To provide some sense of how Jewish holy sites that are currently secured by Israel would likely fare under Palestinian rule, you could recall the period between 1949 and 1967, when Jews were ethnically cleansed from ‘east’ Jerusalem by the Jordanians and prevented from even visiting their holy places. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City was all but destroyed, dozens of synagogues were demolished and some Jewish religious sites were turned into animal stalls. The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was ransacked; graves were desecrated; thousands of tombstones were smashed and used as building material or even toilets. The Western Wall became a slum.
Or, you could fast forward to a more recent time, and see how Joseph’s tomb – the resting spot of the patriarch Joseph and his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe – was razed soon after Nablus was transferred to Palestinian Authority control in 2000. Though renovations to the site were completed by 2009, vandalism by Palestinians continues, and as recently as two months ago Jewish pilgrims visiting the building discovered vandalism and attempted arson.
In contrast, in 1967, when Israel unified Jerusalem and took control of the holy sites in the Old City, Israel passed the Protection of Holy Places Law, granting legal protections the holy sites and making it a crime to desecrate or impede freedom of access to them. Though the Al Aqsa Mosque (part of the Temple Mount complex) is administered by Jordan’s Islamic Waqf, Israel retains sovereignty and secures the area. As such, thousands of Muslims (including Palestinian Arabs) are granted entry to the Mosque each day. (In contrast, in 2011, only 8,247 Jews visited the Temple Mount the entire year.)
Additionally, the Israeli government supports religious services for communities of all faiths – which includes spending millions of Shekels each year for the operating costs of more than 100 mosques, the salaries of Muslim religious leaders and the upkeep of holy sites for all religions.
As Freedom House reported, while Israel’s founding documents define it as a “Jewish and democratic state,” freedom of religion for all faiths is respected.
Such facts about Israel’s continuing commitment to safeguarding the rights of religious minorities would not come as a surprise to those of us who live here, or those journalists interested in dispassionately examining contrasting religious freedom in the region. However, as we’ve demonstrated continually, ‘dispassionate’ and ‘objective’ are not words typically associated with British reports from Israel or the Palestinian territories – as a story in The Economist (and accompanying video) clearly demonstrates.
Though the article in the print magazine has some balance, much of the video report by their Middle East correspondent Nicolas Pelham has little relation to the reality on the ground in the Holy Land.
As you can see in the video, Pelham imputes international significance to the vandalism of King David’s Tomb, the burial-place of biblical King David located at Mt. Zion at the ground floor of a Byzantine church. Further, he not only suggests (at 1:10 of the video) that the site has only NOW become a Jewish religious shrine, but contextualizes the destruction of some Ottoman ceramic tiles in the interior of the tomb’s main room as part of a broader pattern of Israeli negligence of ‘Muslim’ holy sites.
In fact (as you can see at 1:23 of the video), he also tells of the threat posed to the Temple Mount by Jewish extremists – who, we are told, occasionally incite Muslims by flying the Israeli flag – while never mentioning the frequent rioting by Palestinian extremists, or violence coordinated by Hamas, Fatah and Israel’s Islamist Movement. And, no mention is made by the Economist journalist of Palestinian political and religious leaders‘ campaign to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and routine libels that Israel is attempting to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Finally (at about 4:00 of the video) Pelham, when asked how the threat to Muslim holy places may affect the overall peace process, explains that the big fear of Palestinians (and ‘Muslims around the world‘) is that the Israeli government’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” will “erode what has been a historically Muslim country..”.
Of course, Jerusalem is the birthplace of Judaism, and Jews are an indigenous people to the land of Israel.
As one commentator explained on Facebook in response to Pelham, Roman conquests in the first century of the common era may have disintegrated Jewish political and military power, but there was – during Byzantine, Persian, Muslim, Crusader, Mameluke, Ottoman and British rule until 1948 - a constant and uninterrupted Jewish presence in the land. Further, Jews represented a plurality of Jerusalem’s population by the mid-19th century.
The League of Nations, in 1922, determined in a decision of international law that “recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country”.
History is on the side of the Jewish connection to Israel, yet you’d almost be forgiven for concluding that Pelham is deeply troubled by the possibility that Israel is surreptitiously Judaizing the Jewish state.
A few seconds later in the video, when asked about the future of Israel, Pelham expressed doubts over the future of Israel’s Muslims, who, he claims, “have a second class status“.
This is simply a lie - one which evokes the oft-repeated Apartheid smear. Though there are economic and educational disparities between Jews and Muslim in Israel (as there such disparities between minority and majority groups in many democracies), Muslims are represented in all spheres of Israeli public life, and are afforded equal rights under the law. Indeed, they enjoy political rights which far exceed those in any Arab country in the region. (According to a recent poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute, most Arab Israelis are patriotic and proud to be called Israeli.)
As BICOM so accurately stated, specifically relating to the idea of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’:
Being a ‘Jewish state’ means being a state in which Jewish traditions, language and customs are given full expression. Thus, Jewish holidays are observed by the organs of the state, Hebrew is the national language, traditional Jewish law is integrated into jurisprudence, and so on. There is nothing discriminatory in this, as long as minority rights to express their traditions, language and customs are protected too. And they are. For example, Israel’s civil service allows non-Jewish civil servants to celebrate their own religious holidays without having those days docked off their annual leave. (The same cannot be said to apply to Jews in Britain.)
To sum up:
- Muslim holy sites in Israel are NOT in danger.
- Israel is not a “historically Muslim country”.
- Arab Israelis don’t have “second class status”.
Though The Economist of course fancies itself an erudite media institution, Nicolas Pelham’s report again shows us that what often passes for ‘sophisticated’ analysis of the Middle East conflict in the UK media is merely just the mindless parroting of agitprop, half-truths and lies more befitting the ‘Palestinian hasbara’ blogosphere.