The Tisha B’Av fast day, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, always brings the ever-tense situation on the Temple Mount to the brink of conflagration. This year was no different, with the day (starting at sundown on August 13 and ending at sundown on August 14) witnessing the well-established patterns of skirmishing, provocations, and low grade violence, but with a major eruption avoided. Members of the Jewish Temple Mount movement were arrested by police for violating the regulations banning Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. Tens of thousands of their supporters marched around the compound. Members of Knesset, denied access to the Mount itself, waited in the wings. There were violent clashes between the police and Palestinian youth, with arrests and injuries. And that is what we call “a routine” Tisha B’Av – until one of these times there will be a non-routine eruption of violence.
One development is particularly noteworthy: In recent months, one of the central pillars of Netanyahu’s hasbara has been the accusation that the Palestinian Authority systematically disseminates lies about Israeli intentions on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, and in doing so incites its population to violence against Israel. Israel has no intention to change the status quo, Netanyahu asserts, and the Palestinians manipulate lies that say the contrary for the purpose of incitement.
But this year, on Tisha B’Av, it once again became apparent that not all of the Palestinians’ fears are without foundation. Speaking to the Jewish throngs assembled at the Temple Mount march, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Dahan declared: “We aren’t embarrassed to say it: We want to rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount.” Minister Ben Dahan is not a private citizen, nor is he a CNN commentator. He is a senior member of the Israeli Cabinet, and his fellow Ministers, Netanyahu included, bear collective responsibility for his actions and pronouncements. He is in a position of authority.
Were Netanyahu genuinely committed to maintaining the status quo – and the calm – on the Temple Mount, he would have fired Ben Dahan within the hour. Instead, he has held his silence. Indeed, both Israelis and Palestinians are in the throes of a frenzy denying each other’s equities on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, and both sides abuse the site for purposes of incitement. But Ben Dahan’s pronouncement, and Netanyahu’s silence, clearly indicate that Palestinian fears regarding Israel’s intentions are far from baseless paranoia.