There are (for the purposes of this post, at least) two types of war. There are wars that start suddenly and unexpectedly, seemingly with little or no warning. World War I is perhaps the best example of this. On June 27, 1914, the day before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Europeans were planning their summer vacations. By early August, in all the major European powers, they were marching to war.
The second type of war is foreshadowed for years before the actual fighting begins, and move towards actual hostilities slowly and agonizingly, with the major contenders marshaling their forces, heightening their rhetoric, and counting their grievances before blood is spilled. World War II, or if you prefer to keep Hitler out of it, the American Civil War are the best examples of this type of war. Whatever other emotions people had on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, or when General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (love that name!) commenced shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, surprise was low on the list.
The ways in which a war starts effects how the war is perceived in retrospect. World War I has become the model for the preventable war, blundered into by fools and idiots. In its aftermath, a generation learned the lesson of war’s stupidity. World War II, on the other hand, has become the model for the inevitable war. In its aftermath, a generation learned the lesson that against some evils, war cannot be shirked or evaded.
In their long history of wars, quasi-wars and semi-wars, Israel and the Arabs and the Palestinians have engaged in both sorts of conflicts. This summer’s Gaza War was a World War I type of war, blundered into by blustering leaders and deliberate provocations on both sides, leading to a war that no one really wanted. What is going on in East Jerusalem, on the other hand, seems like a World War II war, something foreordained, a gathering storm, something everyone on all sides are increasingly resigned to, and a confrontation that people on all sides, increasingly want, or at least think they can no longer avoid.
The reasons for this are many. At the center of the current dispute is the fight over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary (hereafter TM/NS.) This is usually seen as a religious dispute, but it is only one more example how, in the modern Middle East, religion has become the most convenient of fighting for other, more materially significant matters. The paradox of the TM/NS is that it has remained, since 1967, the only part of Greater Israel that Israelis cares about, over which Palestinians, and Arabs more generally, retain near complete control. The reason for this anomaly, is, of course, Israel’s justified concern that changing the status of the TM/NS will lead to a full-scale Palestinian revolt; and Palestinians know that the only thing that might stop Israel from asserting a “Jewish right to prayer” on the TM/ NS is if the threat of Palestinian revolt is credible.
Let me say, in passing, how utterly fraudulent this supposed “right” is. There is no history of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. The rabbis forbade it long ago, to discourage the fervent messianic speculation that a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount engenders, and which is flourishing today. The whole cult of the Western Wall is relatively recent, playing little or no role in Jewish sacred geography until the sixteenth century. The late religious-political thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz felt that worship at the Western Wall is a form of idolatry. For 2000 years observant Jews have respected the Temple by reading about its ceremonies in the many tractates of Mishna and Gemora dedicated to its rites. There obviously is one reason, and one reason only, for the renewed interest in praying on the TM/NS: to force Israel to wrest from the Palestinians their last iota of sovereignty in Jerusalem.
And of course, when Israel pushes, Palestinians push back, often in stupid and horrific ways, as in the senseless murders of five Israelis this past week in a Jerusalem synagogue. And both sides are resigned to a new war. The question of the week is, “is it an intifada yet?,” and the consensus answer is “maybe, stayed tuned for later developments.”
The dominant mood is that the possibilities for peace have evaporated and that it’s time to finish the preliminaries and go to the main bout, to annexation of some sort, or to the war against annexation, and enough palaver about coexistence. And if a war is inevitable, why wait?
A sense of historical inevitability, the belief that history is on one’s side, has often been a spur to action. And in East Jerusalem both sides are convinced of the inevitability of their eventual victory; most Israelis of the permanence and finality of the occupation, and increasingly, the need to make formal and legal what has been “temporary” for the past 47 years. And on the other side, a conviction of the increasing instability of the occupation, and the need to maximize the instability now, before Israel’s control becomes even more irrevocable.
And the tragedy is that both sides seem to be right. The occupation is apparently permanent, and gaining in permanence all the time, and at the same time, profoundly and irremediably unstable. I wish there was some reason to end this little meditation on a note of optimism, of hope that the two sides will find a way out of their current dilemma, but if there is, it is not visible to me. These are two trains on the same track, going full throttle, trying to collide with each other at top speed. There is every reason to think the situation will get worse, perhaps far worse, before it gets better. And whatever happens– except for the outbreak of peace– no one will be surprised.
I enjoyed (if that’s the word) your latest piece as always; cogent, succinct, and well-argued. I’d add one point, though, that I think those of us on the left tend to gloss over; that is, the sincere messianic beliefs of some (perhaps many) on the resurgent and triumphalist religious right (epitomized politically and religiously by perhaps the most charismatic figure in Israeli politics today, Naphtali Bennett).
Of course many on the non-religious right are hypocritically casting this as a “civil rights” issue. Bibi did that till last week when he suddenly seemed to realize his ministers were playing with real fire. But people like Yehuda Glick, whose near-murder touched some of this off, probably believes, like the “underground” of the 1980s, that Jews can and must bring the Messiah by reclaiming the Haram and building the third Temple there. Just yesterday, I heard Dan Kurtzer, whose views I agree with probably 99% f the time, but who happens to be a semi-Orthodox Jew, proclaim his belief that Jews should be able to pray on the Temple Mt (NOT, of course, laying claim to it). So this is a powerful draw for many Jews; Muslims are not the only ones to genuinely see this issue in apocalyptic, not just existential, terms.
So two millennia of Halacha has been reversed for thousands of Jews, many with military training. Thus, I do not believe the claim is only political and nationalist. Would that it were. Our fanatics believe just as deeply as theirs, and the non-religious rightwing hypocrites are perhaps just supporting players.
Thanks. You’re right, of course. I didn’t mean to imply that there aren’t people utterly sincere about wanting the Temple restored, though I suspect many of those pushing for the right of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount can’t tell a red heifer from a purple cow. It’s fascinating how the creation of Israel, rather than dampening traditional messianic speculation and fervor, as the orthodox feared, has exponentially increased it. I respect Dan Kurtzer too (what does semi-orthodox mean?) but sometimes I thinks “rights talk” can obscure the underlying questions of sovereignty and control. Abstractly, sure, Jews should have the right to pray wherever they want (and just as plausibly, without taking any other considerations into account, Palestinians should be able live wherever they want to in historic Palestine, and Jews should have similar rights in any future Palestinian state.) But for a right to be a “right” there has to be some superintending body to enforce and regulate it, and it is obvious (or should be obvious to Kurtzer and everyone else) that any Jewish right of prayer on the Temple Mount would have to be imposed on the waqf by the IDF, and that Israel would have to become the controlling power. And it seems to me the reason why so many Jews are getting fervent over praying on the Temple Mount is that they believe that it is now possible for this to happen, perhaps after an intifada or two
Dear Peter and Paul:
I’ll skip the Mary joke and get right to my point: as the TM/NS issue continues to flare– and it will certainly only be fanned by the heat of an election campaign–we best remember where the term ‘zealot’ originally came from and the disaster those individuals precipitated.
A bit surirpsed it seems to simple and yet useful.