The recent conviction in an international court of three Rwandans of genocide for their media activity in inciting the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in 1994 should serve to remind us of what Jewish religious tradition has to say about words: they can be powerful and dangerous things.
That's true, though, not only when they are used to directly call for murder. Even subtleties -- a unusual turn of phrase, a well-placed emphasis, a choice of adjective, a pointed omission -- can turn an otherwise innocent sentence into a verbal dagger. And, in the hands of the media, into a weapon of mass destruction.
It might seem something of an overreach to proceed from that observation to what might have been an entirely innocent error on the part of The New York Times on December 2. But, innocent or not, the paper's misstatement in an important story that day belies its at-first-glance insignificance. In fact, it turns history on its head, never a harmless thing to do.
The article concerned the so-called "Geneva Accord," the independent effort of a group of Israelis and Palestinians to frame a peace agreement, despite the lack of their respective compatriots' -- or governments' -- sanction.
A box labeled "highlights" accompanied the article, and encased within it were the unofficial proposal's main points. Among them, that the plan would split Jerusalem into two capitals, one of Israel, the other of a Palestinian state. And that Israel would withdraw to its 1967 borders and dismantle some major settlements (allowing others to stay in Palestinian territories under Israeli protection). The proposal included, too, a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and (at least in theory) an end of violence and incitement against Israel. Also included among the highlights of the plan was the following paragraph:
"Israel would cede sovereignty over a flash point shrine in Jerusalem's old city known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The site would get international monitors. Israel would retain control of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site."
Did you miss it? Read it again.
For starters, ever so subtly, the quote implies a nonexistent balance: the Temple Mount, of disputed status (with, presumably, equally valid claims on both sides), will be ceded to a Palestinian state, but "Judaism's holiest site" (in a clear tilt to the Jewish State) will be retained by Israel.
To imply equal Jewish and Islamic claims to the "flash point shrine" is to distort reality itself.
News flash: The Temple Mount was where King Solomon built the first of two Holy Jewish Temples nearly 1500 years before Mohammed was born. That is why the site has been called the Temple Mount for the past several millennia. To imply equal Jewish and Islamic claims to the "flash point shrine" is to distort reality itself.
And news flash II: It is that site, not the Western Wall adjacent to and below it, that has the distinction of being Judaism's holiest place. The Temple Mount, according to the Jewish religious tradition, is the very source of the holiness that imbues Jerusalem and from there emanates throughout the rest of what the Bible calls the land of the Jewish people.
To be sure, when Israel reunified Jerusalem in 1967, it declared that it had no intention of interfering with the operation of the mosques that had established themselves on the quintessentially Jewish site. (Quite a contrast, that, with Islamic treatment of suspected once-Islamic shrines now turned Hindu holy places.) And in fact, although Israeli police have occasionally had to empty the mosques when Muslim worshippers saw fit to stone Jewish worshippers at the Wall below, those Islamic places of worship have operated unmolested ever since.
As it happens, in fact, Jewish religious law doesn't even allow Jews to gratuitously ascend the Temple Mount today.
But the reason for that prohibition is instructive. So holy is the spot to Judaism, that only when the Jewish Messiah arrives will Jews be permitted to once again step on the hallowed ground where their distant forbears worshipped.
And so, whatever agreements might one day be reached between governments regarding the status of the Temple Mount, or Jerusalem, whatever political compromise might come to be embraced, one fact must never be obscured or forgotten: The Jewish people do not, indeed cannot, relinquish their soul-bond with the land, the city and the site that the Jewish religion considers deeded them by God Himself.
After the destruction of the second Holy Temple, the Talmud relates, Rabbi Akiva saw a fox emerge from where the Holy of Holies had stood. He responded by laughing. Challenged, he explained that the prophets had foretold both the Temple's destruction, complete with foxes trampling the holy ground, and the Jewish people's exile, as well as the eventual return of the Jews to their land through the messianic redemption. Witnessing the extent of the former's fulfillment, he explained, reassured him that the latter would no less fully come to pass.
That day, we Jews of faith believe, will indeed arrive. We do not seek to hasten it by force, but rather by virtue and merits. But it will come.
Until it does, though, whatever political concessions might be deemed necessary to protect lives, no one should be permitted to deny what is perhaps the most ancient and legitimate claim of any people on any piece of land.
Not even The New York Times.
(c) AM ECHAD RESOURCES