Palestinian cleric Muhammad Salah stands at the pulpit of his mosque in Gaza clutching a large kitchen knife. His hand repeatedly comes down in a violent stabbing motion. He does not speak in an allegory, or sermonise to his flock. He delivers a very specific command: “Form stabbing squads. We don’t want just a single stabber. Attack in threes and fours. Some should restrain the victim, while the other attack him with axes and butcher knives. Cut them into body parts.” He lists Israeli cities where they are to strike: Afula, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Results quickly follow. In Afula on the day of Muhammad Salah’s sermon, a young Palestinian woman stabs a security guard at a bus station. The following day, in Jerusalem, a 16 year old Palestinian stabs two Jewish men in their 60s. More stabbing attacks follow in Jerusalem two days later. In one attack, a boy of 13, riding his bicycle is set upon and stabbed nearly to death. The boy remains in a critical condition. The next day, in Ra’anana, near Tel Aviv, there are two stabbing attacks in the morning, an hour apart. In Jerusalem, two Palestinians board a bus, one opens fire, the other begins hacking at passengers. At least three are killed, more than a dozen wounded. Also, in Jerusalem, chilling footage has emerged of a Palestinian deliberately ramming two Orthodox Jews standing at a bus-stop before exiting the vehicle and relentlessly hacking one of the men to death.
We have seen images of an Israeli man with a knife lodged in the base of his skull. Only the handle is visible now. In another image, a Jewish prayer shawl is soaked in blood, evoking dreaded memories of the Har Nof massacre in November 2014, when two Palestinians slaughtered Jews at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue. Now a bloodied hatchet lies on the footpath where minutes earlier, commuters stood in the morning rush.
A clearer connection between the incitement and the act could hardly be conceived. In any civilised society, such clerics would be defrocked in disgrace, their chilling words would be immediately condemned and repudiated. But this is “Palestine”.
Last month, in another bloody call to arms, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, considered by many to be a moderate, declared that Jews have no right to access the Temple Mount, the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples for more than 1,000 years. “[The Jews] have no right to desecrate it with their filthy feet,” he said. He called upon his people “to do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem. Every drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as it’s for the sake of Allah,” he concluded. “Every martyr will be in heaven and every wounded person will be rewarded, by Allah’s will.”
But defend Jerusalem from what and from whom? Jerusalem was unified by Israel during the Six Day War in June 1967, after Israeli forces repelled the Jordanian army. The Jordanians had illegally seized and occupied the eastern part of the city during the 1948 war. They had barred Jews from access to their holy places, desecrated Jewish graves and destroyed scores of synagogues and other religious sites.
Within hours of military victory, Moshe Dayan, Israel’s famed general and Defence Minister declared: “We did not come to conquer sacred sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but rather to ensure the integrity of the city and to live in it with others in fraternity.”
Dayan then did something extraordinary. Having just restored Jewish sovereignty to the holiest site in Judaism for the first time in almost two millennia, he issued a decree forbidding Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. Dayan’s decree is still in force, in what is frequently referred to as the “status quo”.
The Temple Mount is as sacred to Jews as the Kabbah in Mecca is to Muslims and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is to Christians. Yet, in an extension of Dayan’s magnanimous gesture, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently and unambiguously affirmed that the status quo will not change.
Among Palestinians, however, conspiracy theories abound, about an imagined Israeli plot to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque which sits atop the Temple Mount, and to build a third Jewish temple in its place.
Fed with these lurid fantasies and dangerous conspiracy theories, it is little wonder that some Palestinians are committing acts of unspeakable brutality aimed indiscriminately at Jews generally.
The images of violence and the themes underpinning it will be familiar to Australian audiences. Barbaric crimes targeting civilians or police officers are being carried out by indoctrinated teenagers in the name of religious duty. The sequence of events that will surely follow will also be familiar. Israel will be urged to show restraint. Its reaction will be spotlighted by biased observers, rather than the bloody crimes which compelled it to act.
Israelis are coping, as they always have. Meanwhile a sick and corroded Palestinian society, reared on the sermons of maniacal preachers and corrupt politicians, and increasingly detached from reality, descends into an orgy of criminal violence which is destined once again to turn in on itself.