Riots broke out on the Temple Mount on Sunday, July 26. Maybe they were sparked by an Israeli woman — one woman — being filmed three days earlier saying that the Prophet Muhammad was a pig. Maybe they were sparked by a visit by hundreds of Jews, including Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, to the Temple Mount — just visiting, not demonstrating or, horror of horrors, praying.
But most likely the Palestinian rioters were just looking for an excuse to disrupt a Jewish day of mourning by reasserting their claims to the holiest of grounds. After all, they had a stockpile of Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and other makeshift weapons inside Al-Aqsa Mosque, and they were going to use them, either against the security forces that rushed to quell the violence or against the worshippers below at the foot of the Western Wall.
To add insult to injury, an Arab member of the Knesset, Masud Ganaim, then went on Israeli radio to criticize the Jewish provocations and deny that any Jewish Temple ever existed on the mount, despite ample archaeological and documentary evidence.
It wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last time that an Arab leader who knows better has chosen to keep trouble simmering by denying the history of the Temple Mount, a site Israel allows the Muslim Waqf to control. Muslims have free access to worship as they please, while Jews who ascend to the top are barred by security forces from whispering the briefest prayer.
The Chief Rabbinate has ruled since 1921 that Jews should not walk atop the Temple Mount for fear of stepping into an area that requires unattainable ritual purity. Those who choose to ignore that ruling have the support of court decisions if they then decide to pray on the Temple Mount, but security forces have consistently stopped non-Muslim prayers to avoid Arab rioting.
As we saw yet again on Tisha B’Av, the slightest perceived provocation is used as an excuse for such riots — the Second Intifada, for example, began when Ariel Sharon dared to visit the Temple Mount in September 2000 — with the result that Jews are treated as second-class citizens on our holiest site. (We’re not sure how this particular unequal treatment fits into the slanderous claims of Israeli apartheid.)
Critics love to blame Israel for the lack of progress toward a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians, and many Israeli governments have made mistakes in the 67 years since gaining independence, 48 years since uniting Jerusalem, 36 years since making peace with Egypt and 22 years since signing the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat.
But the fundamental barrier to peace remains the widespread denial of reality among the Palestinian leadership — the reality that the Jewish people have continuously lived and worshipped in the land of Israel for more than 3,000 years and the reality that the nation of Israel exists today and is not going away.
A site universally seen as holy ought to be the easiest place to establish peaceful coexistence. That it remains a source of strife just adds to the sorrows for which we mourn each Tisha B’Av.