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How to Start a Holy War

Hint: it involves blaming the Jews

Liel Leibovitz
July 19, 2017
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

The faithful leaving Jerusalem’s al Aqsa mosque yesterday evening were thrilled for the after-party. Marching on and around Temple Mount, they chanted cheerful slogans like “We will sacrifice our lives for al-Aqsa,” “We will die as martyrs,” “There’s going to be another Intifadah,” and “There’s nothing like killing soldiers.” More than a few were throwing rocks and glass bottles at the Israeli police officers stationed nearby. Among the rioters was Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a popular preacher in al Aqsa, and a Holocaust denier who energized the crowd with talk of holy war.

To what do we owe this pleasure? To hear the mob tell it, the violence was a legitimate expression of outrage sparked by Israel’s decision to install metal detectors at the entrance to the holy site. And Israel, you may recall, installed metal detectors at the entrance to the holy site after three Palestinian terrorists opened fire there Friday morning, killing two Israeli police officers who happened to be Druze. As David Horovitz put it crudely but poignantly, “Arabs killed Arabs at a holy place, the Jews are trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and the Arab world is furious with the Jews about it.”

The fury is no coincidence. If you stop and think about this story, you may find it a bit absurd, as the inimitable Eli Lake did earlier this week, that Palestinian groups like Hamas, so quick to cry defilement whenever Israelis do as much as visit the spot that they, too, consider holy, would cheer for the terrorists who sullied the site by turning it into the scene of a murderous attack. But illogic is the least of our problems: with this recent outburst, the Palestinian leadership has perfected the same deadly maneuver it’s been applying for years, provoking violence and immediately arguing that any response to the provocation will itself be considered casus belli.

It is, to borrow an unimprovable term from Star Trek, a Kobayashi Maru, the latter being a training exercise designed to introduce cadets at the Starfleet Academy to no-win situations. The poisonous potency of Palestinian brinksmanship may well be the stuff of science fiction shows: if Israel fails to respond to the terror attack on Temple Mount, it will be regarded as weak and subjected to further attacks. If Israel responds to the attack in any way, it will be accused of igniting a bloody conflict.

If you’ve watched enough episodes of Star Trek, you know that the only way out of a Kobayashi Maru is to do something so unexpected that it short-circuits the entire system. This is now Benjamin Netanyahu’s unenviable assignment. The cautious and measured steps he’s taken so far have hardly been effective, and Friday’s prayers at al Aqsa may very well be another occasion for incitement and another prelude to bloodshed. To make sure that doesn’t happen, it’s time to admit that, quite possibly, we’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy.

Here’s one wild idea: be proactive. Instead of doing little but responding to the chaos created by Palestinian audacity, let Israel make the first move for once. A good start would be for the Jewish State to confirm its commitment to the universal principle of freedom of religion and declare that it would no longer tolerate any arrangement that permits Muslims to pray freely on Temple Mount but blocks Jews from doing the same thing. The Palestinian leadership is likely to meet such a step with more outrage and more violence, but they’ll soon discover that when the other side’s unmoved, empty and hysterical threats of a holy war only go so far.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.