Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir — formulaically described as “far-right” — went to Temple Mount on May 21, to show the Palestinians, and the world, that he would not be put off by Palestinian threats and claims to sole ownership of the Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism.
He didn’t attempt to change the status quo, though you would never know that from the howls of protest from the Palestinians. He visited, but did not attempt to pray, either openly or silently on the Mount. He did not bring with him a prayerbook, or a prayer shawl, or tefillin. He took a brisk walk around the perimeter of the Mount, steering clear of the entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque. His whole visit took under twenty minutes.
There was one note he struck, however, that opened him up quite properly to criticism, and will be used by haters of Israel to condemn not only Ben-Gvir, but the Jewish state. During his visit, Ben-Gvir said “I am happy to go up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the people of Israel. It should be said that the police are doing a wonderful job here and once again proving who is the master in Jerusalem. All the threats of Hamas will not [change anything], we are the masters of Jerusalem and the entire Land of Israel.”
Such triumphalist remarks – about “who is the master in Jerusalem” and “we are the masters of Jerusalem” – should never have been made. They are dangerous, and play right into the hands of Palestinian propagandists. Of course these statements were not made in a vacuum; they were Ben-Gvir’s response to the “threats of Hamas” that “will not [change anything].” But the word “masters” sticks in everyone’s craw. Does Ben-Gvir have no advisors who can help him avoid such folly? He ought to have said something like this: “It should be said that the police are doing a wonderful job here in keeping order. They have managed to subdue the Arab rioters who are only too happy to attack Jewish visitors to the Mount with rocks and fireworks. We are here, to stay, in the city that has been the Jewish people’s capital for 3000 years.”
The media coverage of the Flag March on Jerusalem Day was grotesque. It reported every single offensive remark made by some of those Israeli marchers. For it must be admitted that several dozen Israeli boys and teens on the March did denounce Arabs. Here are some of the things they apparently shouted as they passed through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City: “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn.” A few were said to have banged on the gates and doors of Arab shops, but no damage was reported. Nor, despite this heated rhetoric, were there any major incidents of violence by Jews against Arabs. In fact, there seem to have been only a handful of cases of any violence at all, pitting Israeli boys and teenagers against Arab young men, with no reports of any injuries. Had there been any, you can be sure the Palestinians would have reported them to the small army of foreign journalists covering the Flag March.
What is missing from that media coverage is any sense of proportion. Key information is left out of many of the reports. We are informed that some Jews chanted “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn.” But these chants are not nearly as threatening as that the Palestinians routinely chant, in evoking a real event from the past, the Muslim war cry against Jews – “Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud, jaish Muhammad soufa ya’oud.” This translates to “Khaybar Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.” This was a reference to the Battle of Khaybar between Muhammad’s followers and the Jews in 628 A.D., which ended in the crushing defeat of the Jews of Khaybar by Muhammad and his followers.
If you read all the reports on the Flag March, either there will be no numbers given, or you will learn that “dozens” of Jews took part. “Dozens”? Very well, then, let’s say at the outside fifty Jewish boys and teenagers were involved. That is one piece of information we need to know. And the second piece of information indispensable for rightly judging the behavior of the Jews on Jerusalem Day is that 50,000 Jews took part in the Flag March. That is, 50 Jewish marchers out of 50,000 — only one person out of every thousand who marched that day in Jerusalem — chanted those unpleasant anti-Arab threats.
Doesn’t that put a different slant on things?
In previous years, too, the “violence” from the Jews on Jerusalem Day has been greatly exaggerated. Last year, during the Flag March, a few Jews threw sticks and plastic bottles at the doors of Arab-owned shops in the Muslim Quarter. Nota bene: sticks and plastic bottles. When the Arabs attack Jews, they throw life-threatening rocks, not sticks, and glass, not plastic, bottles. And those bottles are often filled with a flammable liquid, making them into deadly Molotov cocktails. There is a difference between what the Arabs so frequently throw at Jews (as when trying to breach the border fence during the Great March of Return, or when attempting to drive Jewish visitors from the Temple Mount, or to scare Jewish worshippers away from the Western Wall with the projectiles hurled at them by Arabs on the Temple Mount, or to murder a Jewish family driving home in the West Bank), which can cause great bodily harm or death, and the “sticks and plastic bottles” thrown by Jews that do neither.
50 Jewish boys and teenagers — out of 50,000 Flag Day Marchers — behaved badly, and deserve to be criticized. Duly noted. But let’s keep those numbers in mind before blaming the people of Israel as a whole for what a handful of wet-behind-the-ears yeshiva bochers allowed themselves to do.