects, including a visualization of the spread of smallpox across North America. Most of the team is at the University of Georgia and some of the projects are less than fully-fledged, but they’re all interesting.

Ehud Barak says Israel’s leaders will soon face the choices De Klerk did in South Africa.

Maybe this is pre-election politicking, but Ehud Barak said some things in an interview with Haaretz this week that are remarkable to American ears, but probably not to anyone in I/P, I’ve excerpted some of them below [italics are the interviewer’s comments/questions]. The whole interview is worth reading.

“We have been ruling another nation for 47 years. We are ignoring the fact that the situation has changed in the international arena. The leaders and the people themselves don’t remember the circumstances and the struggle under which the State of Israel emerged. There are no leaders or publics in the world who remember the Holocaust as a personal experience. What they’ve seen for decades is the reversal of the image that accompanied Israel. It’s not David and his slingshot being threatened by Goliath.“What registers in the consciousness is the Palestinian youth who is symbolically using David’s weapon against Israelis who are armed to the teeth inside tanks, and with missiles and so forth. That image is becoming embedded in the public consciousness abroad. In the 21st century, there is no chance of maintaining over time a situation that will be accepted by the international community in which Israel continues to rule those millions of people and does not allow them to vote for the Knesset.”

When will the day come when the world will treat us as it treated F.W. de Klerk in South Africa?

“It will come. It will come. It’s a slippery slope, and on that slippery slope we are marching in the direction of one state for two nations. The feeling that’s taking shape internationally is that Israel doesn’t really have the intention – that the critical mass of the Israeli leadership has reached the conclusion that there is no reasonable two-nation solution that can guarantee Israel security, and that it has no alternative but to continue holding on to the entire territory and grant them autonomous rights. And [we think that] because we have no alternative, the world will be compelled to accept that.

….

“In the case of de Klerk, that moment arrived via economic pressure – he simply could not withstand the pressure and the sanctions. That’s what brought about their awakening. I saw them close-up – we had deep relations of friendship with the South African leadership. They were people of a very high level, intellectually and otherwise, and they had wonderful explanations. They said, ‘The Americans are preaching morality to us? Well, they committed genocide, all they have left are pangs of conscience.’ Or they said, ‘We gave the blacks everything, the possibility to work, and comparatively they are living better than in their deserts, we gave them opportunities and they developed.’”Those are the same stories we are telling ourselves about the Arabs.

and ….

During the Netanyahu years, we’ve seen not only stagnation but tough threshold conditions. What do you think, for example, about Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel as the Jewish state?“Since when do you make the whole root of legitimacy conditional on the dialogue with the Palestinian partner, on the question of whether he is ready to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people? Zionism was founded so that we would decide, not look elsewhere for recognition. Did we ask for recognition from the Egyptians? From the Jordanians? From the Syrians? In the end it looks like trickery trying to tug on some sort of emotional heartstring in us.”

I would hasten to add that Barak has an agenda (aw shucks, who doesn’t), much of the interview focuses on the controversy surrounding his sudden acquisition of substantial wealth.Some other tidbits below the fold:

 All in all, some interesting things being said in the region. Hassan Nasrallah told his Hezbollah militia that Islamic extremists damage Islam more than “even those who have attacked the messenger of God through books depicting the Prophet or making films depicting the Prophet or drawing cartoons of the Prophet.”  Of course, Hezbollah’s patron, the Iranian regime kicked off the modern tradition of pronouncing death sentences on people they deem to have offended Islam. Then again, Hezbollah is actively battling the ISIS militants Nasrallah is denouncing here. Oh yeah, blasphemy laws are alive and well in many other jurisdictions..

Or maybe Nasrallah is upset with ISIS since they are alleged to have published guidelines for sexual relations with slaves including (among other barf-worthy nonsense):

Question 5: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession [of her]?”If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn’t, her uterus must be purified [first]…”

Liberal Zionism’s impending demise: as narrated by the NYTimes magazine.

This weekend’s Times magazine will contain an article titled Can Liberal Zionists Count on Hillary Clinton?

It has everything you could want from engaging hand-wringing over Israel, including:

The steady right-ward shift in Israel.

Micah’s liberal Zionists remained wedded to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians and estranged from the policies of a right-wing Israeli government, along with the reflexively Israel-can-do-no-wrong sentiment on Capitol Hill.

Vocal voices comparing Israeli policies towards Palestinians to South African apartheid and Jim Crow.

But they also felt alienated by Jewish groups to their left, some of which chanted, “Stop the murder, stop the hate, Israel is a racist state.”

An overview of the political calculations that push most “serious” Democratic candidates to reflexively support Bibi.

The political arithmetic for Clinton is easy — knowing you can take the larger liberal Jewish vote for granted, you support Israel’s right-wing government to keep moderates from bolting.

Messianic yearning for Bill Clinton.

Other liberal Zionists are hoping that Bill Clinton could be a more sympathetic voice within a Clinton White House. After Zemel’s Rosh Hashana sermon, in which he talked about the need for “Jewish genius” to solve the problem in Israel, Al From told me, “Bill Clinton has this little bit of genius.”

Perhaps surprisingly, it quotes Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Vilkomerson (whose sister, an entertainment writer, is a friend of mine) said she felt no sympathy for the concerns of the liberal Zionist agonistes, whom she considered toothless and intellectually dishonest in their attempts to reconcile their liberal values with Israel’s right-wing government. She reserved special indignation for what she referred to as “PEPs,” or politicians who were “progressive except for Palestine.”

My thoughts below the fold…

I empathize with those who feel betrayed by the rightward shift in Israel.

At the same time, I wonder whether they were willfully blind to the treatment of Palestinians in the years and months leading up to the declaration of an Israeli state. Did they really believe all these towns, villages and cities were devoid of people? Or did they think it was justifiable to confiscate the property of those fleeing violence?

Benny Morris’s work is over 25 years old, so it should not come as news to anyone that the Haganah/Irgun/Lehi conducted mass-expulsions of Palestinians civilians from their homes in 1947 and early-1948, before the mandate expired, well in advance of any “Arab invasion”.

Reading Morris’ early work, you come away with a sense that he is indignant at the expulsions. He’s since changed his mind and said it was justified in the interests of establishing a homeland for Jews, to quote Morris:

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

To me, this leads to the heart of the problem. If you go along with the claim that “bad things were done but in the interest of a good cause”, you have to examine both the “good cause” and the nature of the “bad things”. This is why Miko Peled keeps prodding audiences to tell him why it is inherently good to have a Jewish state (or a Muslim state, or a Christian state, or a Hindu state I might add).There are no voices in the mainstream who delve into that question honestly. And that’s the problem with this article as well, it’s largely about the crisis of conscience faced by Daniel Zemel, the head rabbi at Temple Micah in Washington:

“One is torn,” Zemel told me from Tel Aviv. “I can’t imagine not wanting to come to Israel every chance I get. But what would happen if an Israeli government were to decide, ‘O.K., we’re going to declare the entire West Bank to be part of Greater Israel and we’re not going to grant the Palestinians full citizenship.’ How could I then come to visit this country? But how could I not come? I just can’t imagine it.”

Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe and Miko Peled look at the same facts and come to a different conclusion, that the Zionist project as it is presented today was flawed from the start. Flawed because it sought to create and maintain a “democratic” and “Jewish” state by controlling who had citizenship rights within territory it controlled (the solution post ’67), or by expelling non-Jews (the solution in ’47/’48).The same sort of expulsions had occurred across Eastern Europe in the inter-war years and then after as the Austro-Hungarian empire fell apart taking its cosmopolitan nature down with it. The goal there too was to create states that were as ethnically homogeneous as possible. there was no room for certain diaspora, including Jews and Gypsies. Almost the same thing happened as the Ottoman empire dissolved. Maybe that is the fate of all multi-ethnic societies which leave populations in place. A reflection of our tribal nature.

Most people excuse Israeli actions, tacitly or overtly by referencing the holocaust. This just raises another moral question, whether victims, their families, tribes and co-religionists are justified in victimizing unrelated third parties. We do not excuse such behavior for individuals, even though we acknowledge that humans do act this way.

In the end, I don’t think peace is possible till Israel and its supporters acknowledge what happened during the Nakba and how complicit some of the lionized founding fathers of Israel were (including Ben-Gurion). And I think a just and lasting peace can only come with one state in Israel/Palestine that guarantees equal rights to all, with restitution for Palestinian refugees.

I whole-heartedly agree that it will require a political genius to achieve peace.

Would you sell your soul to the CIA for $81 million?

That’s what it took for two military psychiatrists to serve as cheerleaders and overseers for the torture program.

The NYTimes article Senate Torture Report Shows C.I.A. Infighting Over Interrogation Program describes the following series of events:

On the other side were James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two former military psychologists who had advised the agency to use waterboarding and other coercive methods. With the support of C.I.A. headquarters, they repeatedly insisted that Mr. Nashiri and other prisoners were still withholding crucial information, and that the application of sufficient pain and disorientation would eventually force them to disclose it. They thought the other faction was “running a ‘sissified’ interrogation program,” the report says.If those questioning Mr. Nashiri just had “the latitude to use the full range of enhanced exploitation and interrogation measures,” including waterboarding, Dr. Jessen wrote, they would be able to get more information. Such treatment, he wrote, after the two previous months of extremely harsh handling of Mr. Nashiri, would produce “the desired level of helplessness.

And Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, identified by pseudonyms in the report, had not conducted a single real interrogation. They had helped run a Cold War-era training program for the Air Force in which personnel were given a taste of the harsh treatment they might face if captured by Communist enemies. The program — called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape — had never been intended for use in American interrogations, and involved methods that had produced false confessions when used on American airmen held by the Chinese in the Korean War.

So of course, they did that quintessentially American thing, they quit their jobs and founded a startup.

Yet the program allowed the psychologists to assess their own work — they gave it excellent grades — and to charge a daily rate of $1,800 each, four times the pay of other interrogators, to waterboard detainees. Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen later started a company that took over and ran the C.I.A. program from 2005 until it was closed in 2009. The C.I.A. paid it $81 million, plus $1 million to protect the company and its employees from legal liability.

Hey, what could be more wholesome, they’re saving the country from terrorists and creating jobs at the same time. So what if a few “terrorists” die of hypothermia, or are rectally fed, or hung from the ceiling by chains.

Better yet, it’s another win for defense sub-contracting championed by Cheney. And it’s completely irrelevant that he was CEO of a big defense contractor.  Can I hear a Huzzah for American ingenuity!

Except for one little pesky detail:

The agency had evidently forgotten its own conclusion, sent to Congress in 1989, that “inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers,” the report says. The Democratic Senate staff members who studied the post-9/11 program came up with an identical assessment: that waterboarding, wall-slamming, nudity, cold and other ill treatment produced little information of value in preventing terrorism.

Or maybe the CIA top brass was just reading the Ramsay Snow chapters of Game of Thrones at the time and decided they wanted to sub-contract some work to the house of Bolton. Yeah, that might be it.

A “political pyromaniac” shaping a “future apartheid state”

The Israeli press is far harder on Israeli politicians and policies than media state-side. This weekend’s Haaretz for example has the following opinion pieces.

Zeev Sternhell writes in What Israel’s founding fathers never imagined:

Contrary to the prevalent assertion that what protected Israeli democracy in the states early days was ambiguity on fundamental constitutional questions that arose at the time, ambiguity was part of the problem, not the solution. The policy of obfuscation that David Ben-Gurion decided upon for reasons of political convenience allowed the Arabs to be kept under martial law for the entire period of his rule. The shame of the Shin Bet security service state was lifted only in 1965, though Arab inferiority was perpetuated.

Another aspect of this early failure is the fact that the founders made laws for themselves, not for human beings as such. They never imagined that the Feiglins and Elkins would have ruling power in the most persecuted nation in modern history. Their great foe was Jabotinsky, whom Ben-Gurion and Katznelson knew, and against whom they fought for power and for the means to achieve their common goal, but not for the goal itself.

No one ever envisioned the actual possibility that power would fall one day into the hands of people with the demeanor of masters, for whom the oppression of another nation was second nature. Who ever imagined that the Jewish community might one day turn into a colonialist entity and lay the foundations of an apartheid regime as a permanent condition, and would want to engrave that shame in its law books on top of that?

The gravediggers of liberty and equality of our time are dragging Israel down toward the violent and fanatic Third World that surrounds us. The politicians of the centrist parties would do well to draw their own conclusions as the election approaches, and use all the energy and honesty that they still have to prevent the disasters that are on their way.

Meanwhile, Haaretz’s editors plead: Israelis, listen to the world:

No election campaign can blur this new international reality, which clearly indicates that the world has had enough of the Israeli occupation and the settlements that strengthen and deepen it.The world’s message must become an important issue in the election campaign. Israelis will be required to choose between a government that increases Israel’s isolation and one that brings Israel back to the family of nations. The end of the occupation is crucial, of course, for internal reasons as well – freeing resources for Israelis’ welfare and reinstating the state’s democratic and moral character.

Gideon Levy writes Netanyahu shaped a different, darker Israel: In his own image:

Even when he hid his beliefs, he did so in order to advance them. Netanyahu never believed in peace with the Arabs — and he removed peace from Israel’s agenda. He never believed in the rights of the Palestinian people — and he destroyed the two-state solution. He genuinely believed that Jews are the chosen people — and he brought Israel closer to a future apartheid state modeled on his beliefs, including in its constitutional aspects.

Once there was an Israel that subdued its racism and was ashamed of it; that did not alternate only between rivers of hate and waves of intimidation. Where Arabs were not only suspicious objects and where war refugees were not only “infiltrators.” Where Judaism was not only for ultranationalists and the flag was not waved only by the settlers. Once there was hope, but it disappeared; someone severed it.

To top it all off, Yoel Marcus pleads with voters to Stop Israel’s political pyromaniac

If an alien from another planet were to visit us these days, he would probably ask himself: What? Netanyahu’s still here? What’s going on with Israel? How did this nice, tiny country – whose values and survival abilities were so admired by most of the world – morph into a monster that is endangering everyone’s welfare?

Underneath all this outrage is a palpable nervousness as centrist and left-of-center Israelis evaluate their prospects in the upcoming Knesset elections.

Or as someone once told me, Haaretz is just a leftie paper no one in Israel pays any attention to, that’s why it’s circulation is dropping like a rock.

A Third Intifada: Al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount

There has been a lot of inflammatory discussion in recent weeks about what the status of various monuments and places of worship in Jerusalem is and should be.  An Op-Ed in Haaretz today, by Dr. Lorenzo Kamel Is it too late to defuse a Third Intifada in Jerusalem? is the most reasonable point of view I’ve seen so far.

A Little History

The status of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is intertwined with the history of Zionism in Palestine/Israel. This history includes the establishment of the original Zionist settlements (driven by a desire to return to the ancient homeland), the UN partition plan (which envisaged Jerusalem as an international city shared by two nations), the Six-Day war of 1967 (when Israeli forces wrested Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordanian control) and too many more ancient events to recount.

For those of you who think the place provokes extreme religious fanaticism and should be razed to the ground, let me point out that the Roman Empire beat you to the punch by almost 2,000 years. But by then, as Gibbon reportedly said of Roman attempts to suppress Christianity, it was already too little too late.

The Temple Mount is where the first and second Jewish temples reportedly stood.  After Vespasian was done destroying the second temple, what remained was a raised platform that is about the size of seven NYC blocks. That raised platform is called the Temple Mount.

Today’s status quo

The complex today has a couple of seventh century Islamic buildings, the gold “Dome of the Rock”, and the silver domed al-Aqsa mosque which features prominently in the Quran. The site has been administered by an Islamic charitable trust (a Waqf) for almost 900 years. The precise location where the second temple stood is unknown and its inner sanctum is considered so holy that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate says no person should ascend to the Temple Mount for fear of defiling it. That’s one of the reasons most orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall.

The complex is open to visitors most days, but Israeli police prevent Jews and Christians from praying there. Palestinian/Israeli Muslims are allowed to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque.

A Personal Story

Every time I hear of a conflict in Jerusalem, I think back to an event twenty years ago in India. In 1992, a mob of over 100,000 people led by right-wing Hindu nationalists demolished the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The mosque may have been built on the ruins of a Hindu temple that may have marked the birthplace of Ram (the hero of the epic Ramayan). Many Hindu temples in India were built over the ruins of Buddhist/Jain structures, but that was probably too inconvenient a fact for the mob to appreciate. There are Jain claims that a Jain temple once stood on the site.

The rally in Ayodhya and the demolition were televised. As fantastic rumors swirled, there were widespread riots across India. The worst were in my home city of Bombay, which had avoided virtually all sectarian violence till this point (including the pogroms that affected most of Northern India during the partition). Almost a thousand people, most of them Muslim, virtually all of them poor, were murdered in Bombay and entire neighborhoods were destroyed. As an aside, this is the riot depicted in the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire. Three months later, a series of coordinated bombings killed over 300 people. A store my parents owned was damaged by a mob. We watched it happen from our apartment.

Up until 1992, everyone in Bombay knew, just knew that communal riots were something that happened elsewhere in India. Our city was too diverse, too integrated, too hard-working, too liberal, too cosmopolitan and too pragmatic to engage in that sort of communal rioting. I don’t think anyone believed that after 1992. For my part, I now recognize that far too many places in the world are fractured tinderboxes.

The people who’re inflaming religious sentiments in Israel and Palestine are playing with fire.

Sadly, they are part of a long tradition of rogues who use religion to drum up tribal and sectarian feeling to further their own political ends.

To those who’re susceptible to sectarian feeling, facts aren’t going to make much difference. Nevertheless, I’ll quote a couple of excerpts from Dr. Kamel’s article in Haaretz on the situation at the Temple Mount:

it’s important to note that the restrictions imposed on Jews accessing the Western Wall in that period did not have any “Islamic connotation.” Jews, in fact, have had free access to the area during the previous twelve centuries of Islamic domination, while they were prevented from doing so under the Christian Byzantines and the Crusaders. The issue of the Western Wall can only be understood in the context of the history of the last century and in particular as a consequence of the War of 1948, when about 400 Palestinian villages were razed to the ground and, often, renamed. And while Jews were prevented from accessing the Western Wall for twenty years, Palestinian refugees and their descendants were and still are prevented to access their erstwhile lands within Israel.

In such a looming scenario only two options can avoid the further strengthening of extremist elements. The first one is the maintenance of the current precarious yet effective (until today) status quo in Jerusalem’s Old City. To require a change in the equilibrium achieved in these last few centuries within Suleiman’s walls, while maintaining the status quo in the Palestinian territories and continuing to turn a blind eye to the policies carried out by right-wing groups such as Elad –
often using the controversial Absentee Property Law to takeover apartments in densely-populated Arab quarters – would be a recipe for more violence.The second alternative is the internationalization of the Old City and its holy places, a solution in line with the original international consensus when the State of Israel was established. It is noteworthy that Israel’s admission to the United Nations (May 11, 1949) was not unconditional but bound up with the full acceptance of the UN Charter and provisions regarding Jerusalem (Israel’s original application for admission was, not by chance, rejected by the UNSC): “Negotiations,” assured Abba Eban (1915-2002) in front of the UNGA on May 5, 1949, “would not, however, affect the juridical status of Jerusalem, to be defined by international consent.” None of the historical events of the last 65 years have the legal power to erase these assurances.

a solution must be found through sharing or internationalizing Jerusalem’s Old City and in striving to trigger a radical political change in the status of the Palestinian territories. If none of these scenarios can be achieved, the status quo in the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa complex remains – at least for now – the least worst alternative.