Accounts of the 1990 violence

In this section, I present a summary of three accounts of the 1990 violence. These summaries are useful in setting the contours of the secular and sacred interpretations of Jerusalem that were operative in these events. This section offers the source materials for the analysis that follows in the second and third sections, which utilize an analytical paradigm (“violent dialogue”) that is quite different from the one operative in these three accounts. As will become especially evident in Benvenisti, these accounts rely on the “cycles

of violence” thesis as a descriptive mechanism for violence - and this does not allow for an exploration of the evasiveness of violence and the dynamic of violent dialogue in the events in question.

Morris’s account, which more or less mirrors the Israeli government’s representation of these events, is as follows (Morris 2001: 584 586):

  • • He provides a background context of a failing and dying Intifada;
  • • In the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein appears as a kind of anti-imperial figure and comes to represent for the Arab Muslims a modern day Salah al-Din who would bring freedom and salvation to the Muslims of Jerusalem;
  • • Preachers in the mosques of Haram al-Sharif begin praising Saddam and inciting the population, promising a decisive outcome in the coming days;
  • • In response to Arab Muslim incitement and a few acts of violence in Jerusalem, the head of the Temple Mount Faithful, Greshon Salomon, promises the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and proclaims that he will lay the first cornerstone of the Third Temple on 8 October 1990;
  • • The Arab Muslims, prodded by Hamas, respond by intending a show of force and rebellion against the Jewish threat on the day Salomon promised to lay his cornerstone; assurances by the Israeli forces to stop the Temple Mount Faithful failed to quell the Arab rebellion;
  • • On the day the events took place, 30.000 Jewish worshippers gathered around the Mount on the Wailing Wall, and rumors swirled around the incited Arab crowd (between 2,000 and 5,000) that Salomon and his group had entered the compound;
  • • Despite the Israeli police’s assurances that Salomon had not entered the compound and had indeed been turned away, these rumors nonetheless prompted the crowd to begin throwing stones at Israeli border guards and police;
  • • Israeli forces were overwhelmed at first, but once they re-grouped and their reinforcements arrived, they re-took control of the Mount by dispersing the mob with tear gas and live bullets;
  • • The deaths (all Palestinian), serious injuries (all Palestinian), and minor injuries (on both sides)2 sparked revenge in the Palestinian camp in the aftermath of that day’s events, resulting in suicide stabbing attacks in Jerusalem.

As far as I can tell. Said has not directly commented on these particular events in his writings. However, he has always understood the importance of Jerusalem to the struggle of Palestinian self-determination. On a number of different occasions, Said discusses the centrality of Israeli plans for a “unified Jerusalem” that would offer the Israelis both a material and symbolic victory,3 which would essentially strike at the core of Palestinian resistance and bring about a complete victory for Zionism (Said 1995: 417).

To counter the annexation of Jerusalem, Said urges the Palestinian leadership to pull their resources together, put away their empty slogans, face the facts of Israeli expansion, and begin to resist in material and detailed ways - e.g., building and restoring infrastructure, spreading social services, reinforcing the bonds within and between Palestinian neighborhoods, and reclaiming the illegally annexed neighborhoods (Said 1995: 419-420). Only by asserting the presence of the Palestinian people in these material ways, can there be any real hope of halting the Israeli plan for annexation.4 And only when there exists a recognition of Palestinian rights to the city along with the existing Jewish rights, can we then create a new political entity where the different inhabitants are treated as equal citizens under the rule of democratic laws that would equally apply to all (Said 2001: 108-112; also see Makdisi 2010: 262, 282-287).

In some respects, Benvenisti’s City of Stone offers an account that combines elements from the above explanations: namely, Morris’s emphasis on the role of the religious groups, and Said’s emphasis on the symbolic-material distinction that is a central feature of most strategies on the Jerusalem question. Benvenisti situates the conflict over the holy places within an extremist shift in Jewish religious thinking advanced by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel (founder and head of the Temple Institute),5 who asserted that the Third Temple might indeed be rebuilt with human hands as opposed to waiting for the Messiah to rebuild it (Benvenisti 1996: 70). With the rising tensions of the Intifada, Jewish and Muslim extremists were more prepared to transgress the status quo and even religious law, and the result was “a vicious circle of violence and hatred” (Benvenisti 1996: 75). In Benvenisti’s account, the violence of 8 October 1990 is the causal violence for a number of violences that followed, which were only eventually stopped by the Madrid peace conference in October 1991 (1996: 45).

To stop the cycle of violence, Benvenisti reaffirms the need for a secular authority that would maintain the status quo of upholding a separation between the religious groups, and ensuring their respective sovereignty over their own holy places. This, however, is not without its difficulty, since the secular authority explicitly identifies with Judaism resulting in a “religiousnationalist tangle”6 (Benvenisti 1996: 103). According to Benvenisti, the end goal of the secular authority of the Israeli state has always been the establishment of a “unified Jerusalem” under exclusive Israeli control (1996: 43). Israeli governments (largely through town planning) worked to establish a physical and demographic presence that would overwhelm the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, hence creating “facts on the ground” that would favor the Israeli state in any negotiation or political settlement.' Paradoxically, this congruence of secular and religious Jewish thinking means that celestial Jerusalem could indeed only be brought forth with Jewish human hands that would build a materially unified Jerusalem first (Benvenisti 1996: 136-168). However, Benvenisti shows that the idea of unified Jewish Jerusalem is mere fiction, a propagandist slogan that pays no attention to the needs, aspirations, desires, and resistance (and potential resistance) of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and beyond (also see Lustick 2004; Caridi 2017: 10-12, 80-89, 121-123).

Benvenisti concludes that the interaction between the two communities has long been marked with what he calls “the ‘dialogue’ of actions” that is “nonverbal but only occasionally violent” (1996: 131). Only a political dialogue can properly supplant this dialogue of actions and halt its occasionally violent form, potentially leading to a truly unified space in Jerusalem where the needs of both communities are attended. Despite the seeming similarity between violent dialogue and the dialogue of actions, Benvenisti suggests that the dialogue of actions is the continuation of a political dialogue by other means, and a reengagement with political dialogue can signal the defeat of violence. In other words, Benvenisti posits violent actions as disruptions to political dialogue, and the re-establishment of political dialogue can put behind and counter such disruptions. In contrast, the concept of violent dialogue asserts that violent acts engender a form of dialogue over the subject matter of violence, which transforms - not merely disrupts - the interactions occurring among the participants. It is by examining these interactions that it becomes possible to reveal the shared posture between the sides.

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