Tragedy on the Mount

October 09, 1990

The sight of Moslems praying atop the Temple Mount while Jews pray at the Western Wall below has been the most inspirational of Israel's 23-year occupation of East Jerusalem. The mosques Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, from which Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven, sit on the rubble of the Old Testament Temple. The third-holiest site in Islam is the holiest in Judaism. Yet Israel reserves it for Moslem control and prevents archaeological excavation, in part because of Arab sensitivities, in part because the most devout Jews consider it too sacred to walk upon. Jews worship at the Western Wall below, as they have for two millennia.

All that was blown to bits by the riot and its suppression yesterday, in which Moslems stoned Jewish worshipers and Israeli police shot rioters. With a toll of 22 Palestinians dead, at least 150 wounded and 120 arrested, the finest achievement of Israeli rule is shattered, and condemnation of Israel is increased.

There are villainies enough to share. First provocation came from a group of Jewish zealots called the Temple Mount Faithful, who are not supported by any of the main religious groups in Israel. They have for years tried to assert a presence atop the Temple Mount, even build a new Temple there, and have always been rebuked and stopped by Israeli authorities. Their leaflets calling for an attempt to lay a cornerstone were the first provocation. But whoever on the Moslem side cached rocks to throw and called on the Moslem faithful to defend the Noble Enclosure, knew that Israel would not allow the Temple Mount Faithful to succeed. And, so misled, Palestinian Moslems committed the first violence, raining rocks on devout Jews celebrating the happy Festival of Sukkot below. Following that, Israeli police fired steel bullets in circumstances when most Western police would not. They were following a policy that Israeli hawks justify as being what works with Arabs. It has never worked with Arabs.

Extremists of both sides have much in common. If this was planned by Palestinian revolutionaries to distract attention from Iraq's aggression against Kuwait, Israeli police ensured that they succeeded.

The Old City of Jerusalem, holy to Christendom as well as Islam and Judaism, echoed to the gunfire. No argument was won. The self-appointed defenders of two great religions desecrated three. Jews, Moslems and all humanity suffered.

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