Rabbi's Shooting Has Israel on the Edge
The Menachem Begin Heritage Center is adjacent to the German Colony and Bakka, two of the most expensive residential areas in Jerusalem. Located in West Jerusalem, not in a contested area, the center is a museum and conference center often used by government officials. So safe is its surrounding area, though, that there's often no real security at the entrance. When I was working on my biography of Menachem Begin and used its archives extensively, no one ever searched my bag. It was an undeclared safe zone.
All that changed last night. Jerusalem went to sleep to the news that after an event at the center, an unknown assailant had shot Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who has both American and Israeli citizenship and is a well-known advocate for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount. Glick, the news said, had been hit four times (in the chest, stomach, neck and arm) by an assailant who first spoke with him to ascertain his identity, and then fled on a motorcycle. Glick, Shaare Zedek hospital said, was in serious but stable condition.
Jerusalem then woke up this morning to the sounds of helicopters hovering over the city, always a sign that the security apparatus is out in force. Shortly after, it was reported that the gunman, 32-year-old Moataz Hejazi, had been located and killed in a gunfight with security services.
"How had he been found so quickly?" people wondered. Then came the disturbing news that the gunman had worked in the restaurant located in the Begin Center. To complicate matters, it was soon reported he had ties to the Islamic Jihad, had attacked jailers while in an Israeli prison, had made a video in which he boasted of wanting to be a thorn in the throat of Zionists -- and despite all that, was not under surveillance and was allowed to work in a place frequented by public figures. It was, popular mood quickly decided, a shocking security blunder.
Blunder or not, the attack on an unarmed rabbi (who, though right wing, had advocated that Jews and Muslims pray together on the Temple Mount, a hugely significant site for both religions) in a supposedly safe place crossed an unspoken red line. Senior officials accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Barkat, Jerusalem's mayor, of having lost control of the city. Jerusalem is still recovering from the intentional running over of pedestrians by a Palestinian at a rail station last week. Following that attack, the press has stressed the high tensions in the city, with police worrying that the worst was yet to come. Just four days ago, in what has to be a note of exceptional irony even in this region, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (whose administration actually honored the two men who kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers this summer) asked the U.S. to put a stop to the escalations.
But neither side could calm things down, it seems, perhaps because it all unfolded just as Israel is embroiled in several international brouhahas. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ludicrously claimed that the rise of Islamic State could be attributed in part to the failed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians (a comment that convinced Israelis, once again, that the U.S. administration does not begin to understand this region); a White House official called Netanyahu a "chickenshit," which incensed the Israeli government and American Jewish community; and Sweden became the first European Union country to recognize a Palestinian State, leading Israel to recall its ambassador from Stockholm. To add another ominous note, senior Israeli Defense Force officials suggested today that if war breaks out with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport will have to be closed from day one of the war. Israel has its hands more than full.
In response to the Glick shooting, Israel closed the Temple Mount to both Jews and Arabs -- exactly the opposite of what the rabbi had been working toward. Intended to prevent rioting on the Temple Mount, the Israeli action was described by Abbas as a "declaration of war."
Tensions are now extremely high throughout the city, and a huge police presence is reported in particularly volatile neighborhoods. With Fatah calling for a "day of rage" on Friday -- the day of the largest gatherings for Muslim prayer -- the city is a tinderbox. The question we are terrified to ask: Has the long threatened Third Intifada finally arrived?
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