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Canadian Talya Pardo puts into perspective some of the latest global headlines involving Israel by explaining how they reflect the challenges Israel has faced since becoming an independent state.

Photo Credit: Amit Shisal (One System)/Channel 2 News

Another week in Israel highlighted the extremes we constantly face – elation and mourning, praise and rejection, and this week has been no different. If anything, the events of the past week have been microcosms to the challenges Israel has always faced on the world stage and at home. 

It started with our first medal, a bronze in judo, won by Yarden Gerbi, the first Olympic medal for Israel since 2008.  Joy and pride suffused us all. But before our next medal could be earned a few days later, a media flurry erupted over the judo match between our Ori Sasson and Egyptian Islam el-Shehady in which el-Shehady was defeated and then subsequently refused to shake Sasson’s hand.

The incident was seen as the model of the Israeli experience in the Middle East. The symbolism of Sasson’s hand outstretched and rebuffed resonated deeply among Jews worldwide.

Lest we allow this representative display of the denial of the Arab world regarding Israel’s legitimacy overshadow Sasson’s victory, it’s important to turn our focus to his success – recipient of the second Olympic medal for Israel, the first time in twelve years Israel won two medals in one Olympic year.

“You showed the true face of Israel, its beautiful face,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“We were excited with you and we are proud of you,” said President Reuven Rivlin. “You brought our country honor when you walked up to your Egyptian opponent to shake his hand. All of Egypt is talking about you.” 

Sasson’s response to an offensive public refusal such as that of his opponent was dignified and commendable. When it was clear the respect he offered would not be returned, he turned with his head held high and shoulders straight and walked away, moving on, as Israel continues to do on the grander scale.

Fast forward another few days to this weekend, leaving the excitement of the Olympic medals and sports behind. The focus turned towards a day and a place that lies at the core of our history, an existential issue above all others: The Temple Mount. 

The holy fast day of Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples fell on Sunday. The Western Wall plaza was filled with thousands of Jews mourning some of the worst days in our history when our most holy place was destroyed, our people conquered and our homeland overrun by foreign invaders.

What were we met with simultaneously? On the Temple Mount, Arabs began rioting. They rioted because we won’t forget our history and our heritage. They rioted because Jews had the temerity to ascend the complex and utter prayers. Those 20 Jews who were the “cause” of the riots were subsequently removed from the Temple Mount and further visitations barred for the day, showing the Arabs that their displays of harassment and violence were justified, that all they had to do was choose anger, hate and violence to the purported “offense” of Jewish presence and we would acquiesce.

The Temple Mount (archives)

The Temple Mount (archives) Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

Upon reflection, I asked myself if this is the reaction we should have when it comes to the Temple Mount? Is this not another example of the microcosm of the Israeli experience in the Middle East? Rioting and violence puts pressure on us to leave. We left Gaza on the premise that if we would just leave, there would be peace, that it was our very presence that was the cause of the violence. What did that bring us? It gifted us with nothing but more violence and terror.

What do we show them when we agree to walk away in the face of their rioting and harassment on the Temple Mount? We show them that it works. We show them that all they need to do is behave like tantruming toddlers and they’ll get their wish, we will leave and walk away.

 I’ll be the first to commend Sasson for his response on sports stage and in most situations that is the choice to make. I choose that route myself often on social media when I am buffeted by verbal assaults of hatred and lies. But when it comes to our holy place, when it comes to our very presence in our own homeland, I don’t believe that this is the answer.

Acquiescing to violence on the Temple Mount needs to stop. Barring Jews from visiting and praying on the Temple Mount needs to stop. The childish tantrums need to be met with the age-old parental tactic of showing the child that their fits won’t get them what they want.

This may sound simplistic, but I don’t see that what is being done now is working. Riots and harassment are more and more commonplace because they see that it works. Our Temple Mount is too important to walk away from. The Temple Mount is not a judo mat; it is one of our deepest physical links to our history, our heritage and our identity. It is of existential importance to us as a nation. This is not the simple refusal of a handshake. This is a denial of our very existence. We cannot turn the other cheek anymore.