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Opinion: Politics on Temple Mount?

Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp
July 26, 2015

The most recent violence on Temple Mount raises the question of the true character of the Middle East conflict. Is it really only political? The truth could be of a far darker nature, fears Kersten Knipp.

Tempelberg Jerusalem
Image: AFP/Getty Images/T. Coex

It's one of those stories that people like to call "complicated." Jewish settlers attacked a Palestinian boy, and riots followed, says the one side. The occupation of Al-Aqsa mosque had already been planned, claims the other side. In both cases, each party contends that it reacted to the aggression of its adversary.

Regardless of where the violence started, it functions as a political lesson. It shows - or at least suggests - why every attempt thus far to solve this crisis, in particular international efforts, has been of no avail.

The reason is clear as day. The mediators of this conflict perpetually underestimate its religious dimension. In secular and post-religious societies, it remains unthinkable that modern forms of conflict resolution aren't viable when it comes to the arena of religious fanaticism. This conflict is viewed merely as a permanent territorial dispute, without taking into account the religious insanity - on both sides.

Religious chauvinism

It was radical settlers who were seeking to climb Temple Mount in sacred garb, and they were met by devout Muslims who held them back, waving their Qurans. In this region, the images remain the same, even the expression doesn't change. The never-ending nature of this conflict is what calls into doubt the effectiveness of any political solution; it is a conflict that appears to defy all rational analysis, at least, when this analysis isn't willing or able to presuppose the existence of irrational motives.

The religious conflict is exacerbated by being mixed with the territorial dispute. And of course it would be extremely difficult to separate the two. Why, for instance, are Jews and Christians allowed to visit Temple Mount - but not pray there? The Waqf Foundation has authority over the premises, and this Islamic entity could be more hospitable to those of other faiths. With that said, however, the idea is almost unfathomable for Muslims and Jews to perform their sacred duties right next to each other while only a hundred meters away the two factions are slaying each other in the streets.

On the other hand, Israeli politics has religious intent in the West Bank, too. There are historically important Jewish sites here. This is why the Israelis are pursuing their brutal politics of occupation here. Myths that go back well over 2,000 years have the upper hand on civilized norms here.

Use or abuse of religion?

Of course, traditions must be respected. But then again the question of priority must be addressed - what is more important, the faith of one's forefathers or the security of one's children?

Both aren't possible. Insofar as Israel continues with its radical settlement activity in the West Bank, it is becoming difficult to call this a modern country - without certain reservations. And, insofar as thousands of Palestinians find nothing else to do but wave their Qurans, this society, too - at least many parts of it - can be called archaic.

With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one often speaks of the "abuse of religion." In the face of the devastating discord in the entire Middle East at the moment, the question is perhaps much rather whether the real nature of religion is revealing itself - and that with an intensity that robs all means of rational conflict resolution of its efficacy.

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Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East
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