The day after a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect, ending 11 days of mutual bombardment that resulted in the deaths of some 250 Palestinians, 10 Israelis, and three Asian workers, mainstream Israeli commentators piled on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of launching the war for his own personal benefit.
The pundits noted that Israel’s pulverizing assault on the Gaza Strip began after the leader of the next-largest party in parliament had been handed the mandate to form a new government – one which would end Netanyahu’s twelve-year run as premier and strip him of the immunity he needs to stay out of prison, if he is ultimately convicted of the multiple corruption charges for which he is currently on trial.
All along, Netanyahu was equipped with the tools he needed to trigger a war that would preserve his control over the government.
In the week that led up to the heinous hostilities of the last two weeks, intense conflict erupted between Palestinians and Jews in occupied East Jerusalem at two locations: the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes, to be replaced by Jewish settlers, and on the Noble Sanctuary, the esplanade of Islamic holy sites at the heart of the Old City.
In both cases, the Jewish groups who successfully escalated tensions into a wider war were the political partners Netanyahu had only just managed to get elected to parliament for the first time in thirty-three years: the Kahanists – Israel’s most racist and lethally violent political movement, which was responsible for murdering more than fifty Palestinian civilians in terror attacks over the past fifty years.
As ethnic tensions reached a boiling point, Kahanist leaders stoked the fury of Jewish supremacists across the country, directing them to vent their rage at Palestinian citizens of Israel, now protesting against the expulsions in East Jerusalem. On May 13, just hours after ferocious mobs of Jewish extremists stormed through mixed Jewish-Arab cities around Israel, sparking the worst race riots in Israeli history, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warned Netanyahu that Itamar Ben Gvir – the leader of the Kahanist Jewish Power party who he had just helped get elected to parliament – was “bringing about a Jewish intifada.”
The injustices and absurdities regularly inflicted on the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah were succinctly captured in a video that went viral this May. It showed an exchange between a local Palestinian woman and a US-born Israeli settler who has been squatting in her family home for the past ten years with the full support of Israeli authorities.
The settler, 41-year-old Yaakov Fauci, can be heard from across a grassy yard, denying culpability in any crime. “Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this,” he exclaimed. When the Palestinian resident, Mona el-Kurd, responded by shouting, “You are stealing my house!” Fauci sheepishly replied, “If I don’t steal it, someone else is gonna steal it.” In a subsequent interview with Vice News ostensibly aimed at damage control, Fauci calmly framed his dispossession of Palestinians as “a necessary evil.”
But Fauci is not naive, and his occupation of the el-Kurd home is no accident; Fauci has been a steadfast supporter of the Kahanists for decades, and still participates in the messianic movement that openly aims transform Israel into a Jewish theocracy after ethnically cleansing its entire Palestinian population.
The Israeli government and the US State Department designated Kahanist groups as terrorist organizations a quarter-century ago, after one of the movement’s former parliamentary candidates, Baruch Goldstein, committed the worst act of mass murder ever by an Israeli civilian, massacring twenty-nine men and boys praying at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994.
After another supporter of Kahanists murdered four Palestinian citizens of Israel (two Christian and two Muslim) in the northern town of Shefa Amr in 2005, Fauci and two other North American-born Kahanists travelled to the scene on the one-month anniversary of the slaughter, and plastered posters honoring the murderer around the town. The poster featured a photograph of the killer, Eden Natan-Zada, posing with a book authored by the messianic figure who founded the movement, arch-racist American-Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane. It was accompanied by a verse from the Psalms 58:11: “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.”
Fauci and the others were arrested by police and charged with inciting a rebellion. Three years later, however, an Israeli judge dropped the charges, decreeing that their actions were protected in Israel by the freedom of expression, adding, “We are not a third world country.”
Hebrew-language news reports and Fauci’s own social media posts show that his fervent support for the Kahanist movement has not abated over the years. One decade-old photo of Fauci shows him standing next to a grinning Itamar Ben Gvir, now leader of the Jewish Power party, and wearing a shirt that calls for the release of Yigal Amir, the Israeli who was inspired by the Kahane movement to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, because he had signed a tentative peace agreement with the Palestinians.
To this day, Fauci – referred to by his friends as the Kalashnikover Rabbi, in reference to the rifle – bears a sticker emblazoned with the infamous Kahanist slogan “Kahane was right” on his fridge in the Sheikh Jarrah home he occupies. Unsurprisingly, Fauci’s Facebook posts show that he also supported Kahanist slates in the most recent Israeli elections, at both the national and municipal levels.
Arieh King and Yonatan Yosef – the Kahanist city councillors of Jerusalem, key members of the mayor’s governing coalition – have for years led the settler efforts to displace Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah. Yosef can be seen in another video that has gone viral in recent weeks, confidently explaining that he aims to make not only Sheikh Jarrah, but all of Jerusalem devoid of non-Jews – a policy championed by Rabbi Kahane when he was a member of the Israel parliament in the mid-1980s: “We take house after house. All this area will be a Jewish neighborhood. We are not finished the job. We are going to the next neighborhood. And after that, we’ll go more.”
Two decades ago, Yosef was arrested at the Kahanist religious seminary in Jerusalem, where he then resided, on suspicion that he was stockpiling automatic rifles and ammunition, and was plotting to use these to commit terrorist attacks against Palestinians. Yosef, grandson of a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and nephew of the current Chief Rabbi – managed to avoid a lengthy jail sentence after an Israeli government minister gave him advanced notice of the plans to arrest him – a time window long enough to dispose of any incriminating evidence.
In July 2014, Yosef’s running-mate Arieh King incited a crowd of religious Jews to maim and murder Palestinians, using religious jargon to incite deadly racism. Hours later, a group of religious Jews kidnapped a Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, outside his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shu’afat, forced flammable liquid down his throat and burned him to death from the inside out. The gruesome murder brought tensions to a boiling point and helped trigger a 51-day-long military escalation between Israel’s military and armed factions in Gaza.
In response to a query from The Grayzone, King claimed he has no connection to the Kahane movement. However, he admitted that he gave a speech at a memorial event to honor Kahane. King claimed that his repeated calls to perform acts of Phineas amount to nothing more than calling upon Jews to visit the city of Jerusalem; he did not explain how simply visiting the Jerusalem was in any way comparable to the act of Phineas he referred to: plunging his spear through the penis of an Israelite man and a non-Israelite woman while they were in the middle of having sexual intercourse, killing them both.
After weeks of restrictions against Palestinian movement in the Old City of Jerusalem coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan, tensions finally reached a boiling point. On the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr this May 9, Palestinian families celebrating in Jerusalem were violently dispersed from the Damascus Gate at the Old City’s entrance.
The following day was the modern Israeli holiday of Jerusalem Day, commemorating Israel’s conquest of the eastern half of the city in the 1967 Six Day War. For years, thousands of West Bank settlers and nationalist-religious Jews from inside Israel have marked the day by marching through the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods and belting out racist slogans, including, “Death to Arabs!”
In their outrage at the constant provocations, Palestinians converged in large numbers the following day at the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram al-Sharif compound, at the heart of the old city, to restate their claim to the holy site. Israeli police forces did not permit the Jewish ultra-nationalists to enter the compound as originally planned, but they stormed the compound and the Al-Aqsa mosque itself, using stun grenades to clear worshippers from the site, wounding over two hundred.
The desecration of the third-holiest site in the Muslim world could not go unanswered. The following day, Hamas responded to the provocation by launching over a hundred rockets at Israel. From there, Israel retaliated with missiles of its own, and in the days that followed, the devastation wrought on Gaza ballooned to frightening proportions.
But the timeline clearly suggests that the outburst of bloodshed began after Israeli forces attacked the Muslim shrines, while at the Western Wall plaza below, thousands of religious Jews who aspire to demolish those shrines and build a Jewish temple upon their ruins danced and sang songs calling for killing Palestinians.
According to the Israeli narrative, however, Muslim fears about the intentions of Jewish groups on the Haram al-Sharif are completely overblown. From their perspective, the Islamic Waqf is paranoid about visits to the site by religious Jews, who only wish to occasionally experience proximity to the site of their former temples, destroyed thousands of years ago, and the Foundation Stone that they believe to be the epicenter of the planet, if not the entire universe.
What then, of the multitude of Jewish groups whose entire agenda centers around changing the status of the site, transforming it from a Muslim holy site to a Jewish one? These groups are dead serious about their desire to construct a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain, and they have been increasingly active in recent years.
Israeli pundits have minimized the danger that these groups represent, claiming they are an ineffectual and politically marginalized minority whose bark is much worse than their bite. The dismissal of the activists agitating for a Jewish temple on the Haram a-Sharif would be more convincing, however, if the leadership of this modern-day Jewish Templar movement – its top lawyer, visionary architect, and chief rabbi, respectively – were not precisely the same people who have already served jail time for past attempts to take over the holy site by force.
In 1980, Jewish Defense League leader Baruch Ben Yosef plotted with his mentor, the arch-racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, to blow up the Dome of the Rock, using a LAW shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. The two were arrested before they could put their plan into practice, and imprisoned without charges for six months. It was the first time that the draconian anti-terrorist protocol known as administrative detention had been used against Jews since the earliest days of the state.
Ben Yosef spent the mid-1980s in the United States, where he was born and raised. According to the FBI, he murdered two US citizens during this period. When the US Department of Justice began to build a case against him, Ben Yosef fled to Israel and resumed his campaign to conquer the Haram a-Sharif.
In 1993, Ben Yosef founded the Temple Mount Yeshiva; its activities consisted of him taking groups of students up to the Haram a-Sharif and delivering religious lectures onsite. As he explained to the Jerusalem Post at the time, the choice of location was neither accidental nor incidental. “We have verses in the Torah that say any place we put our foot on is ours,” Ben Yosef said. “Walking constitutes a conquest.”
Israeli security forces eventually arrested Ben Yosef again in December of that year, along with several of his students and other followers of Meir Kahane, when it emerged that they were smuggling arms into the country and plotting to use them to attack Palestinians.
Earning a law degree at Bar Ilan University alongside Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir – whom he later represented in court – Ben Yosef continuously challenged Israeli government in the Supreme Court in the 1990s, demanding that the Templars be permitted to pray and to slaughter a goat at Haram al-Sharif, to renew the Pascal sacrifice. At that time, the High Court accepted the position of Labor and Likud governments, that permitting these ceremonies would constitute an incredible provocation and must be prevented, in order to maintain public order.
Before the justices, Ben Yosef argued that prohibiting prayer and Jewish rituals at the site constituted religious discrimination – violations of his clients’ civil rights. But outside the courtroom, Ben Yosef was not shy about his ulterior apocalyptic agenda. “Think about what we face when we boot those Arabs off the Temple Mount. We face a jihad with the entire Muslim world,” Ben Yosef said in 1993. “I’m willing to go for it, because I know that that’s what God wants.”
For the next two decades, Ben Yosef would continue to lead the Jewish Templars as the chairman of the TNU’AH L’KINUN HaMIKDASH, the Movement to Prepare the Temple. Today, he still makes regular visits to the Haram a-Sharif, and provides critical court defense to a new generation of young Templar troublemakers.
While Ben Yosef and other American-born followers of Meir Kahane attacked Palestinians and plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, a group of native-born Israelis – sons of some of the settlement movement’s most prominent families – initiated an assassination campaign across the occupied West Bank.
In a coordinated series of car-bombings, Jewish Underground members blew the legs off of Nablus Mayor Bassam Shakaa and Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalaf; a third bomb was discovered and dismantled before it could maim the mayor of El Bireh, another West Bank city. Later, members of the group attacked a college campus in Hebron, tossing a grenade into the building and spraying the students with machine gun fire, killing three and wounding thirty three.
Another planned attack by the group, halted just in time, would have left dead five busloads of Palestinian worshippers, returning from holiday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque. In the wake of that attempted massacre, Shin Bet interrogators uncovered the group’s most outrageous plot yet: a plan to lay bombs around the outside of the Dome of the Rock and cause the structure to collapse in on itself. The man who masterminded that conspiracy and collected all the necessary explosives to execute it was one of the founders of the settlement of Ofra: Yehuda Etsion.
Despite their crimes – or perhaps because of them – Etsion and the rest of the Jewish Underground received strong support from the settlement movement. Then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir even voted in favor of a bill that would have outright exonerated the mass murderers. In the end, they were sentenced to relatively short jail terms, and these were cut shorter by order of then-Israeli Presidents Ezer Weizman and Chaim Herzog. Etsion never expressed regret for his role in the Underground, and as soon as he was set free, he quickly returned to his passion project, calling for Jews to Judaify the Haram a-Sharif.
Today Etsion works with an accredited Israeli architect, sketching out the Templars’ grand vision for the holy mount, the city of Jerusalem, Israel as a whole, and territories well beyond. According to Etsion’s master plan, not only will the holy domes be demolished and the Muslim residents evicted from the Old City along with the al-Aqsa mosque, but the Temple mount itself will be massively expanded, to make space for all Israeli governmental functions to be transferred to the site.
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel has been obsessed with the Temple Mount since he was ordered to guard it as a young soldier in the Israeli army, just hours after it was conquered from the Jordanian Legion in the 1967 Six Day War. In the years that followed, he served as the chief rabbi of Yamit, Israel’s largest settlement in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
When the army evacuated the colony as part of a peace deal with Egypt, Ariel was briefly arrested for exhorting Israeli soldiers to refuse their orders. The military narrowly avoided a bloodbath when the holdouts grudgingly agreed to leave the final bunker where they had barricaded themselves, heeding the advice of the only rabbi they held in higher regard than Ariel – his running-mate in the previous elections to the Israeli parliament, Meir Kahane.
Once Yamit was gone for good, Ariel turned his attention back to the Temple Mount. In 1983, he was the religious authority behind an armed attempt by dozens of Israeli soldiers to take over the Haram a-Sharif and turn it into a Jewish settlement. While a small cell of soldiers used spades and other digging equipment to tunnel into the southern wall of the Temple Mount – hoping to burrow through the Hulda Gates and onto the Haram a-Sharif – dozens of other soldiers laid in wait with Rabbi Ariel at his home in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. But before the signal could be given to rally the troops on the Temple Mount, Israeli security forces busted into Ariel’s home and arrested the plotters.
The first judge that ordered their detention was convinced that they planned to spark a holy war. However, the case was soon handed over to another justice that was willing to accept their incredulous excuses. Ariel and the soldiers, who had been caught with enough weapons to carry out a terror attack, were let off with barely a slap on the wrist.
The following year, the Israeli government scrubbed Ariel’s record and gave him its seal of approval, granting official standing to his new organization, The Temple Institute. Since then, the Institute has paid to produce nearly every vessel necessary to restart the sacrificial service to Yahweh, if only a new temple would magically materialize on the mount.
Recognizing that there is currently no consensus on razing the domes and de-Muslimizing the mount, the Institute attempts to convince Israeli Jews that for the Jewish people to return to God’s good graces, they must rebuild the temple – allegedly the only possible place on the planet that will satisfy the demands of this omnipresent deity. To that end, the institute receives funding from multiple ministries to educate Israeli youth on the temple’s merits. If their parents don’t despise the Muslim presence on the mount with sufficient zeal, perhaps the next generation of Jews will be more willing to wipe out their shrines.
These three men – Ben Yosef, Etsion and Ariel – are far from alone in plotting attacks on al Aqsa in recent decades. They are also far from the only eliminationists involved; nearly the entire caste of priests trained by Ariel’s Institute to officiate at Templar rituals are either longtime devotees of Kahane, or members of his family.
For years, the Jewish Templars were nothing more than a curiosity, a minority within a minority, a fringe sect that could only hope to see its fantasy realized by means of physical force. When Israel withdrew its settlements and soldiers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, however, the religious zealots realized that they would never be able to implement their vision of a Greater Israel without the support of secular nationalists, who represent the vast majority of the Israeli electorate and still hold most of the key positions in the Israeli media, academia and cultural spheres.
Throughout the past fifteen years, the Templar movement has refined its messaging, enabling it to expand its base of support well beyond its messianic core constituency. Although the movement’s ultimate objectives is the transformation of Israel into an absolute monarchy, where the laws of the Torah and Talmud would be enforced on pain of capital punishment, the Temple movement leaders only admit to these grand objectives at their internal meetings. In conversations with non-religious Jews, its leadership harps on the perceived insult to Jewish pride represented by the continued existence of an Islamic waqf on the Temple Mount – or as they frame it, the beating heart of the Jewish people.
And their efforts have borne fruit. Nowadays, average Israelis are much more likely to view as disrespectful the sight of Muslim boys kicking a soccer ball around the only green space available to them in Jerusalem’s Old City, or Muslim men facing away from the Dome of the Rock as they kneel in prayer and bow in the direction of Mecca. Somehow, large swaths of secular Jews have become convinced that it is much more spiritual to slaughter animals en masse, as the Torah’s authors intended. The daily carnage will total over ten thousand animals at a time on Jewish holidays, says the Temple Institute, noting that in the time of the Second Temple, the beasts’ blood would splash about the holy esplanade, rising almost to the level of the priests’ knees.
In the last decade, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, activists closely linked to the Kahanist movement like Moshe Feiglin and Yehudah Glick have convinced increasing numbers of their fellow Likud lawmakers to take up the cause of the Templars. By counterintuitively coupling their demands for Jewish sovereignty on the mount with support for libertarian policies, like the legalization of marijuana – once likely burned as incense in the temple itself, and today liberally imbibed by settler youth who are the Templar movement’s strongest supporters – Feiglin and Glick have convinced even sensimilia-smoking secular MKs from their party to make provocative visits to the site.
Now, Israeli society has become witness to the absurd situation of an openly gay Minister of Internal Security, Amir Ohana making a religious pilgrimage to the Haram a-Sharif, and encouraging other ultra-nationalists to do the same. If the Temple movement messianists get their way, Ohana would be put to death by stoning for his blasphemy before god.
Donald Trump’s term was also a boon to Jewish annexationists, who can now can proudly proclaim that even if Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are not recognized by almost any other country at the UN, they are wholly supported by the world’s most powerful nation. And while the most commented-on clauses in Trump’s Peace to Prosperity plan gives the president’s blessing to the proposed Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank, his so-called “Deal of the Century” also broke ranks with international consensus on the Temple Mount, expressing support for Jewish prayer at the site.
With the patronage of the Trump administration, and under Amir Ohana’s aegis, Israeli police no longer prevent religious Jews from uttering prayers at the site, even in a quorum – breaking with the status quo that had lasted half a century. What Baruch Ben Yosef, Yehuda Etsion and Yisrael Ariel – the most infamous and influential figures of the Templar movement – failed to do with bombs and rockets, they are gradually achieving step-by-step, with their salami strategy.
It would be one thing for liberal Israeli Jews to express their full faith in Israel’s security services and their ability to prevent any planned disturbances at the Haram a-Sharif on the part of Jewish Templar groups. It would be another to dismiss the declarations of backbench lawmakers, and to assume that cooler heads will prevail in the cabinet, confident that the prime minister will act pragmatically on the mount. But dismissing the concerns of Muslims who fear the rising influence of Jewish groups who openly aim to destroy their holy shrines is to dismiss easily available evidence staring Israeli society in the face.
Indeed, the Waqf might very well be minimizing the danger posed by the Templars. Beside their roles as leaders of the Templar movement, Baruch Ben Yosef and Yisrael Ariel do double duty as senior officials of the nascent Sanhedrin, a recent reincarnation of the ancient assembly of rabbis that were supreme religious authority of Jewish people in the Land of Israel during the era of Roman rule.
On September 9, 2015, US journalist Dan Cohen and I recorded Yisrael Ariel speaking to Ben Yosef and the rest of the assembled Sanhedrin secretariat at the Diaspora Yeshiva on the southern slopes of Mount Zion.
At this public meeting – to which the mainstream media had been invited, but did not bother to cover – Ariel outlined his maximalist doctrine, which goes far beyond the Haram a-Sharif. Gone were the platitudes about a future Jewish temple being “a house of prayer for all the nations”. In measured sentences with occasional pauses for dramatic effect, Ariel launched into a genocidal tirade calling for the assassination of then-US President Barack Obama, urged Jewish armies to conquer the rest of the Middle East, and demanded the slaying of every local that refused to reject Islam and Christianity and embrace Judaism’s vassal religion, called the Noahide contract:
“This is what the Torah commanded us… ‘When thou drawest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it’. What is meant by ‘peace’? Maimonides says that they must agree to follow the Seven Noahide Laws… Meaning, you ask them, ‘Do you follow the Seven Laws? If so, we will allow you to live.’ If not, you kill all of their males, by sword. You only leave the women. How do you leave them? They must all agree to follow the Seven Laws. And that is how you impose the Seven Laws on that city. We will conquer Iraq, Turkey. We will get to Iran, too. We will impose the Seven Noahide Laws on all of these places… You say, ‘I call upon you in peace.’ If they raise the flag [of surrender] and say, ‘From now on there is no more Christianity, no more Islam,’ the mosques and the Christian spires and their crosses come down, ‘from now on we follow the Seven Noahide Laws.’”
The following year, ministers and members of Knesset rewarded Ariel with a standing ovation as he entered the parliament hall where MK Glick had organized a conference to honor the Temple movement’s leading activists. Rising to the podium, Ariel bestowed a prize on his young protege, Raphael Morris, the Templars’ rising star.
Morris – who prominently displays a framed photograph of Meir Kahane at the entrance to his home – thanked Ariel for his leadership and delivered a short speech in which he echoed his rabbi’s expansionist ambitions: “We can conquer not only the Temple Mount, but Jordan and Syria, as well.”
None among the who’s who government officials sitting in the front row batted an eyelash.
Yaakov Fauci, Yonatan Yosef and Yisrael Ariel did not respond to requests for comment from The Grayzone.
Leaked emails reviewed by The Grayzone reveal possibly criminal plot by pro-Leave elites to sabotage…
Ukrainian academic Olga Baysha details Volodymyr Zelensky's embrace of widely loathed neoliberal policies, his repression…
The word "Iraq" was not uttered once during the three hour funeral of Madeleine Albright,…