It doesn’t matter whether Yossi Beilin cares about Joseph’s Tomb. Nablus Arabs, not differentiating between the more or less sacred, are sure he does, that all Jews do. That’s precisely why last week they torched the tomb.


Their arson immediately followed renewed IDF permission for Jews to revisit the shrine, three years after it was first devastated amid scenes of unbridled savagery  -which should have wrenched the heart of every Jew, observant or not.


The recidivist deliberate desecration is a timely reminder of what could happen on the Temple Mount and the Western Wall below, were Beilin’s “Geneva Initiative” ever implemented. Retreat from the Jewish holy of holies would be construed as epitomizing lack of resolve and weakness, and the weak can be attacked with impunity.


No international observers and peacekeepers could cool Arab xenophobic ardor or curtail the exclusionary and expansionist zeal to violently drive out the infidel. Past experience illustrates this undeniably.


There’s nothing new in Beilin’s notion of shared guardianship or foreign supervision over the most volatile spot on earth. Jerusalem had already been overseen by an objective, benign internationally-sanctioned authority. It proved a recipe for anarchy, riots and slaughter. On better days, when no blood was shed, plain intolerance, harassment and humiliation were rampant.


Before we attained national sovereignty (which some of us are eager to lose in Jerusalem all over again), the British ruled the holy roost, having secured a mandate from the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations. That was when Muslims began to evince emotional attachment to the Western Wall, where they claimed the prophet Mohammed tethered his steed Burak. Jewish wailing was tolerated there occasionally following remittance of an exorbitant fee for the privilege, providing Muslim sensibilities weren’t offended.


The problem was that there was no telling what would give offense.


Thus in 1919 the Wakf declared that wood benches used by the old and infirm, were an insufferable desecration of Burak. The British promptly removed them. Meanwhile Arabs began to regularly drive  cattle and laden donkeys right through crowds of Jewish congregants. A muezzin was dispatched in 1920 to sound his loudest chants precisely during Jewish services.


Then the Wakf stirred a fuss over the shofar blown on holy days in front of the Wall. Eager to please and dispense international justice, the mandatory authorities outlawed the annoying blasts, beginning on Rosh Hashana, 1921.


Youths from the Revisionist Movement made it a point to sound the shofar at the Wall at the end of each Yom Kippur, judging this wasn’t exclusively a religious issue but one of Jewish national self-respect. It was no mean feat, considering that in the name of their international mandate the British infiltrated undercover agents into the narrow alleyways adjacent to the Wall to apprehend potential transgressors with shofars in hand. To outsmart them, a number of horns were smuggled each time, usually secreted inside young women’s bras. On hand were always several trained shofar-blowers, in case one was nabbed by detectives.


Between 1921-47 not a single Yom Kippur concluded without the illegal shofar heard at Judaism’s holiest site. In fact, a new ritual was born. Reb Aryeh Levin, spiritual patron of underground prisoners, and the chief rabbis marched to the central Jerusalem jail after the close of each Day of Atonement with food to break the fast of shofar-blowers, always arrested for their dastardly deed.


But the Wakf’s shrillest outcry was raised in 1928 over a flimsy partition put up to segregate male and female worshippers at the Wall. The British lost no time to rectify the situation and tear down the offensive screen. Jewish opinion of all political shades was outraged, but the premeditated disruptions at the Wall grew increasingly violent, till trumped-up tales of Jewish takeover attempts at the Temple Mount sent Arabs rioting countrywide on August 23, 1929. The bloodbath lasted for an entire week.


The rampages began in Jerusalem but the most notorious massacre was perpetrated in Hebron, where 67 men, women and children were hideously hacked to death in homicidal frenzy and the centuries-old Jewish community was dispossessed. Smaller Jewish enclaves in Gaza, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus were likewise dislodged.


The final verdict on the atrocities was handed down in 1931 when a League of Nations committee also prohibited the shofar.


History needn’t reenact itself in minute details. The past isn’t a precise blueprint for the future but it’s a good enough indication in the absence of a thorough change of heart and while fanatic hate still thrives uncompromisingly on the Arab side. The wanton destruction at Joseph’s Tomb testifies that it does.  All of Beilin’s faith, charming naivete and goodwill couldn’t avert a bloody sequel of the time the international community first kept Jerusalem’s peace.  

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