The Muslim month of Ramadan, which began on Friday night, is already proving to be the challenge that Israeli authorities had anticipated. Palestinians and radicalized Arab Israelis swarming the Old City of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate on Saturday and Sunday attacked police, who were stationed at site to keep the peace.
The irony is inescapable. Ramadan, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is marked by fasting and serious prayer. The 29- to 30-day period is when Muslims are supposed to focus on faith, spiritual contemplation and self-discipline. In Israel, however, the holy days are a source of potential—and often realized—peril for citizens and tourists of all religions. The proximity of Passover and Easter, rather than cause for monotheistic celebration, only serves to make the security situation more precarious for residents and visitors alike.
In a futile attempt to keep the imminent chaos at bay, Israeli and American leaders, along with counterparts in the Arab world, made a point last month of warning against the unrest that all knew was inevitable. Unfortunately, none aimed the admonition at the actual culprits—Palestinians and those among their Israeli brethren planning and carrying out mass murder.
At a press conference on March 27 following a meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that he and the Israeli premier had “discussed ways to foster a peaceful Passover, Ramadan and Easter across Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, particularly in Jerusalem, a city of such profound importance to Jews, to Christians, to Muslims.”
Means of achieving this, he said, included “working to prevent actions on all sides that could raise tensions, including settlement expansion, settler violence, incitement to violence, demolitions, payments to individuals convicted of terrorism [and] evictions of families from homes they’ve lived in for decades.”
The implication of his message, which he reiterated throughout his trip to the region, was that Israel is just as guilty, if not more, for the spilling of any blood ahead of and during the holidays. That he made such a statement on the heels of a killing spree in Beersheva was not only the height of chutzpah; it legitimized claims by terrorists that their acts of mass murder stem from logical political grievances.
It was not surprising, then, that two other deadly attacks immediately followed—one in Hadera that evening and a second in Bnei Brak two days later. And this isn’t even taking into account the numerous other assaults that were thwarted by Israeli forces in that time period.
In the midst of what threatens to be the start of yet another intifada, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid accompanied Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and other officials on a visit to the Damascus Gate.
“This is a tense time, but we have a police force that can be trusted,” Lapid said. “The security forces have our full backing. They work professionally in impossible conditions. We are committed to them and will give them all necessary resources.”
Lapid’s presence in the area elicited a typically duplicitous reaction from the powers-that-be in Ramallah and Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry “condemn[ed], in the strongest terms, the provocative incursion by … Lapid in the Bab al-Amud [Damascus Gate] area in occupied Jerusalem and … the promises he made to Jewish extremists to deploy more occupation forces and police in Jerusalem, under the pretext of providing protection for them during the Jewish holidays.”
As if calling Lapid’s arrival in the eastern part of Israel’s capital city an “incursion” weren’t sufficiently ridiculous, the statement went on to accuse him of “incitement against the Palestinians … in complete disregard of the existence of Muslim and Christian holidays, and in denial of the fact that it is Jewish extremists who attack the Christian and Islamic sanctities.”
Hamas also responded with an inversion of victim and perpetrator.
“The storming of the Damascus Gate by the foreign minister of the Zionist enemy … is a dangerous escalation, and the occupation will be responsible for its consequences,” the terrorist organization said in a statement. “We and our people pledge to protect Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
This is reminiscent of the claims by the late PLO and P.A. leader Yasser Arafat—as well as left-wing apologists in Israel and abroad—that the “controversial” visit of Israeli opposition head and Likud Party chairman Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in September 2000 “provoked” the Second Intifada.
It was a lie, of course. The daily Arab-Israeli riots and Palestinian suicide bombings in buses, malls and restaurants had been carefully planned for nearly a year beforehand. Furthermore, Sharon received pre-approval for his visit from Jibril Rajoub, who at the time led the P.A. Preventive Security Forces.
Never mind that Sharon shouldn’t have needed Palestinian permission to ascend to Judaism’s holiest site. But it’s crucial to restate that, contrary to a myth that refuses to die, the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” did not erupt spontaneously. It was carefully orchestrated for months on end and was launched a day before the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
Less than two years later, on the eve of Passover, a suicide bomber blew himself up among Jews having a seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya, leaving 30 dead and another 140 wounded. Indeed, it is Jews who have cause to fear Palestinians during the holidays, not the other way around.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”