Israel is on the brink of a third intifada. In the last several days, Palestinians have shot, stabbed, and rammed Israeli civilians to death, prompting fears that suicide bombings are next. But even without explosives, the attacks have been gruesome enough. In the the last 24 hours, two terrorists boarded a bus, locked the doors, and started shooting and stabbing passengers until one terrorist was shot to death and the other wounded. That same day, a Palestinian man rammed his car into a crowded bus stop, emerged from his vehicle “swinging an axe,” and killed a rabbi before he was stopped. In two other incidents, Palestinians seriously wounded Israelis in stabbing attacks.
What’s prompting the violence? The typical, tired media explanation for Palestinian attacks is “frustration with the lack of progress towards peace” (as if “peace” were ever the terrorists’ goal). But this time the consensus is that the immediate reason for violence is Palestinian rage over rumored policy changes at Jerusalem’s most holy sites. The New Yorker’s Ruth Margalit explains:
The stated cause of the recent surge in attacks is Palestinians’ belief that the Israeli government is trying to change the status quo at the holy compound in Jerusalem, a place revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary. According to security arrangements dating back to 1967, the site, while open to Jewish visitors at specific times, is sealed off to non-Muslim prayer.
Benjamin Netanyahu has denied that there are any plans to change the status of the Temple Mount, but some Israeli politicians undeniably want the Mount to be more open to Jews, and one was videotaped — gasp — actually praying at Judaism’s holiest site. Palestinians are furious, with “moderate” Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas declaring, “The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they [Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.” He went on to encourage martyrdom, saying, “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every martyr will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah.”
When there is a shared holy site, Palestinians demand exclusively Muslim faith practice. And if they don’t get it, they’ll kill innocent men, women, and children until you relent.
This is par for the course in the Middle East. Respect always runs one way. Grotesque displays of anti-Semitism and religious exclusion are always excused. Deadly violence against civilians is rationalized away. And the blame is always placed on “provocations” by those who refuse to consent to the jihadist formulation of “my way or your death.” The Israeli government is far more accommodating to Muslim religious practice than any Muslim government has been to the Jewish faith — with Israel even barring its own Jewish citizens from openly praying at one of Judaism’s most sacred sites — but it’s not enough, and it never will be. After all, Israel’s original sin is its existence. For jihadists, Judaism’s fundamental provocation is its practice.
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Appeasing jihadist rage is a fool’s errand. So long as Muslim radicalism is not just excused but carefully nurtured and cultivated, Israel will always be one rumor — one Jewish prayer — away from suffering through spasms of explosive violence. Yet we continue to coddle the merchants of hate, with successive American and European governments spending billions of dollars to prop up a government that speaks of Jews’ “filthy feet.”
There’s never been a real solution for this cycle of violence absent large-scale Muslim acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. But until that day comes, we can at least acknowledge reality and oppose evil. That means telling Abbas that he can hate Jews on his own dime and that when Israel cracks down on the violence he encourages — as it must — he can’t cry out to the United States for help. We don’t stand on the side of crazed religious bigots.
But Barack Obama is still in the Oval Office, and that means he’ll find a way to blame Israel. He’ll find a way to excuse jihad. And he’ll find a way to undermine our own power and influence in the Middle East. Savvy jihadists know this all too well. So when pondering whether to launch yet another round of terrorist violence, they may well believe there’s no time like the present. Sadly, they may well be right.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.