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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 manipulation of religion rather than distortion of human rights as the means. The Palestinian Authority has in the past made libels about Israel and the Al Aqsa mosque part of its standard repertoire of incitement.  But never before has it assumed the centrality to its incitement strategy it now has. Why is there this shift in strategy? 


I am, as you can well imagine, normally not privy to Palestinian Authority strategy discussions although I have on occasion, because of my general human rights work, stumbled into them.  My analysis, as an outsider, is that this shift is the result of the rise of radical Islam globally.


There is a long history of conflict about the Temple Mount. Yet, the recent attacks, I suggest, have less to do with that history and more to do with the many violent attacks from religious extremists around the world who fuel incitement to violence in reaction to what they see as Islamic blasphemy or heresy or heterodoxy.


The answer to the question why the Palestinian Authority is taking this new tack, I suggest, is partially competition with its religious based rivals in the West Bank and Gaza, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Even more significant I suggest is the global sweep and pull of Islamic incitement, whose power we have seen through the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, the regime of the mullahs of Iran and many others.  The Palestinian Authority, though secular, is now attempting to ride on the Islamic fundamentalist wave or, at the very least, not let it be monopolized by other forces.


The attacks revolving around Al Aqsa and Temple Mount then have less in common then with the history of Temple Mount than they do with the recent Islamic radical attacks around the world - the explosion of a Russian jetliner, taking off from Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on October 31st killing 224; ISIS attacks in Beirut on November 12 killing 43; ISIS attacks in Paris on November 13, killing 130; the Al Qaeda Bamako, Mali Radisson Blu hotel attack on November 20th killing 27; the continuing Al Shabab attacks in Somalia; the scourge of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon; the persistent ISIS attacks in Yemen; and the never ending and increasing human rights violations of the regime of the mullahs in Iran. 


We should not forget that Israelis themselves have been guilty of terrorism and incitement to terrorism.  I remind you of the cases of Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir and the price tag attacks.  Baruch Goldstein in February 1994 in Hebron machine gunned down Moslems returning from prayer killing 29 and wounding 125.   Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995.


The price tag attacks are assaults against innocent Palestinians as a supposed price that innocent Palestinians have to pay for Palestinian terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli Jews.  Most of these price tag attacks have targeted property only, but some of have targeted persons. 


The Israeli police have established a special unit to address price tag assaults.  In July 2013, the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon announced that price tag attacks would treated in the same way as acts of terror. The Israeli Ministry of Education and the General Security Services has launched an educational program, called Hebrew Shepard, to work with youth from illegally established outposts in the West Bank with the purpose of dissuading them from carrying out price tag attacks.


The Government of Israel has prosecuted and the courts have convicted and sentenced to jail in 2014 and 2015 a number of Jewish extremists who carried out price tag attacks.   The Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein in August this year approved the use of administrative detention against Jewish extremists. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has since authorized the arrest and holding of several price tag attack suspects.  Many top Israeli leaders have condemned the price tag phenomenon.  So have religious leaders and members of civil society.


The difference between the Israeli response to Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir and the price tag attacks and the Palestinian Authority response to the Al Aqsa mosque related terrorist attacks is night and day.  The Palestinian Authority response to the Al Aqsa mosque related terrorist attacks is almost a mirror image of the Israeli response to the price tag attacks. Where Israel condemns, prosecutes, convicts, sentences, detains and educates against, the Palestinian Authority endorses, embraces and encourages.


Incitement to hatred and terrorism is worrisome no matter what its source.  It is particularly egregious when coming from institutional authority, when it is officially sanctioned, as it is by the Palestinian Authority or Iran.


Anti-Zionist incitement to hatred through distortion of international human rights law and facts is itself a violation of human rights standards.  But for those willing to turn a blind eye to the distortions, there is at least a claim of violation by Israel of international human rights available.  And there are certainly arenas which can be manipulated - the international mechanisms which, because of the many Organization of Islamic Cooperation votes, 58, are heavily influenced and in some cases, depending on their structures, effectively controlled by the organized Islamic agenda.


Condemning claimed blasphemy of the Islamic religion, in contrast, is not endorsed by the international arena, despite the many votes of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation states in that arena. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation states in past years did try to get the international instances to endorse a prohibition of blasphemy, without success.  The general consensus, outside the Organization of Islamic Cooperation states, is that prohibition of blasphemy is an undue restriction on freedom of religion.  Eventually, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation backed away from the attempt to receive international endorsement for the prohibition against blasphemy and no longer seeks to have the United Nations endorse it.


One small gesture the Parliament of Canada could make in the current context is to repeal the offence of blasphemy, now in the Criminal Code.  The offence has not been prosecuted in recent years and would likely be found a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms if there were a prosecution. All the same, it should not be there.   


The offence provides for a defence for statements made in decent language. I am, of course, in favour of polite, decent, respectful language.  I hope I meet those standards.  Yet, impolite, indecent or disrespectful language should not be a crime let alone a justification for random terrorist attacks.


The strategy the Palestinian Authority uses of inciting to hatred and terrorism through misappropriation of Islam, because of the attack on blasphemy, undercuts its United Nations strategy of attempting to delegitimize Israel through charges of international human rights violations.  But the Palestinian Authority does it anyways, because that is today where the incitement action is. The Palestinian Authority can not help but notice that manipulation of Islam has become a particularly effective incitement vehicle. So they have climbed aboard.


The Organization of Islamic Cooperation on all matters Palestinian defers to the Palestinian Authority, which in turn defers to Fatah, the major component of the government of the Authority.  The result is that Fatah, a non-state entity, has 58 votes in the United Nations.  For Fatah, what matters most is attacking Israel, something which explains a good deal of the corruption and diversion of the United Nations from an organization for peace and human rights into an organization to undermine Israel every which way it can. 


One form this anti-Zionist driven corruption of standards takes is a refusal of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation states to accept a definition of terrorism which forbids terrorist attacks against Israel. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation endorses a definition of terrorism which excludes a common form of terrorism, targeted attacks on innocents where the attacks were committed in "people's struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism and hegemony aimed at liberation and self determination". In practical terms, what this means is targeted attacks on innocent Jewish civilians in Israel is permissible.


The United Nations has been attempting to agree for decades on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation insistence that the definition of terrorism in the Convention allow for terrorist attacks in Israel and against Israelis has been a primary obstacle to the conclusion of this Convention.


What does all this mean in terms of combating the current spate of terrorist attacks in Israel?  Certainly, there continues to need to be security, police and military work, defense on the ground.  There needs to be continuing efforts to combat, generally, incitement to hatred and terrorism.


There is also I suggest value in linking the struggle against the particular incitement relating to the Al Aqsa mosque with the struggle against manipulation of Islam for incitement generally.  The struggles against the incitement generated by the mullahs of Iran, ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, Al Qaeda and their fellow travellers, and the struggle against the incitement focused on the Al Aqsa mosque are not separate struggles. They are one struggle against a common enemy.


We should be joining forces with all those opposed to inciters who manipulate Islam, whether the inciters are Sunni or Shiite, whether the inciters operate in Europe or Africa or the Middle East, wherever their violations occur.  As the Palestinian Authority joins the bandwagon going in one direction, we should be joining those going in the opposite direction.  We should be forming common cause with all the victims and targets of Islamic manipulation; we should in turn ask them to form common cause with Israel to combat the incitement against Israel and Jews which uses the Al Aqsa mosque as a pretext.


There is a welcome campaign amongst the Muslims of Europe under the banner "Not in my name", rejecting the terrorism of ISIS.  Yet, an anti-terrorist campaign which says that some misappropriations of Islam to justify terrorism are okay and that some terrorist targets are acceptable is not credible.


The "Not in my name" campaign should encompass the attacks against innocents in Israel linked to the Al Aqsa mosque.  The Palestinian Authority itself should join that campaign.  We need to hear the Palestinian Authority saying that the terrorist attacks in Israel against innocents with the Al Aqsa mosque as a pretext are not done in their name. Their failure to do that harms the struggle against terrorism everywhere.


David Matas is senior honorary counsel to B'nai Brith Winnipeg.  He is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.



 Incitement examples


On the Palestinian Authority TV program "Topic of the Day" Fatah Spokesman Raafat Alayan said, on September 15, 2015:

          "[Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli extreme right are acting to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, not only to divide it by times and areas. The division by time has already existed for several months. The settlers enter from 7:00 am to 11:00 am. The settlers enter and exit... The Israeli plan is obvious... It wants to establish the alleged Temple on the ruins of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. Regarding division by time, it [Israel] says to the Muslims (interrupts himself) - by the way, it is already being implemented as I said earlier, but at the moment Israel wants to strengthen the division by time so that no Palestinian will be found in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Regarding division by area, which Israel is planning, [the plan is that] the Dome of the Rock is intended for the Muslims, and the Muslims will be able to pray in the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the location of the alleged Temple. They want to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the alleged Temple on the ruins of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. What are the Arabs and Muslims waiting for regarding this plan?"


Currently, Jews are allowed to visit Temple Mount but not to pray on it.  There is a proposed law before the Israeli Parliament, introduced in May 2013, which would allow both Jews and Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount.  The proposed law designates separate prayer times and areas of the site for Muslims and Jews.  Prime Minister Netanyahu does not endorse this legislation.


Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, said on Palestinian television on September 16:

          "We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah. With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward."


The same day he said:

          "The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours... and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem."


On Palestinian Authority TV on September 21, 2015, Secretary - General of the General Union of Palestinian Teachers Ahmed Sahwil said:

          "'We will redeem the Al-Aqsa [Mosque] with our souls so that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu the criminal, the gangs of settlers, his soldiers and robbers will understand that the Palestinian people will sacrifice its soul and blood for the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque."


Donia Al-Watan, an independent Palestinian news agency, reported on September 28, 2015 

          "Fatah Central Committee member Amal Hamad, called on our people and the factions of the national activity to go out against the recurring invasions of the first direction of prayer and the third [holiest] Islamic sanctuary (i.e., the Al-Aqsa Mosque) by the occupation's forces and settler herds."


Abbas at the United Nations on September 30, 2015 said:

          "I call on the Israeli government, before it is too late, to cease its use of brutal force to impose its plans to undermine the Islamic and Christian sanctuaries in Jerusalem, particularly its actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque,..,"


On October 1, Palestinian terrorists murdered an Israeli couple, Eitam and Naama Henkin, in front of their four children, who ranged from 9 years old to 4 months.  Days later, PLO official Mahmoud Ismail went on official Palestinian television, PBC, and proclaimed their parents' murder to be a fulfilment of Palestinian "national duty."


In the official Palestinian Authority daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, on October 13, 2015, in an opinion piece, Hafez Al-Barghouti wrote:

          "The occupation - which have allowed the settlers to invade the Al-Aqsa Mosque at all times, and which is at the moment exacerbating its mistake and allowing the spilling of blood, such that every Israeli will turn into a murderer who can kill any Palestinian, claiming he tried to stab [him] - is responsible for the situation we have reached."


The Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA, on October 13, 2015, reported that an advisor to Abbas on Jerusalem Affairs Ahmed Al-Ruweid said that the subject of the Al-Aqsa Mosque is fundamental and that it will not be possible for the situation to calm down unless the attacks against it stop.


The Palestinian Authority daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, October 15, 2015 published an opinion piece by Hafez Al-Barghouti which said:

          "All the mouths in the [Israeli] right-wing government call for murder while our blood is on their teeth, and all the [Palestinian] mouths call to protect ourselves against the attack planned in advance to devour the holy city, taking advantage of the current Arab weakness."  

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