Abba Eban famously quipped "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Well, we know Arabs are Semites, and Jews are Semites, and apparently the same thing is true for Jews.
One of the most recent public controversies is an excellent case in point. The Israeli government, in what I would consider a positive development, created a list of "National Heritage Sites" that should receive funding for preservation / restoration. Great. At the last minute, right wing party Shas got the government to include two sites located in the West Bank — Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs. And here's where the trouble begins.
By doing this unilaterally, it seems like the Israeli government is pushing out the Palestinians and staking these places out for the Jews. Naturally there was a big outcry from Palestinians, riots, practically, some violence, etc. Moshe Arens wrote a way off base piece in Haaretz claiming that this was another example of the Arabs denying a Jewish connection to the land, etc. Arens' piece "Shedding Light on the Imbroglio," far from shedding light, adds obfuscation and darkness.
In his closing paragraph, Arens says:
The structure of the Tomb of the Patriarchs is in dire need of repair and refurbishment. And the days during Ottoman and British rule when Jews coming to pray at the site were not allowed to ascend beyond the seventh step on the stairway leading to the prayer area, and during Jordanian rule when they were denied access altogether – these days are gone forever.
He misses the point. None of the Israeli protesters (myself included!) are saying that Jews should bot be able to pray at these places. What's wrong is not wanting to refurbish these sites — it's choosing to do it unilaterally.
Just imagine if instead of reading about the decision in the newspapers, someone from the Israeli government called someone in Abu Mazen's office and said "hey, we've got an idea." Let's work together to preserve some places that are important to Jews, Christians, AND Muslims. We'll provide some money that will help preserve these important sites for both Jews and Muslims. We invite you to be part of a joint committee that will study the sites and determine what work needs to be done. We can work together to preserve these sites as our shared religious heritage.
It could have been a way to use religion as a way to build bridges, as a way to connect with other people who hold these places as holy. Instead, our stupid government acts like a bull in a china shop and makes a big mess, in a place where no mess was needed. Instead of violence and recriminations, we could have had cooperation and reconciliation. Another missed opportunity.
I plan to sign a letter being drafted for the signatures of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy encouraging the Israeli government to involve other religious authorities besides Jewish in the planning process, and to ensure the accessibility of the sites to all who wish to visit.
There are enough things to fight over in this part of the world without going out and looking for more.