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David Matas

David Matas-Incitement and the Al Aqsa Mosque-Remarks for delivery to the Winnipeg Friends of Israel event 24 November, 2015

by David Matas, December 16, 2015


There have been a number of terrorist attacks in Israel recently, mostly in Jerusalem. Palestinian attackers have killed and wounded innocent Israelis, mostly through stabbings. 


According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, between October 1 and November 23, 2015, 21 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian terrorist attackers. 184 have been wounded, 20 of them seriously.  During that period, there have been 74 stabbings, 10 shootings and 11 car rammings.


Various media have referred to the attacks as revolving around the Al Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount.  But it is not completely clear what the connection between the two is.  There is no change in the status of the mosque or Government of Israel proposal for change. There is no specific incident to which one can point with precipitated the attacks. The attacks, superficially, appear to be coming out of the blue.


Of course, even if something had happened at the Al Aqsa mosque or was proposed for the mosque, that would not justify random killing of innocents.  Nonetheless, there is nothing obvious and specific to trigger the recent frenzy.


Some of the media reports attribute the attacks to views expressed by some religious Jews to change the status quo on Temple Mount. Yet, Israel is a democratic country with a wide variety of views which are expressed all the time.  Views about Temple Mount are standard fodder in Israeli public debate.  There is nothing new about minority views in Israel on the subject of Temple Mount.


Moreover, under the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, Jordan became the custodian of the Al Aqsa mosque.  Israel can not unilaterally change the status quo of Temple Mount.  The status quo can be changed only by Jordan, in agreement with Israel.


Jordan and Israel agreed last month, in October, to install cameras on Temple Mount to show publicly to everyone through the internet that there is nothing untoward going on there.  The cameras will be installed by Jordan. The broadcast will come from Jordan.


Since Jordan has primary responsibility for the Al Aqsa mosque, in logic attacks generated by change or fear of change of the Al Aqsa mosque status quo should be directed at Jordan and not Israel or at Jordan and Israel both and not Israel alone. Why are Israelis being attacked and not Jordanians?


The answer is, of course, incitement to hatred and terror; there is lots of that now revolving around the Al Aqsa mosque.  But why is there this incitement now?


Those incited are dupes, pawns in a power struggle. Indeed, Palestinian are victims of the incitement almost as much as Israelis.  Inciters egg Palestinians on to attack Jews. Israel defends, and the attackers suffer.  Since October 1st, 86 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli defensive responses to the incited attacks.  While the attackers are not, of course, innocent, they are both perpetrators and victims, victims of the inciters.


The inciters, in contrast, are not dupes.  They are strategists, power entrepreneurs, using incitement as a way to achieve and maintain power. 


I have nothing against the installation of cameras on Temple Mount, but I think that they go nowhere near addressing the problem.  Reality has not caused the current crisis and reality will not dispel it.


My explanation for the recent attacks, while not entirely divorced from Temple Mount, is less related to Temple Mount and more related to incitement to hatred and terrorism plain and simple.  Those who incite to hatred and terror always focus on some cause or other with which they would expect their target audience to agree.  However, I think we mislead ourselves if we focus on the subject matter of the incitement. 


What distinguishes terrorists and inciters from others is not the grievance; it is the terrorism and incitement.  While there are a wide variety of points of view about Temple Mount, sorting out the rights and wrongs of Temple Mount does not get us to the heart of the current situation.


If we put Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa mosque as substantive issues to one side and just look at incitement, there is plenty to see.  Incitement with Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque as points of reference is vicious and recent.  Moreover, it is not just coming from the fringe, nor even just from radical clerics, nor even just from the religious based political movements, such as Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  It is coming from secular forces - the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, from the Palestinian Liberation Organization, from Fatah. (A selection from their recent statements are appended to this text.)


Incitement to hatred and terrorism and glorification of terrorism are nothing new for the secular Palestinian leadership. Indeed, the leadership has, since the Oslo accord played a double game, both rejecting and inciting violence.  The Palestinian Authority are not, like Hamas, actively engaged in terrorist attacks against Israel. The Palestinian Authority security services, on the contrary, work with their Israeli counterparts to combat extremist violence. But the Palestinian Authority is actively engaged in incitement to hatred and terrorism against Israel and Israelis.


Yet, about this too, there is nothing new.  This double game has been standard fodder for the Palestinian secular leadership since the Oslo accords. 


What is new for the Palestinian Authority is the form of incitement.  The form of incitement we see now against Israel and the Jews, revolving around Al Aqsa mosque, is not the typical Palestinian Authority propaganda. As a secular force, their incitement has historically tended towards distortion of secular and not religious standards.


The typical incitement of the Palestinian Authority has been claims of violation by Israel of international human rights law. Anti-Zionists within the Palestinian Authority distort both law and facts in order to attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel at international instances. I have written a whole book about this form of incitement, under the title Aftershock: Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism.


The Al Aqsa mosque incitement has nothing to do with that. Today's incitement is based on manipulation of the Islamic religion, not on distortion of human rights standards and facts. The Al Aqsa mosque incitement is more typical of the incitement in which radical clerics engage. 


What we have is the Palestinian Authority, to be sure, continuing its strategy of incitement, but in a different way, using

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