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Bidding farewell to 'the last Arab Jew'

Born in Baghdad, Prof. Sasson Somekh was a prominent expert on Arabic literature, and a notable author and activist. He passed away this week.

By Raanan Shemesh Forshner

Prof. Sasson Somekh, one of Israel’s most prominent experts on Arabic literature and a lifelong proponent of peace, passed away this week in Tel Aviv. A winner of the Israel Prize, Somekh was a notable poet, author, translator, and activist.

Born in Baghdad in 1933 to an educated, secular family, Somekh developed an interest in Arabic culture at an early age, publishing Arabic poetry as a pupil. At age 17, he was forced to leave Iraq and arrived in Israel. The formative encounter between Arabic and Hebrew culture, and his decision to maintain loyalty to both, led him to form a connection between the two. “The task of mediating between the two great cultures, the two sister languages, has become his life’s work,” wrote Mizrahi poet and literary critic Almog Behar.

Somekh’s storied academic career often overshadowed his political biography. Shortly after arriving in Israeli, during one of his visits to the impoverished neighborhood of Wadi Salib in Haifa, he saw posters for the Israeli Communist Party (Maki). “Those posters astonished me,” he would say years later. “Although I knew that the Communist Party, whose representatives were already in the first Knesset, also participates in the elections, seeing such posters, and in Arabic, filled my heart with joy. I am from a country that not only prevents the left from acting openly, it also occasionally sends some of the leaders of this party – members of various ethnic groups, including Jews – to the gallows.”

On joining the Communist Party, Somekh wrote: “There was discrimination in every party aside from Maki, so I joined the party out of the belief that treating Arabs as second-class citizens is not the way to solve their problem.”

Alongside other Arab Jewish authors, poets, and artists who were also connected to the Communist Party, including Sami Michael, David Tsemah, and Shimon Ballas, Somekh continued to write in his mother-tongue in Al-Ittihad, Maki’s Arabic newspaper. Somekh also published in the Arabic literary journal Al- Jadid, which included other prominent Arab Jewish writers as well as Palestinian writers and thinkers like Emile Habibi, Tawfiq Ziad, and Mahmoud Darwish.

Like many other Arab Jewish writers who belonged to Maki, Somekh left the party during the 1960s, yet continued...

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For Netanyahu and Trump, Palestinian Christians are only pawns for political gain

We are an integral part of the Palestinian people, yet we are virtually invisible for those in the White House who claim to care about Christianity.

By Fr. Emmanuelle Awwad

When Israel barred Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Palestine last week, it was a clear attempt to keep the congresswomen from witnessing the impacts of military occupation for themselves. This decision, however, also revealed the extent to which the very leaders who claim to care about Christians in the Middle East are willing to weaponize religion.

I was supposed to meet with the congressional delegation. My plan was to introduce them to the reality of my people, and particularly the Christian Palestinian community, by telling them about Aboud, the village I have been serving for over a decade. I was hoping that our village could symbolize not only the hardships of life under military occupation, but also a message of hope for the prospects of peace through the fulfillment of the rights of everyone, including the right for Palestine to be free.

Aboud is located around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) northwest of Jerusalem and has a population of around 2,000 people. I serve in a church that has had uninterrupted services since the year 332 AD. The Church of Saint Mary was built at the same time as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Historically, Aboud had around nine churches and monasteries, including the shrine of Saint Barbara, which dates back to the fifth century and was blown up by the Israeli army in 2002.

We are a village full of history yet almost no pilgrims or tourists visit us. The fact that Aboud was part of the path taken by the Holy Family from Jerusalem to Nazareth doesn’t seem to impress those in charge of making touristic packages. Instead of having a responsible and ethical pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including engaging with the local population, visitors prefer to tour stones without getting to appreciate the traditions and customs of those who have been taking care of those places for centuries.

Three settlements, Halamish, Beit Aryeh, and Ofarim, have been built on our village’s land. The existence of these Jewish-only settlements has become part of the daily nightmare that our people must endure. Aboud, known historically as the “City of Flowers,” once had enough water to survive on...

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In one East Jerusalem neighborhood, summer vacation has become a war zone

For children in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, summer vacation means dodging rubber bullets and watching their fathers and brothers arrested and humiliated every day.

By Yuval Abraham

At the entrance to Issawiya in East Jerusalem, eight children are laughing as they chase one another in circles. I take out a camera and a few of them begin to gather around me. The oldest of the group is 13 years old, and tells me that they are playing “Jews and Arabs.” Do you know it? She asks. There are two teams: the Jews shoot at the Arabs and the Arabs throw rocks. The game ends when one of the teams wins.

I look on as they play but cannot really seem to make out the rules. It’s a bit like tag, only that instead of tagging one another, they pretend chase, detain, and shoot each other. The children’s home is just across the road, and they play in the street during summer vacation. Ever since 19-year-old Mohammed Obeid was shot dead by Israeli police here in July, their grandmother doesn’t allow them to stray too far.

The reality in Issawiya is dangerous for children. Every day, dozens of armed Border Police officers enter the neighborhood to “make their presence known,” as one of them tells me. The officers hand out tickets, block main traffic junctions, check IDs at random, and patrol the streets for no apparent reason — at least that’s how it starts.

The script generally repeats itself: an argument breaks out, one of the teenagers throws a stone at a passing police jeep, a group of officers comes looking for him, they throw stun grenades and sometimes shoot rubber bullets, residents are wounded and arrested. This happens almost every single day.

One can write at length about this despairing reality, which stems from Israel’s desire to continue to exert its control over East Jerusalem without granting its Palestinian residents national rights.

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In the main square next to an elegant white mosque, three children ask me to take their picture. Another child passes by, warning them to check where I come from, to make sure I am not an undercover cop, and that I am not...

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Conscientious objector released after 82 days in solitary confinement

Roman Levin was sent to military prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli army. He spent most of his time in solitary confinement. 

By +972 Magazine Staff

After 82 days in solitary confinement, the Israeli army released conscientious objector Roman Levin from military prison last week. Levin, who refused to continue serving in the IDF over its occupation policies, was discharged by an army committee for “poor and severe behavior.”

Levin was first jailed in February when he declared his refusal to continue his service after spending a year and a half as a driver in the army. He was sentenced four consecutive times during his time in the army, spending most of his time behind bars in solitary confinement due to his refusal to wear a prison uniform.

Military conscription is mandatory for most Jewish Israelis.

Levin is supported by Mesarvot — Refusing to Serve the Occupation, a grassroots network that brings together individuals and groups who refuse to enlist in the IDF in protest of the occupation.

Levin, from the city of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, immigrated to Israel with several members of his family from Ukraine when he was three years old. He says that he initially believed his service would contribute to society and help him fulfill his duties as a citizen.

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Prior to his imprisonment, Levin published a statement in which he described how his service in the occupied territories affected his political outlook: “When I was recruited, I thought the army serves the interests of Israeli citizens, but after serving in the territories I understood that the army’s actions don’t serve my interests or the interests of workers in Israel, especially after the continued murder of demonstrators at the Gaza fence. The Jewish Nation-State Law strengthened that understanding to me. I came to the conclusion that you can’t hold both ends of the rope – to resist occupation, racism and the capitalist order, while serving in a military that preserves these things.”

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Displaced again: Palestinian refugees from Syria struggle to survive in Gaza

With surging unemployment rates and high rents, Palestinian refugees who fled the Syrian war for Gaza are struggling to climb out of poverty. Like many Gazans, they hope to leave the strip in search of a better life.

By Amjad Yaghi

In mid-2012, Egyptian police arrested Omar Odeh for violating the conditions of his residence permit and overstaying his visa. After realizing he was a Palestinian refugee from Syria, they deported him to Gaza. Today he is one of hundreds of Palestinian refugees from Syria who fled the civil war there only to find hardly-endurable living conditions in the strip.

Odeh, 63, is originally from the destroyed Palestinian village of Majdal, near present-day Ashkelon. Today he lives in Biet Lahia, a town in northern Gaza, with his family of six, who joined him after his deportation. Alongside a group of Palestinian refugees from Syria, he helped established the Follow-Up Committee for Palestinians from Syria in Gaza, which works with governmental and non-governmental organizations, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and international groups to secure a dignified life for them in Gaza.

When Palestinian refugees from Syria began returning to Palestine, the Palestinian leaderships in the West Bank and Gaza promised to help them in their resettlement process. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas, however, have yet to deliver on their promises, said Odeh.

According to him, Hamas promised the refugees from Syria financial aid to help them secure shelter and jobs. But with surging unemployment and high rents, many are struggling to climb out of poverty.

Palestinian refugees in Syria knew that Gaza was under blockade by the Israeli army and that living conditions were challenging. They resettled in Gaza thinking they would be better integrated into Palestinian society than elsewhere.

“No one looks at us as refugees from Palestine,” said Odeh. “When we were in Syria, we worked in economics, sports and art, we were part of building Syria. Now, in Gaza, we are strangers. We can’t live a dignified life and we don’t feel we are in our home. All the Palestinian refugees from Syria are trying to leave Gaza and I am one of them, but they can’t.”

‘We saw death before our eyes’

According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, since the Syrian war erupted in March 2011, 160,000 Palestinian refugees fled the camps in Syria to neighboring or European countries. Around half of them were granted asylum in Europe. More than 57,000 resettled in Lebanon, Turkey and...

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My Palestinian sitty embodies the humanity Israel tries to deny us

My grandmother is not just a beacon of warmth and love. Not just my first best friend. She is a survivor. She is the compass that points to justice.

By Nooran Alhamdan

My grandmother was my first best friend. As soon as I’d be dropped off at her house, almost daily, the hotheaded and spoiled four-year-old me would change to well behaved and bubbly.

My teta, grandmother in Arabic, would sit me by her side while she meticulously rolled tiny stuffed grape leaves on the large dining room table. She would turn on the Arabic pop channel for me – a special treat, as I was only allowed to watch cartoons – and I would clap along with a scantily clad Nancy Ajram.

What I remember more than anything, though, is our ritual mid-day nap. It is only within the past few years that my grandmother’s hair had lost its color and length. When I was a little girl, it was long, black and silky smooth. She always kept it in a knot on top of her head while working around the house. But when it came time for her nap, she would let it tumble down her back. Laid down in bed, it would fan out across her pillow and push me almost to the opposite end of the mattress.

I can remember that hour nap so vividly. Her room always smelled sweet, like perfume and flowers. The shades would be shut, but a fraction at the top never fully closed, so dusty light would fall through the air. Teta would sleep on her side, facing away from me. Using a delicate comb, whose teeth were so fine that you couldn’t see the spaces between them, I would brush through her hair, from root to tip, repeatedly, until my eyes could no longer stay open.

When we woke up, there would only be a few hours before my entire family would gather for dinner. As the family matriarch, my grandmother’s home was the epicenter of gathering. My childhood is defined by the living room of my grandmother’s house, filled with my mother and aunts and uncles. The small guest bedrooms would be crammed with all my cousins and me, giggling and scheming, the air smelling like the warmth of hearty food and bitter coffee.

In a small house in New Jersey lived an entire legacy of homeland and dispossession, of...

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Come work with us: +972 Magazine is hiring an associate editor

Apply to join our editorial team.

About us

+972 Magazine is an English-language, independent, online news and political magazine that publishes on-the-ground reporting, investigative and in-depth features, analysis, and commentary. The site is committed to professional journalistic standards, democratic values, human rights, resisting the occupation, and freedom of information.

We do not represent nor are we aligned with any other organization, political party, or special interests. +972 Magazine is published by the non-profit organization “972 – Advancement of Citizen Journalism,” which is also the direct employer of +972 Magazine’s staff.

We’re looking for a professional journalist to join our team of editors. The requirements are down below.

Job Description

The editor will work alongside +972 Magazine’s other editors in the day-to-day operation of the website, with a central role in the creation and production of news and analytical reportage. In addition, the new editor will have an ongoing role in helping shape the editorial focus of +972. 

Responsibilities

  • Editing news articles and features
  • Editing and writing op-eds and analysis
  • Newswriting and reporting
  • Identifying, commissioning, and publishing stories
  • Seeking out and developing relationships with journalists to work with +972
  • Monitoring local and international media to inform +972 stories
  • Translation from Hebrew or Arabic to English
  • Helping manage the website and its social media presence
  • Working as a part of the editorial team on a day-to-day basis and participating in weekly editorial meetings

Requirements

  • Proven experience writing, editing, or producing high-quality journalism in English
  • An intimate familiarity with the political landscape of Israel-Palestine and the wider Middle East. Must be a news/politics junkie. Familiarity with the social, political, and human rights movements active in the local arena is a major advantage
  • Willingness to work flexible hours
  • Ability to work under stress, especially in breaking news situations, and to manage and prioritize multiple tasks
  • Residency in Israel, East Jerusalem, or the West Bank
  • A commitment to the basic values of the site: democracy, opposing the occupation,...
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Philippine police are executing people with Israeli weapons

Israel continues to export arms and military training to Rodrigo Duterte’s regime, even after the ICC launched a preliminary investigation to look into suspicions of crimes against humanity there.

By Eitay Mack

For much of the past two years, Israel has been exporting weapons and military training to the Philippine security forces. As part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war, police officers and masked militiamen have been raiding the country’s poorest neighborhoods, where they execute men and young boys suspected of criminal activities or drug use. Their weapons of choice? Israeli-produced rifles such as the Tavor and the Negev, and handguns such as the Masada.

Since Dutarte was elected president of the Philippines in June 2016, the country’s police force and its various militias have executed at least 12,000 people without trial, according to Human Rights Watch.

Duterte is using the drug war to fortify his rule and justify the weakening of his country’s democratic institutions, which were put in place after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos’ decades-long dictatorship in 1986. Instead of dealing with the Philippines’ real problems, Duterte is choosing to invest the country’s limited resources in tackling the its drug problem in such a way that violates international law and aligns with his election campaign promise to kill 100,000 people in the first six months of his presidency.

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Duterte’s strategy of social engineering and solving political and social problems through mass killings is not new. Neither is the silence of the international community. And yet, one can expect that sooner or later the United Nations will decide that Duterte and his security forces are carrying out gross violations of basic human and civil rights. As early as February 2018, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague announced that she had launched a preliminary examination into whether Duterte was committing crimes against humanity in his drug war.

When he arrived in Israel for an official visit in September 2018, Duterte did something most world leaders wouldn’t: he exposed his host country’s shameful behavior during a formal meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. As he stood before the president, the Israeli press, and the world, Duterte said that he had instructed his security forces to purchase weapons...

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What occupation looks like for Rashida Tlaib’s village in the West Bank

Forty years of land grabs, settlement expansion, and the building of a highway that is off limits to Palestinians. This is what is happening to Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s village.

By Dror Etkes

The West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa made headlines over the weekend, after Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib announced she would not accept Israel’s offer for a “humanitarian visit” to see family, and particularly her aging grandmother.

Beyond Tlaib’s personal story, however, is the story of a village that has seen decades of land grabs for the purpose of Israeli settlement expansion and the construction of a bypass road, which Palestinian residents of the West Bank have been banned from using for nearly two decades.

Beit Ur al-Fauqa is a relatively small Palestinian village located approximately nine kilometers west of Ramallah and seven kilometers east of the Green Line. According to the 2017 Palestinian census, the village has 1,049 inhabitants. A British land ownership survey, conducted during the years of the Mandate, shows the village land is comprised of 943 acres.

As a result of the Oslo Accords, 101 of those acres became part of Area B, under Palestinian civil administration and full Israeli military control. Another 3.5 acres of land were included in the village’s Israeli-approved master plan from 1992, granting it a total of 104.5 acres — 11 percent of the village’s total land — available for Palestinian construction.

Luckily for the inhabitants of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, their land was already fully registered before June 1967, when the West Bank came under Israeli occupation. At the time, only two plots of land in the entire village were registered as Jordanian state land in the general registry (Tabu).

This spared large tracts from the same fate as nearby villages Beitunia and A-Tira, where swaths of land were declared “state land” by the Israeli authorities and were automatically handed over to Israeli settlements. At the eastern edge of Beit Ur al-Fauqa lies one of the two parcels registered as Jordanian state land. This parcel was also taken by the Israeli authorities and allocated to the settlement of Beit Horon, which was established in 1977.

Yet the real story of Beit Ur al-Fauqa is not the settlement of Beit Horon but Route 443, a highway built through the West Bank in the early 90s to connect northern Jerusalem and its adjacent settlements to Israel’s coastal area.

To pave...

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Israel's 'humanitarian' offer to Tlaib made me cringe. Here's why

As the director of an organization that promotes the right to freedom of movement in Gaza, when I heard that Israel is offering you the chance to make a ‘humanitarian’ visit to your family, I felt a familiar cringe. An open letter to Reps. Tlaib and Omar.

By Tania Hary

Dear Representative Omar and Representative Tlaib,

We were meant to meet this coming Sunday evening. I was so pleased when I heard that you had decided to include the Gaza Strip on your itinerary, figuratively if not literally, given that you wouldn’t be able to physically travel there. You had arranged a Skype conversation with young Palestinians in Gaza. As the director of an organization that promotes the right to freedom of movement in the Palestinian territory, Gisha, I was lucky to be invited to offer context for why those young people couldn’t simply cross the relatively short distance to Jerusalem to meet you in person.

Rep. Omar, I am also a naturalized U.S. citizen. I am an Israeli-American. I was born in Haifa, and my young parents, determined to study in the United States, took me and my sister to Los Angeles, where I was raised. At age 5, I helped my parents learn the Pledge of Allegiance when they took their oath of citizenship. Your experience speaks deeply to me as someone who feels at home in America and is proud of its traditions of welcoming the stranger, and who has an eye toward how the U.S. can use its power to lift others up, at home and abroad. I’m so sorry we won’t be able to meet because your travel was banned by the country that I now call home.

The ability to travel shaped my personal history and that of my family. My grandparents and great-grandparents had fled turbulent and dangerous circumstances across Europe and North Africa to come to Palestine, which later became Israel. My parents had searched for better opportunities in America, and then there was me, coming back to Israel in search of meaningful work to promote human rights and be part of a struggle to end the occupation.

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When I arrived in Israel,...

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A landmark win for Palestine student activism

Fordham University tried to shut down a Students for Justice in Palestine club over its support for Palestinian rights and BDS. That is, until a New York judge gave Palestine campus activism its first legal victory.

By Radhika Sainath

Last week, in a landmark ruling, a New York judge ordered Fordham University in Manhattan to recognize a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club – despite the university’s hostility to the club’s support for Palestinian rights and the tactic of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). This means that students will finally be able to host film screenings, invite speakers, and yes, talk about boycotts for Palestinian rights at this private Jesuit university whose alumni include Denzel Washington, Donald Trump and Lana Del Rey.

Awad v. Fordham University is the first court victory specifically protecting the right to organize for Palestine on a U.S. college campus. The significance of this win cannot be overstated at a time when the right to protest – and the right to boycott, more specifically – is under attack at the highest reaches of government, and when the State of Israel has allocated over $100 million to stop boycott efforts.

In a refreshingly frank ruling, Justice Nancy Bannon stated that “it must be concluded that [Fordham University’s] disapproval of SJP was made in large part because the subject of SJP’s criticism is the State of Israel, rather than some other nation, in spite of the fact that SJP advocates only legal, nonviolent tactics aimed at changing Israel’s policies.”

To be sure, the decision is bittersweet. All four of the students who first brought the lawsuit have graduated.

This includes Ahmad Awad, who started the process of forming the club in 2015. Ahmad is Palestinian on his father’s side and the grandson of a Polish survivor of a Nazi labor camp on his mother’s side. In Ahmad’s words, “[t]hese two histories of oppression taught me to value human dignity and to fight injustice wherever I see it.”

One gem from the ruling includes explaining how Fordham, quite oddly, “asked several Jewish faculty members about SJP [and] whether the administration should permit SJP to be established at Fordham.” The Jewish Student Organization was also specifically notified about an upcoming student government vote and asked to “provide its opinion on the question of approval of SJP.” The judge astutely recognized that it was only after receiving...

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PODCAST: Could Mizrahim find their most natural allies in Palestinians?

Jewish Israelis with roots in Arab and Muslim countries have faced systemic discrimination for decades. As Jewish political parties court their votes, +972 writer and Local Call editor Orly Noy has a different idea.

Listen here: iTunes/Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify

It is no secret that for decades, the Zionist left discriminated against Mizrahim, or Jews with roots in Arab and Muslim countries, treating them as second-class citizens and pushing them to the economic, political, and cultural margins of Israeli society.

Mizrahim took matters into their own hands, forming political movements and parties of their own. Their resentment against the left pushed many of them into the arms of the right-wing Likud party. 

And yet, says +972 writer and Local Call editor Orly Noy, more than 70 years after Israel’s founding, Mizrahim are still fighting for small wins from the Ashkenazi elite, whether on the left or the right.

“Any mechanism that was set to discriminate against Palestinians, in a way, discriminates against Mizrahim as well,” said Noy. “As long as you are collaborating with the system that keeps pushing back the Mizrahim to the periphery of the society along with the Palestinian citizens, then you will always be fighting the Ashkenazi hegemony for crumbs, and that just doesn’t make sense.”

Noy believes Mizrahim now have an opportunity to move beyond the left-right politics that have kept them marginalized — by standing alongside Palestinian citizens of Israel. 

“The more rational thing is to join those who want to change the political construction altogether,” added Noy, and taking part in “something that, its starting point is full equality.”

Subscribe here: iTunes/Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify

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How the once-fringe Jewish Temple Movement is going mainstream

The Jewish Temple Movement has for years tried to change the status quo in one of the most contested holy sites in the world. Now the most mainstream figures on the Israeli right are finally listening.

By Yonathan Mizrachi

The Hebrew and Muslim calendars have, at times, had an effect on the political conflict surrounding the contested Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. Both calendars are based on a lunar cycle of 354 days, although the Hebrew calendar adds an additional month every four years, so as to match the sun cycle.

The fact that there is no alignment between the two calendars has, over the last year, led to a number of complex political challenges. The first one took place in the beginning of June when Jerusalem Day — the national holiday in which tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis march through the Old City to mark the re-unification of the city, often provoking the Palestinians there — coincided with the end of Ramadan.

Temple Mount activists, who seek to upend the decades-long status quo and worship freely at the site, took advantage of the coinciding days to pressure the government to allow them to enter the Temple Mount. The government acceded, leading to confrontations and violence with Muslim worshippers there. Israeli politicians didn’t seem to mind.

The fact that this year Tisha B’Av coincided with the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha had far greater consequences. For religious Jews, Tisha B’Av marks the day Jews mourn the destruction of their Temple, and is considered one of the most religiously important days of the year — especially for those who seek to worship at the Temple Mount. The fact that it fell on the same day as Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the Muslim prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith, was potentially explosive. Until Sunday, there had never been any non-Muslim presence on Haram al-Sharif during Eid al-Adha. That is why maintaining the status quo on the first day of the holiday has been especially important for Muslim worshippers.

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That Israeli elections are just around the corner also gave the Temple movement a boost on Tisha B’Av. The Israeli media’s focus on the entry of Jewish worshippers to the Temple...

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