Here we go again. As Jews celebrate in their tens of thousands of sukkahs, religious extremists like Sheikh Raed Salah are inciting Palestinian masses to recapture Jerusalem with “blood and fire.”
Not to be outdone, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has rushed in to pour fuel on the fire as it protests a “plan by Jews to perform religious rituals” on the Temple Mount, and called on the international community to “force Israel to put off its attempts to take over Jerusalem.”
So as Israel struggles to stop the stone throwers’ verbal assaults, and the next spate of resolutions, it’s worth reminding the world that ever since the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, millions of people have safely streamed to the Western Wall to offer their prayers and insert handwritten supplications to the Almighty.
While most visitors shedding their tears adjacent to Judaism’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — are Jews, not all pilgrims are. Witness Pope John Paul II inserted his own kvittel (written prayer) within the Western Wall’s cracks. Pilgrims from Africa, tourists from Indonesia, swamis from India, evangelicals from the Americas, Buddhists from across Asia — all come and go to the Wall.
The only price of admission: donning a cardboard yarmulke or scarf.
Presidents and prime ministers flock to the Western Wall as well, armed with the latest great hope for peace in the Holy Land. From the Oslo Accords to the Quartet’s Middle East road map for peace, every official, regardless of religious denomination, or lack of one, finds a welcome private moment of silent prayer or reflection at the Western Wall.
And yet earlier this week, French tourists on the Temple Mount were pelted by irate Palestinian worshipers who “mistook” them for Jews. And the stones, and the orchestrated crescendo of violence, have continued unabated.
During this seemingly annual exercise, has any diplomat, foreign minister, religious icon or political pundit asked himself — or better yet the Palestinians — one simple question: Why?
Why can we all pray in peace at the Western Wall, but the very notion of a Jew praying on the site of Solomon’s Temple begets only violence, denial and threats?
The centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people was never lost on friend or foe.
Two thousand years ago the Romans, after destroying the Temple, plowed under its remains and banned Jews from returning. Emperor Hadrian tried to bury the very name of City of Peace, renaming Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina. Later, Christians, for theological reasons, extended that painful ban — it was only conquering Muslim leaders who recognized the right of Jews to “return” to live in this small area of land, a viewpoint that lasted until the 1950s.
So why are things so dramatically different in 2009?
Simply put, generations of Palestinians, “educated” by Yasser Arafat and company, have been taught not to believe that there ever was a Solomon’s Temple.
Textbooks and Palestinian media all repeat the self-delusionary canard denying any historic Jewish continuity or legitimacy in the Holy Land. Indeed, President Bill Clinton was reportedly shocked when Arafat called the Western Wall —the Jewish people’s holiest place — “a Muslim shrine,” and the Palestinian leader’s chief negotiator at the make-or-break Camp David peace talks denied the ruins of Solomon’s temple lay beneath the Dome of the Rock.
Tragically, ever since Israel magnanimously turned over religious control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Wakf in June 1967, successive generations have been taught that Israelis are Nazi-like invaders, illegitimate neighbors and enemies.
And “friends of peace,” far from urging Palestinians to deal with reality, help feed the delusion of denial. Witness the World Council of Churches, the largest umbrella group of Protestants, which recently launched the so-called Bern Initiative at its “Promised Land” conference in Switzerland.
Its answer to Israel’s alleged “apartheid situation” in the Holy Land is to reinterpret the Bible by differentiating between “biblical history and biblical stories . . . as well to distinguish between the Israel of the Bible and the modern State of Israel.”
The current violence and rabble rousing by the Palestinians won’t make it any easier for President Barack Obama, but the first thing he must do is not stop illegal nursery and bathroom add-ons in east Jerusalem, but rather admonish the Palestinian leadership to stop denying the legitimacy of the Jewish people.
Simply put: There can be no peace in the Holy Land without the Arab and Muslim world acknowledging what their Holy Book and ancestors recognized as the historic link of the Jewish people to its land and its holy sites. Unless and until that happens, there will be no peace in our time.
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the L.A.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the center. This piece first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.