If you’re after evidence of apartheid in Israel, you don’t have to look very far. Amid rioting by Palestinians and Arabs, the Israel Police has declared the Temple Mount in Jerusalem off-limits. For ten days, only practitioners of one religion will be allowed to visit.
For context, Temple Mount is home to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in Judaism, and is where the First and Second Temples stood until their destruction by the Babylonians and Romans, respectively. Following Jerusalem’s conquest by Islamic imperialists in the 7th century, a succession of caliphs worked to Islamise the Temple Mount by erecting Muslim worship sites including the Dome of the Rock, built on top of the old Jewish temple, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
In recent days, Arab and Muslim rioters have run amok on the Temple Mount and throughout the Old City. They have fired off Molotov cocktails and rocks at law enforcement from inside Al-Aqsa. They have beaten religious Jews on their way to pray at the Western Wall. They have stoned at least ten buses, injuring passengers including a 13-year-old girl. Hence why the Israel Police has said adherents of one religion and one religion alone will be permitted on the Temple Mount for the next ten days. That one religion is, naturally, Islam.
Welcome to Israel, apartheid state. This interdict is not unusual and nor is the tumult that has occasioned it; both have played out semi-regularly in recent years. Religious discrimination against non-Muslims is in fact routine on Temple Mount, which is governed by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian religious trust, in cooperation with the Israel Police.
For centuries, Jews were forbidden from ascending Temple Mount by the occupying empire of the day, and even after they liberated their capital city in 1967, almost all senior rabbis have forbidden Jews to set foot on the hill. Nevertheless, some have persisted and Israel permits a limited number of its Jewish citizens to visit their holiest site, provided they do not pray while there. Those Jews who do pray are arrested. Jews may only enter the complex through a separate gate designated for use by non-Muslims.
The virtues of these arrangements are open to question. For one, they concede Islamic and Palestinian supremacist views about the Temple Mount and the freedom of Jews to worship there. Limiting Jewish access to the hill does not stop Palestinian terror groups, preachers and media routinely prompting riots with false claims that the Zionists are ‘storming Al-Aqsa’. Israeli police operations to curtail said rioting are then packaged by the international media and NGOs as a wanton Israeli attack on Muslim holy sites and worshipers, a framing amplified by gullible western progressives.
Ariel Sharon’s decision to visit Temple Mount in 2000 is generally agreed to be the cause of the Second Intifada, in which Palestinian suicide bombers murdered more than a thousand Israelis. (If you’re wondering why the lesson from this incident was ‘Israeli Prime Ministers must not be so provocative as to visit Jewish holy sites in their own capital city’ and not ‘blowing up buses and pizza parlours for four years because someone walked up a hill seems a bit extreme’, you just failed your Foreign Office civil service exam.) Nor do the current arrangements do much for the sacrosanctity of Al-Aqsa, the mosque that is ‘desecrated’ by Israeli police entering to stop rioting but not by the rioting itself.
Rather than acknowledge Israel’s self-denying efforts to keep the peace on Temple Mount, the international community simply breezes past them and onto their condemnations. It is taken as given that Israel ought to cede sovereignty in its capital city and task its police with arresting Jewish citizens for praying on a hill. This goes to the hypocrisy that runs through elite western (and, it must be said, Israeli) discourses on Israel and the Palestinians. Western legal norms and the assumptions of rights-based liberalism are applied – often, though not always, dishonestly – to characterise Israeli laws, military decisions and security measures as arbitrary and discriminatory, motivated by racial and religious malice and a nationalist desire to dominate the Palestinians. Because Israel is not Sweden, it is damned as South Africa.
Yet this commitment to universalising western values only goes one way. It is not applied to Palestinian demands for a Jew-free state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, nor to Palestinian prohibitions – backed up by the death penalty – against selling property to Jews. Most noticeably, it does not apply when Israel discriminates against its Jewish citizens and restricts their liberty of movement and freedom to manifest their religious faith. Israelis often complain about double standards but there is only one standard and it is always against Israel.
The Temple Mount compromise is messy, unjust, inequitable and probably doesn't bring a fraction of the benefits the Israeli security establishment tells itself, but it is an accommodation made in the interests of public order, stability, and coexistence. It is plainly discriminatory against Jews but Israel figures, rightly or wrongly, that this is the price of keeping an uneasy peace. There's your apartheid state.