On Sunday, several thousand people gathered in the Turkish capital, Istanbul, to voice their anger against Israeli security measures on Har HaBayis.
It was the usual thing — protesters waving Palestinian flags, singing the latest hit, “Hit, hit Zionists,” and carrying posters with catchy slogans like “The Al-Aqsa mosque is our honor.”
The size was not especially impressive, only an estimated few thousand people. For a city the size of Istanbul, with a population of over 14 million, in a country the size of Turkey, with a population of almost 80 million, it didn’t qualify as a mass demonstration.
Yet, considering the fact that it was sponsored not by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but the much smaller Saadet (Felicity) Party, a more conservative Islamic group, perhaps it deserved the international coverage it garnered.
No senior government officials were seen. Had it been a government-organized event, presumably the turnout would have been far greater. As it is, it may be more indicative of the popular feeling, of what’s going on in “the street.”
Still nothing so remarkable about it. We already know how agitated the Muslim world has been over the issue of Har HaBayis.
But there was one aspect of the event which was remarkable: It happened on Sunday.
By Sunday, the crisis was already over. Israel had removed the controversial security array, the Waqf had called off its ban on prayer at Al-Aqsa mosque, and the “day of rage” slated for last Friday by Fatah and Hamas passed without serious incident, though in those quarters there is never any shortage of “rage” to go around on any day.
In fact, Muslims in Yerushalayim the day before were celebrating a “victory” over Israel, which they had forced into backing down. The perception was shared, bitterly, on the Israeli right, where Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to remove the metal detectors and cameras was branded a “capitulation” to terrorism and intimidation.
Thus, the rally in Istanbul seemed bizarrely out of step with the pace of events. If anything, they, too, should have been celebrating the outcome of the 12-day confrontation with Israeli authorities. The reason for anger and protest had passed.
The international news agencies such as Reuters reported the Istanbul gathering. While duly noting that Israel had already taken down the security measures, they made no comment on the infelicitous timing of the demonstrators.
Nor was it likely that the Felicity faithful hadn’t heard the glad tidings of what happened in Yerushalayim. Times have changed and news travels faster than it did on January 8, 1815, when General Andrew Jackson won a resounding victory over British forces in the Battle of New Orleans. The Treaty of Ghent had already ended the War of 1812 (the year it started) on December 24, 1814; but the news did not reach the Americans until the engagement was already fought.
No, they were perfectly well updated on events in Yerushalayim. That wasn’t the problem.
The problem was Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the state of mind he represents. Soon after Israeli police dismantled the new security equipment on Har HaBayis, the Turkish leader declared that it was “not enough.” Israel, he said, would pay a high price for its insults to Islam. Evidently, the participants at Sunday’s demonstration, along with many others in Turkey, shared his sentiment.
What exactly would be “enough” was not stated. Maybe it would be enough if Israeli police at the entrance to Har HaBayis would cease checking suspicious characters or known troublemakers seeking to get in (as they are still doing) and simply wave everyone through.
Maybe that would not be enough, either. Maybe it would only be enough if Israel removed all security personnel from the site, so that even their presence would not offend the worshippers. Or maybe it would only be enough if Israel would turn Har HaBayis and all of Yerushalayim over to the Muslims, dismantle the blockade around Gaza as Erdogan demands and give the Palestinians the state they have been clamoring for and spilling blood for, no matter the price.
Of course, it is well known from previous rounds of peacemaking that Mahmoud Abbas has made it perfectly clear that even that would not be enough. No final status agreement could be considered final until Israeli formally recognized a Palestinian “right of return,” one that would encompass many more than a symbolic few.
Maybe it would not be enough to satisfy them, unless the state of Israel would (chas v’shalom) cease to exist, and…
As such, one can understand why the demonstration was held in Istanbul on Sunday, even after Israel had already given in.
They aren’t the ones who didn’t get it. It is the civilized world who doesn’t get it.