Jerusalem violence: Fear of deadly ‘religious war’ between Jews and Muslims

Masked Palestinians hold axes and a gun as they celebrate with others an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 18, 2014.
Masked Palestinians hold axes and a gun as they celebrate with others an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 18, 2014.

JERUSALEM —Israelis and Palestinians expressed fear Wednesday that their decades-old conflict was moving beyond the traditional nationalist struggle between two peoples fighting for their homelands and spiraling into a raw and far-reaching religious confrontation between Jews and Muslims.

The threat — perhaps more accurately the dread — of an incipient but deadly “religious war” was expressed by Muslim clerics, Christian leaders and Jewish Israelis one day after a pair of Palestinian assailants, wielding meat cleavers and a gun, killed five Israelis, including a prominent American Israeli rabbi, in a Jerusalem synagogue.

“All of us are scared that there will be a religious war, that extremists from both sides will start fighting each other,” said Oded Wiener, an Israeli Jew from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

For weeks, Jerusalem has been a center of clashes, protests and deadly attacks that began over one of the city’s major flash points — a contested religious site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Jewish activists have been pressing the Israeli government to insist that Jews be allowed to pray on the raised esplanade, which also harbors the al-Aqsa mosque, the third-most holy site in Islam.

In the first and second Palestinian intifadas, or uprisings, attacks against Israelis were largely propelled by Palestinian political and militant factions and leaders. These days, security officials say most are carried out by so-called lone-wolf terrorists who don’t belong to any organized group. In the past, Palestinian attackers often made clear that they wanted to end the Israeli occupation of what they consider their lands. Today, some relatives of Palestinian assailants suggest that the attacks are motivated only by perceived threats against al-Aqsa.

In a bid for calm Tuesday, Wiener and leaders from across the religious spectrum joined in a prayer meeting Wednesday at the synagogue where Tuesday’s attack took place. Weiner said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pressed for the gathering, which involved figures from each of Israel’s minority sects, including the Druze, Ahmadiyya, Circassian and Christian communities, as well as a leader of the Muslim groups in Israel.

But bitterness was also on display in the city. Sheik Mohammed Kiwan, head of the Union of Imams in Israel, who traveled to Jerusalem from the north of the country, tried to quiet tempers along the street outside the synagogue, where neighbors and friends of those killed had gathered to pray. Young students of yeshivas — Jewish religious schools — confronted him, accusing him and all Muslims of inciting violence to kill Jews.

“We condemn all acts of violence,” Kiwan told them, remaining calm. “This is a house of worship. It is irrelevant if it was a Muslim or a Jew that was killed here.”

“Did you come to apologize? You are raising savages,” one woman yelled from the balcony of her apartment across the street from the synagogue.

Across Jerusalem in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, which rests in a deep valley at the edge of the Old City, Israeli security forces used sledge hammers and explosives to demolish the apartment belonging to the family of a Palestinian who in October used his vehicle as a battering ram and killed a 3-month-old Israeli in a stroller and a visiting Ecuadoran.

The local imam, Sheik Mussa Odey, predicted that the violence will worsen and said that the seeds of the religious war were sown long ago.

“We have grown to hate each other,” he said.

Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, said the gory photographs released by the prime minister’s press office of the slain rabbis wrapped in their religious regalia at the scene of Tuesday’s attack “returns us all to the nightmares of the past.”

Rabinowitz blamed Palestinian leaders for “brazenly and shamelessly lying to them and trying to bring down on the world a bloody religious war.”

Netanyhu promised Tuesday, after the synagogue attack, that the homes of Palestinians linked to recent attacks on Israeli civilians would be razed. Security forces­ made good on that order early Wednesday, when squads of police and demolition experts descended on the fourth-story apartment of a Palestinian man involved in the October attack. The attacker, Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, was fatally shot by police at the scene.

Israeli police hustled out members of the extended Shaludi family, and they watched from across the street as security forces­ knocked down walls, smashed windows and doors, and tore up the tile floors. The home-razing tactic was common a decade ago, but Israel has rarely used it in recent years.

“This will stop nothing,” said an uncle, Amer al-Shaludi. “The cycles will go on and on.”

He said the violence was driven not by Palestinian nationalist sentiment but by Jewish activists and Israeli politicians who press for Jews to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

“It is our soul, it is our religion,” he said. “It cannot be permitted.”

Odey, the local cleric, watched from across the street. Asked whether the demolition would serve as a deterrent to other Palestinians who consider attacking Israelis, he said no.

“How many houses have the Israelis knocked down? Has this prevented a single thing?” he asked. All it does, the imam said, “is make the people more angry.”

At the Vatican, Pope Francis condemned the synagogue killings and urged both sides to end the “spiral of hatred and violence and take courageous decisions for reconciliation and peace.”

But Israel appeared to be moving toward more aggressive actions, which seemed likely to provoke Palestinian outrage and possible backlash.

Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, announced that he would “ease restrictions” on Israelis carrying guns for self-defense. He indicated that the rule change could apply to anyone with a gun license — private security guards and army officers, for example — and allow them to be armed even when off duty.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett called on the government to launch a military operation to “go to the source” of terror in the holy city.

“We need to move from defense to attack, like we did in Operation Defensive Shield,” Bennett told Israel’s Army Radio, citing the name for the military campaign waged during the second Palestinian intifada more than a decade ago.

“Go in with Border Police forces, make arrests, create intelligence channels, stay there on a permanent basis, not just when there’s a terror attack,” he said.

Washington Post

  • man-o-war

    There you go Doron! Extended family watched from across the street as the apartment was destroyed. I wonder if they will let a different Palestinian family move in…probably not

    • doron

      might be, might be even they rebuild the house. as i said, i don’t believe this is a right punishment but at the same time i can’t lie and say i feel sorry for them- they expressed joy that their son murdered those people – i have no pity for them.

      • man-o-war

        You know they expressed joy for sure? If they did, I don’t really understand that either. It’s one thing to attack something related to the military complex/occupation forces. It’s a very despicable act to murder innocent unarmed people during prayer. Nobody should be proud of that. These are the types of acts that just keep the cycle going.

        • doron

          i know for sure, i’ll try to find a quote in English for you.
          these people do not respect life and celebrate deathץ
          for a start, here is a story about an israeli citizen, a muslim, and aid to MP and his reaction to the massacre..
          http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4593945,00.html

          working on finding the article you asked for

          • 5thDrawer

            A very poor ‘joke’.

        • doron

          here it is :

          http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4593292,00.html

          not one thinks it will only bring more suffering to the Arabs, they are just Happy that they killed some Jews.
          they call them Myrters cause they died while killing innocent people in a synagogue….Al-quieda material ,IS material,Hamas material..they are all the same..

          • 5thDrawer

            No-one is taught to turn a back and walk away from the candy dish.

  • nagy_michael2

    I am not supporting either one because both PLO and Israel caused us lots of headaches and misery. But really how can Israel allow their people worship and invade the Mosque and cause this mess in the first place. Stop acting as assholes and stop pushing these people around if you want to live in peace.

    • doron

      a: no one invaded the Mosque, it’s propaganda
      b: the only time someone entered the musque was around a month ago to remove a huge stash of amunitions, fire works and knives that were there.
      you think it was a provokation ? just imagin what would be the consensuses if one of those fireworks set off by accident and burned the mosque down!i’ll give you a dollar if you can guess who would be blamed for this and how much violence it would trigger!
      sometimes the truth is hidden bhaind many assumptions Nagy

      • Dorons propaganda.

        Propaganda

        • doron

          LOL….i got my own privet obsessive stalker.
          apparently someone finds it hard to counter logic with logic.
          a common trait
          :))))

  • doron

    they just don’t learn do they…
    hear ya, hear ya…all Euro nations:
    Prepear your wallets , another wave of begging starts in

  • Guest

    Islam cannot be blamed for what has happened in the Old City. The Ottoman Empire (Islamic Caliphate) which controlled Jerusalem from 1517 to 1917 was destroyed through the efforts of the Hashemites of now Trans-Jordan through the Arab Revolt of 1916 and Lawrence of Arabia. These were the same people who went out of their way to destroy over 50 old synagogues that were mostly from the time of the Ottoman Empire in the Old City of Jerusalem from 1948-1967 when they occupied the Old City of Jerusalem. Now Israel stupidly lets Jordan control Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem since it has not really punished them for Trans-Jordanian desecrations.

    • doron

      no need to punish for something long gone. need to focus on safety.

  • arzatna1

    2 state solution is the only answer . Lets admit it they all hate each other and the new settlements are fueling the hatred

    • 5thDrawer

      “It is our soul, it is our religion,” he said. “It cannot be permitted.”
      The religions of HATE …. nothing gets better when it’s all they have.

      • arzatna1

        Nobody likes occupation. Once the Arabs and the Jews will each have their own state they will start respecting each other and will learn to coexist side by side , otherwise more and more hatred is heading that way and then the whole thing can explode.

        • 5thDrawer

          It’s a problem when they both claim to NEED to pray at the same piece of stone.
          I’m damn happy that Jesus was born in a manger of straw … which the animals probably munched on for lunch after the folks left a stable – which itself rotten into the ground eventually.
          Mind you, in this case, the Muslims point their asses at it while praying to another hunk of rock a little further east … 😉

    • doron

      sound simple right, now try and get PLO or Hammas to Offcially recognize israel