It started last week with the murder of two police officers, both Israeli Druze on the Temple Mount. The Israeli response was to put up metal detectors to make sure no guns could be smuggled in. There are metal detectors at the Western Wall, metal detectors at the Vatican, even metal detectors at Mecca and Medina. However, many Palestinians, ever worried about Israelis wanting to rebuild the Temple and take over the Temple Mount, saw this as a change in the status quo, and thus called for protests (actually they called for a "day of rage," not the kind of peaceful protests you might be thinking of from Selma, Alabama) to defend the Al Aqsa Mosque. These protests turned into rioting led to 3 Palestinian deaths.
To avenge that, an Arab terrorist broke through the security fence, and stabbed a 70 year old Grandfather and his two sons celebrating a Shabbat meal in a settlement called Halamish, something you can read about here, Murder in Halamish Settlement.
I should probably just leave it there, but I can't help putting in a little bit of commentary. So far, you have innocent Israeli police officers shot, a reasonable response of putting up metal detectors, and more Palestinian terrorism. Yet much of the response of the world and, I might add, the group I am traveling with, seems to be "what could Israel have done differently to prevent the terrorism." Answers range from working with the Waqf (Muslim religious authorities who control the Temple Mount) to simply backing down and not putting up the metal detectors, as reasonable as they seem. My view is that in cases like these I think nothing Israel would have done would have prevented the violent response. As Jews, while we must ask ourselves these difficult questions, history seems to teach us that whether Israel responds or doesn't respond, tries to accommodate or refuses to accommodate, keeps occupying (the West Bank) or ends an occupation (Gaza), the response is violence and the blame is always placed on Israel. That's just how I see it.
On the other hand, you are driving, even if you have the right of way, it's better to yield than to die. Sometimes, Israel needs to do the same thing. They were absolutely justified in putting up those metal detectors. It's counter intuitive, but as reasonable as metal detectors are, this response did ultimately lead to more violence rather than less, and it could get worse from here. Metal detectors usually save lives; in this case, they may have cost lives. And never underestimate Israel's ability to overreact and increase the tension, either by official responses (demolishing homes, bombing terrorist centers) or by vigilante groups like "Price Tag," who will avenge the murders, killing innocent Palestinians in the process. All of this is quite depressing, of course, but if I am talking about what we are seeing in Israel while I am here, this has to be front and center. In any case, back to the trip.
One highlight was a meeting with activists in the LGBTQ community in Israel. Several were involved with Jerusalem Open House, which is an organization which provides support to lgbtq people of all kinds, Israeli and Palestinian, religious and secular. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Daniel Jonas and Zehorit Sorek, pictured below. Both are Orthodox and Gay, and Zehorit is a candidate for the K'nesset. A fascinating part of their stories is that, despite Orthodox law's disapproval of their sexuality, they refuse to give up their observance of commandments (other than the ones against homosexuality because it is part of their very core). Both said their parents cared less about their sexuality than their observance of Shabbat and other mitzvot, which upset many of our group, because it seemed insulting to other streams of Judaism and religious pluralism. It felt like we were speaking two different languages, but it is important for us to hear their stories for what and who they are, even if our entire agendas don't necessarily match.
We shared Shabbat lunch with Anat Hoffman, director of the Israeli Religious Action Center and best known for her work with Women of the Wall. Her group does a lot of other important human rights work as well, particularly through the courts. Their group has made it illegal for El Al to ask women to change their seats on flights just because Orthodox men might feel they are unable to sit next to women, done essentially the same thing with Israeli buses, are fighting against racism within Israel, and, of course, continue their work with Women of the Wall. The delay by the Israeli government of the compromise of opening a new section which allows mixed prayer at the Wall, essentially created by Anat and Natan Sharansky, is especially painful right now, but the work goes on. To learn more about this cause, click here: Women of the Wall.
There were other speakers, but I have written too much already. Our evening concluded with a visit to Machane Yehuda at night, something I have never seen before. That is a serious party that I am way too old for. Still, it was fun, especially the Kosher beef bacon burger at a restaurant called Crave. And we had a night tour guide whose name was Karen, who pronounced it exactly the same way my wife does, because she was also from Philadelphia. She talked about all kinds of friendships going on between religious and secular, Israelis and Palestinians, artists and scholars, and that includes the ultra Orthodox. It was great to end such a sad day with such a positive, hopeful message. Hatikvah.
On to Tel Aviv and the North tomorrow.
Shavua tov from Jerusalem!