Yifa Segal, advocate and international law expert, former chief of staff to Israel's ambassador to the United States and former chair and CEO of the International Legal Forum, was interviewed in a May 2nd Middle East Forum Webinar (video). Segal spoke about Israel's Temple Mount as a flashpoint for Palestinian violence.
Segal believes the frequent bouts of violence at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem [the site of both of Judaism's ancient temples] are "a point of weakness for the Israelis, for the Israeli government, [and] for the Israeli police." After Israel regained Jerusalem in their 1967 Six Day War victory, the government made a "voluntary concession" to the Muslim Waqf, the religious trust controlled and funded by the Jordanian government, in permitting the Waqf to continue governing the site. Although the 1967 agreement containing the concession gave the Israeli police and army the authority to determine security and enforce Israeli law on the Temple Mount, the status quo since then has been completely upended.
Segal referred to the 1967 concession as "the original sin" because, even though she "understands the intent," it emboldened Israel's enemies then and now. In 1929, Haj al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, incited the Arabs to commit violence against the Jews by ginning up the faithful with the lie that the Jews were "planning to ... defile" the al-Aqsa holy site. The same message has been repeated down the generations and used by Israel's enemies to "[rile] up" the Arabs to "defend" the Temple Mount. The resulting riots and violence "[grow] from year to year," and she said "Hamas ... [pays] money for activists" to further whip up the mob that is organized to congregate in massive numbers via "Arab social media" during opportune times, such as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Segal said that after riots erupt, the Israeli government goes "begging" to the Waqf to help, but she dismissed this as useless because the Waqf is "not going to do anything [as] they're in on it." Segal said the Waqf "change[s] structures, they limit visitations, [and] they don't allow fundamental rights of Israeli law to exist." She said that "the status quo that was created in 1967 ... was bad to begin with [and] is only deteriorating to benefit the Islamist[s]" who exploit Israel's weakness.
Changes to the status quo would necessitate the involvement of the Jordanian king, who has authority over the Waqf. Addressing the failed status quo, which could weaken Amman's authority, Segal said the king will need to understand "there's a balance" that is expected. "He can't have his cake and eat it, too." The king's dependence on Israel for his security when "ISIS threatened his border" is a point of "leverage" for Israel. Jerusalem will need to stress that more is required to see that "riots inside Israel ... terrorism ... incitement" stop recurring. Segal emphasized, "We need to stand our ground."
The other piece of the dysfunctional dynamic is what Segal identifies as the primary reason for the "charade." The predictable cycle persists because "we are letting it happen." The repetitive scenario is exploited by the "radicals, including Hamas and the Islamic movement [and] the Northern movement ... in Israel," who organize rioters to "barricade" themselves in the Temple Mount with smuggled rocks and weapons to launch attacks on Israeli citizens. The Israeli government will "give an order to refrain from ... enforcing the law" unless it is deemed "absolutely necessary." Segal warned that if Israel does not "change our strategy," each year will see the violence escalate precipitously.
Israel's impotent response has had disastrous consequences in that it has a ripple effect on "the international community" and its media who double down with "condemnation." These condemnations echo the Palestinian lie that "the Jews have, again, violated the status quo," handing the radicals "a success." What Segal found "extremely troubling" was that Israel's "new friends" in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates must deal with the animus in their own populations who believe the propaganda which is effectively "brainwashing the Arab street."
Segal finds it "outrageous" when she hears Israeli leaders "apologize and ... begging the world to ... believe ... that Israel is not breaking the status quo." She said that they are reinforcing the calumny that if Jews were actually "praying on [the] Temple Mount, then we were really doing something wrong." That the Palestinian reaction is an "infringement" on the "freedom of religion ... [and] freedom of movement" is compounded by the reality that "the one place that I'm restricted from going up to is ... in this land."
Israel needs to "stop apologizing," Segal said. It should be made "very clear" to the world audience that when radicals begin messaging incitement, the Israelis need to "beat them to it" and expose the modus operandi of the pernicious strategy. She said a more proactive approach would counter the next surge before it builds and pre-empt the radicals who repeat their worn excuses to cow the Israeli response.
The facts on the ground in Israel are that there are holy places for all religions, including mosques, and when Israel enforces the law, "there are no problems." The riots by Israeli Arabs in Israeli cities last year were "a wake-up call to a lot of Israelis," Segal said, adding that the violence revealed Arabs who stepped up to say, "This is not who we are." However, Segal said "it also exposed a lot of radicals."
While she admits that "there's a lot of work ahead," she recommended steps to change the broken dynamic. First, have a plan at the ready "in advance" with "media kits ... briefings ... reports." Second, help the minorities in Israel who "want to integrate ... [and] want to be good citizens" and offer "rewards" if they come forward with information "about others that are planning terror attacks." Third, there is a need for "stricter mechanisms of enforcement" that exact consequences "for all kinds of terror-related offenses" that are more effective than the current approach. "It shouldn't be just jail or go home, like there is today."
What Segal would "change dramatically" is in the immediacy of communicating with the U.S. administration so that it "understand[s]" when these riots are brewing. "... [N]ow we know this is coming, so we need to be the first ones" to transmit information to the Americans and "initiate with explaining what we are going to do or what is about ... to be played out in Israel." Damage control after the fact is a problem. Segal said this final step is where "we have room for improvement."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.