Rachel Shabi writes: They are horrifying images of a house of prayer drenched in blood. That an ultra-orthodox synagogue in West Jerusalem was chosen for this latest, gruesome attack, in which four Jewish-Israeli men were killed by two knife-wielding Palestinians, has detonated appalling historic associations and has been widely condemned. This attack has also, inevitably, sparked descriptions of a “religious war” in the region – depicted in media headlines as being in various stages of development: either a current reality or an unavoidably impending one. Those who insist on stressing the religious dimension are bolstered by the reaction from Hamas to this attack, as the Islamist group has, with bleak predictability, praised and celebrated it.
And once again the media framing designates the starting point – and therefore, implicitly, the causes – of the current bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians. Most importantly, in this context, is the question of who or what set off the religious incitement in Jerusalem.
The Israeli government has repeatedly blamed the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
But its own security services quickly quashed such accusations: Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, told a Knesset committee that Abbas (who has no control over Jerusalem) was not involved in igniting violence among East Jerusalem Palestinians.
Indeed, Cohen added, if anyone could be accused of exacerbating tensions, Israeli government officials and legislators are the first in line.
For some months now, this hard right coalition government has not just tolerated but actively supported a movement agitating for “Jewish prayer rights” at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – a sacred site to both Muslims and Jews. Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Likud Party are a visible, vocal part of this campaign. There has been a tendency in some quarters to see the prayer issue as a kind of harmless coexistence campaign focused on equal rights. It is not. This movement goes against a long-established status quo agreement, whereby non-Muslims can visit, but not worship at this holy site housing both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
But more than that, it runs contrary to what Jewish religious leaders have been saying for centuries, which is to rule against Jewish prayer at Temple Mount. Today, there is only one, growingly influential rabbinical strain that says otherwise and that’s the one guiding the religious-settler movement, which should make it abundantly clear that the issue is political, not religious. [Continue reading…]