Muslims can pray in Jerusalem. It’s easy. Come in Peace.

Allowing their citizens to visit Israel may bring Arab leaders to accept that Israel is ready to welcome people who come in peace. Op-ed.

Barry Shaw ,

Muslim man reads the Koran during Ramadan at Al Aqsa Mosque
Muslim man reads the Koran during Ramadan at Al Aqsa Mosque
Sliman Khader/Flash90

I read an article in the London edition of the Al-Arab newspaper.

It is always interesting from a strategic point of view to get a feeling of the mood of the Arab world and this article entitled “Now is not the time for chants about Jerusalem” was built around the premise of Muslim yearning to pray in Jerusalem. From an Israeli perspective, that yearning is indelibly linked with the history of conquest, and conquest today brings with it wars and terror in failed attempts to eradicate the Jewish State.

If Arabs were as honest as Kheir Allah, the author of the piece, it would become obvious to any realistic Arab or Muslim that there is one overriding way they can indeed pray in Jerusalem that wouldn’t demand bloodletting as a way of achieving that ambition.

I will get to that solution later in this assessment.

Mr. Allah gives us a glimpse into the realities of most of the Middle East. It is not a pretty picture.

He invites us to look at Lebanon.

While Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah implores his minions to jihad in order to pray in Jerusalem, he does this from his protected bunker in a secure, but not so covert, location. Believe me when I tell you that Israel knows exactly where he is located.

Hezbollah has ruined Lebanon, financially as well as politically. They have wasted the resources of that country fighting Iranian battles in Syria that have decimated the Lebanese economy.

Mr. Allah tells us that the Lebanese banking system is on the verge of collapse and, as long as Nasrallah is pulling the Lebanese purse strings and choking Lebanon, there is no immediate incentive for the World Bank, the IMF, or anyone else to come to the rescue.

Abdullah al-Wardat, the regional director of the World Food Program, predicts that over a million Lebanese are at risk of falling below the food poverty line this year.

With Lebanon in such dire straits it is incredible to think that only a number of years ago this country was the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” the banking center of the region. Beirut was called the Cote d’Azur of the eastern Mediterranean.

Those were the heady days before Arafat’s PLO, before Assad the elder's Syrian intervention, the rise of Islamic Hezbollah, and the interference of Iran.

These were peaceful days when Christians were fully 50% of the population and government rule was by amicable division of labor.

Look at Lebanon now. Christians have fled. It is the epicenter of divisiveness, with Hezbollah profiting from global drug trade and money-laundering operations, including in Europe, the profits of which it refuses to share with the Lebanese population to drag it out of its misery. It exports its indoctrinated manpower to fight proxy wars for Iran and Syria.

Which takes us to Syria in which a London-trained dentist seemed to herald a brighter future but who turned out to be an Alawite butcher.

Syria is now in a state of total ruin with an estimated 13 million refugees or displaced people, more than half the population of that country. The death toll in Assad’s war against his own people is given at over half a million, including tens of thousands of children.

Al-Arab puts the number of Syrians living below the poverty line at 86%.

They also put the figures needed to protect Assad, his family and his coterie at an estimated $30 billion. This is just to protect the Syrian leader’s grip on power. It is assessed that it will take in excess of $500 billion to rebuild Syria.

Who exactly is going to cover that cost? Hardly Iran. They are ambitious to use Syria as a battlefront runway against Israel but, as we have seen, Israel is savvy about what Iran is up to and strikes frequently, without boots on the ground, to destroy the Iranian forward bases and weapon assembly
As for the Palestinians, they have become a distraction, a nuisance, for much of the Arab world...
facilities, all of which leaves Syria with even more collateral damage.

As for the Palestinians, they have become a distraction, a nuisance, for much of the Arab world that knows all too well they are nothing more than an occasionally deadly pinprick in the side of Israel.

Many Arab critics blame Palestinian Arab leaders for missing too many opportunities for peace. In short, they have lost patience with them and are paving semi-covert relationships with Israel.

Any righteous Muslim is aware that the Palestinian Arabs make false claims to ownership over Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem. Their history places the wardenship of these shrines with the Hashemite Jordanian king. This was a position, often understood wrongly by Israelis, that was adopted by Moshe Dayan after Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in a defensive war against Jordan in 1967.

In the battle for Jerusalem, the IDF succeeded in driving Jordanian forces out of the city. The Jordanians had occupied the eastern side of Jerusalem in an earlier war of aggression in 1948. During the 19 years of their occupation of Jerusalem, they had brutally driven all the Jews out of their ancestral homes in the Old City, deliberately destroyed all the Jewish synagogues and teaching centers, used Jewish gravestones from the Mount of Olives as paving stones, and the Jewish Temple remains as urinals.

Based on such a history, Israel can be forgiven for trusting nobody but itself to protect the faith-connected freedoms in the holy city of Jerusalem.

But this presents an opportunity to devout Muslims who wish to pray in peace in Jerusalem.

Having to accept that peaceful prayers comes with the necessary price of security to all, there is no reason why Muslims from Muslim lands cannot make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem just as Jews and Christians do on a regular undisturbed and protected basis.

Allowing their citizens to visit Israel may require that Arab leaders literally bite the bullet and accept that Israel is ready to welcome their people on condition they come in peace.

Their visitors will be vetted by Israeli security and intelligence agencies for obvious reasons. This can be done partly by cooperation between Israel and the visitors' government intelligence agencies.

I accept this may seem like a fantasy but, in the yearning to “give peace a chance” it may be worthwhile for Israel to welcome and let Arab and Muslim visitors see Israel as it is: a prosperous, diverse peaceful society.

The result may well turn out to be that these visitors return home to discover how regressive their own countries are compared to Israel, and how much they have been lied to through the years by their leaders about the Jewish State.

Barry Shaw is the International Public Diplomacy Director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. Author of '1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel.'




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