Conversation needs to shift from “don’t provoke” to “no excuse for terrorism”
On Dec. 6, 2017, President Trump announced that America officially acknowledges Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and would eventually move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Referring to this as “acknowledging the obvious,” Trump explained that Israel is a sovereign state, recognized internationally and by the U.S., with the right to determine its own capital. In his declaration, Trump reiterated that such a move has no bearing on the city’s status under any peace agreement.
This declaration is entirely a symbolic gesture. The Israeli people already view Jerusalem as their capital in theory and in practice and as such all government business is conducted in the city: Jerusalem is the location of residence for Israel’s prime minister and president, hosts the Israeli Supreme Court and Parliament, and is the location in which visiting leaders are greeted.
Similarly, the American government already accepted Jerusalem as Israel’s capital long before this declaration. The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed overwhelmingly in the House (374–37) and Senate (93–5), declared an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called for the US embassy to be moved there from Tel Aviv. A provision, enacted every six months by previous presidents and by Trump along with this declaration, postpones the implementation of the act’s contents in the case that “such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”
Such a provision acknowledged threats of violence and maintained a status quo of appeasement. Unfortunately, violence is both the expectation and the reality. In response to Trump’s declaration, the Palestinian “national and Islamic forces” announced three “days of rage,” or violent protests, which included rioters throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. Additionally, over 30 rockets were fired indiscriminately into Israeli communities from Gaza, and Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist organization that controls Gaza, promised an intifada, or a violent uprising. The last official intifada, the Second Intifada, began in 2001 and resulted in terrorists killing over 1000 Israelis. This new declaration by Hamas follows a wave of stabbings, shootings, and car-rammings that began in 2015 and was deemed by some the “Stabbing Intifada.” To this date, it has included hundreds of such terrorist attacks.
Considering internationally recognized peace plans call for Jerusalem to be the capital of both entities, presumably it would be expected that the U.S. embassy would be built there. But unfortunately, we are left with violence and rocket fire in response to this symbolic gesture. This is not the first time that Jerusalem was used as an excuse and justification for violence. Such a trend is consistent throughout history. For example:
Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, on Sept. 28, 2001 was described as the “match” that instigated the Second Intifada. This intifada, mentioned earlier, began on Sept. 29, 2001 and resulted in Palestinian terrorists killing over 1000 Israelis through suicide bombings and other attacks. But there is evidence of direct orchestration, including the providing of arms for attacks, and testimony by his widow about his premeditated intentions to instigate violence, by then-leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
Non-Muslim prayer is prohibited at the Temple Mount site due to threats of retribution, thereby casting prayer as an act of “provocation.” Even repairing a walkway in 2007 that served as the only entrance for non-Muslims to the site led to rioting across Jordan and Jerusalem and calls for a third intifada. Similarly, in July 2017, violence broke out in reaction to metal detectors that were installed by the Temple Mount. These metal detectors were installed in response to the smuggling of weapons that were used to kill two Israeli Druze police officers at the site. In response to the “desecration” caused by the installment, a Palestinian terrorist murdered three members of a civilian family at a Shabbat meal. The White House applauded Israel for easing tensions by removing the detectors.
Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s supposed peace partner, also uses Jerusalem as a means of instigating violence, honoring terrorists with monuments and monetary rewards, as witnessed with the Stabbing Intifada. Abbas has claimed that Jews’ “filthy feet” disgrace the site and praised “every drop of blood that was spilled for Jerusalem.” No UN resolution was passed in condemnation to these statements and calls for violence, yet we are left with overwhelming condemnation at the movement of an embassy. If the motivation behind these US embassy condemnations is a desire for peace, then how can organizations like the UN not condemn active calls for violence?
This announcement can now be added to the list.
Indeed, the PLO went as far as to threaten to revoke recognition of Israel’s existence in response to a purely symbolic gesture by the American government. Using such an arbitrary act as an excuse for such a drastic and nonsensical response indicates that the PLO does not want peace. Unfortunately, these duplicitous actions are not limited to the PLO and are ubiquitous across international forums. Although Jerusalem is the holiest city for Jews, and the Temple Mount is the holiest site, the United Nations UNESCO motion failed torecognize the site’s significance to Israel.
At the same time, in response to this U.S. declaration, the UN passed a resolution condemning the announcement and not the violence. Countries that voted in favor include China, Russia, Venezuela, and Qatar, each with a long list of human rights abuses. This is unfortunately no surprise, as between 2012–2015 86 percent of UN resolutions that condemned a single country condemned Israel. In 2016, 20 out of 26 condemnations focused on Israel, while only three related to Syria, and one each was related to North Korea, Iran, and Crimea. Just as the PLO’s disproportional threat to revoke recognition of Israel’s existence sheds light on its motivations, so too does the UN’s disproportional focus on Israel call into question these forums’ true intentions. Why is there this incredible imbalance in condemnations towards Israel?
Why is the immediate international reaction to maintain the status quo and repeal the declaration, in light of the “eventual” violence and instability that this purely symbolic move will cause and not an immediate condemnation of the incitement and calls to violence witnessed across the Arab world? Why is Arab violence taken as a given and why does the international community impose few expectations regarding violent uprisings that target civilians: men, women and children, infants, and the elderly?
If we establish a status quo where violence against civilians is overlooked or justified, then there will never be peace. We need to shift the paradigm from “don’t provoke” to “these excuses and the resulting violence will not be accepted” and hold any entity accountable for terrorism.
Put simply: if our standards are such that praying at a holy site is considered a justifiable excuse for violence, then the barrier to peace is not a symbolic gesture by the US. This mindset of simply assuming violence and terror has become so common that even many Israeli leaders and civilians are against this embassy move too, simply because a symbolic gesture supporting a situation already accepted by the Israeli people isn’t worth a threat to Israeli lives. Arab leaders, therefore, threaten violence with no standards or repercussions imposed by the international community. If this move brings anything to light, it should not be the importance of an embassy location, but rather the disproportionate and misguided reactions of the international community and the disparity that exists between standards for Israel and the Arab world.
Contributed by former CAMERA Fellow, MIT graduate student Suri Bandler.
This article was originally published in MIT campus paper The Tech.