Monday, Jun 10, 2024

The Jewish Hold on the Old City Will Only Grow Stronger

Mordechai “Motti” Yogev is currently in his second term as a member of the Knesset, having served in the Nineteenth Knesset as well as the current one. He is a member of the Bayit Yehudi party, which marks him as a sworn right-winger, but he was associated with the right long before he joined the party. Since the end of his military service, Yogev has been known as a public figure.

Motti Yogev wears a kippah serugah, but his views are very close to those of the chareidi community. He was one of the “good” members of the Shaked Committee, which was formed during the previous Knesset to deal with the issue of conscription for yeshiva students. I have labeled him “good” because, in the course of our discussion, it became clear that Yogev is in favor of distinguishing between the “good” and the “bad.” Perhaps this is part of the military terminology to which he is accustomed.

Yogev holds the rank of colonel and is now a member of the reserves. Born in 1956, he grew up in Haifa and learned at Mercaz Harav. In the army, he served in two elite units, Sayeret Shaked and Sayeret Matkal. During the Disengagement ten years ago, he protested vociferously against the expulsion. He was even injured in one of the clashes between the Jews of Gush Katif and the soldiers and police officers who came to evict them. The courts recently ruled that he was to be compensated for the injury.

I know Yogev from the halls of the Knesset as a serious, diligent, reliable, and well-liked person. One of my tests of character for members of the Knesset is something that I call “the Minchah test.” There are some kippah-wearing members of the Knesset who are never seen in the shul in the building. While I can understand that they may find other venues for Shacharis or Maariv, where else can they possibly daven Minchah? Yogev, though, passes this test with flying colors. He is one of the regular attendees at the Knesset shul.

Bolstering the Deterrence Factor

I found Motti Yogev in the Knesset this past Sunday, even though Sunday tends to be a quiet day at the Knesset. His staff told me that he was in a rush to attend a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, of which he was a member, and that he was scheduled to tour the Old City of Yerushalayim after the session. Indeed, his visit to the Old City was widely reported in the media that evening. Earlier in the day, Yogev agreed to speak with me in the evening, but when the time for our discussion arrived, he was still quite busy and informed me that his time was limited.

I began by asking him about the meeting he had attended earlier that day.

Did anything interesting happen in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee?

“The meeting today was part of a series of preparatory sessions before the vote on the defense budget. At the session today, we were briefed on the intelligence assessment of the threats facing the State of Israel today, and the future threats that it is likely to face in the coming years. This assessment, of course, should affect our position in the debate over the defense budget. That was today’s session.”

Was anything said about the campaign of terror, the rash of stabbings and the attacks in Yerushalayim?

“Almost nothing, except for a brief mention of its connection to the Palestinian Authority.”


“Because the discussion today dealt with the broader picture, rather than the events currently unfolding. We discussed our plans and goals.”

And you went from there to the Old City?

“Yes. I had a scheduled tour of the Old City.”

What happened on that tour?

“The tour focused on the Muslim Quarter, and there were two purposes to that. First, it was intended to encourage and strengthen the Jews who live there, including the youths, especially after the murders of Rabbi Nechemiah Lavi and Aharon Benita Hy”d. To that end, we visited four different Jewish-occupied compounds and met with the Jewish youths of the Old City. We made our way from the Flower Gate to the Kosel Hakotton, and from there we returned to Rechov Chagai and left the Old City through Shaar Sh’chem. Our second purpose was to get a firsthand look at the security situation there in preparation for tomorrow’s session of the Knesset Interior Committee. I wanted to be fully updated.”

Did you see tension and fear among the Jews who live in the Old City?

“I did see that.”

Are they reconsidering their decision to live in a veritable powder keg?

“They are very serious. They are experiencing difficulties and they are very solemn. At the same time, the families are declaring their belief that they are there to stay, and not only will they not leave, but they will strengthen their hold on the area. This is something that must be made clear to the Minister of Internal Security and to the police commanders as well. Let them internalize this and convey the message to the public as a whole: The Jewish hold on the Old City of Yerushalayim will only grow stronger. Soon, Jews will be able to walk around safely on all the streets of the Old City, in all of its gates and in all of its quarters.”

How will that be accomplished?

“With all the hatred that exists, there is a need for us to create clear deterrence using skilled forces. Right now, the security presence is being beefed up, but that is merely a stopgap measure. We have to use special units to arrest the bad people and to strengthen the good ones. We need to position our forces in places where they will have control. We need to augment the camera system, to deter would-be terrorists, and to deal with any case of terror, even when it is merely a minor incident. Anyone who spits at or curses a passerby must be arrested; a law must be passed to define those acts as crimes. We need to close down the shops of the Arabs who collaborate with or encourage terrorists, to hit them in their pockets as well. We must arrest their religious and political leaders, who engage in incitement and promote hatred, and we must confiscate their property.”

I gather that you believe in using force, rather than appeasement, to put an end to terror.

“We do need to promote calm at the same time. If you listen to the reports from my visit to the Old City, you will hear that; I said it clearly to all the reporters who interviewed me. When the prime minister called on Jewish and Arab public figures alike to refrain from visiting the Har Habayis, I gave him my backing; I agreed that there is no place for either side to be visiting the Har Habayis. It isn’t that we don’t want the Bais Hamikdosh to be rebuilt, but our religion prohibits us from going there, and in the current situation, it would be like igniting a flame that nothing has the power to extinguish. At this time, along with our fight to the finish against terror, it would be proper for us to do everything possible to calm down the raging tempers and to make every effort to restore calm in any way possible, including caring for the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem even as we fight terror.”

You have a wealth of experience. Among other things, you served as the head of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter.

“That is true, but that position didn’t make me responsible for security.”

But you did experience life in the Old City. Do you remember a situation like this ever occurring in the past?

“No. In my day, nothing like this ever happened. But we have lost our power of deterrence.”


“It is partially the result of the Arabs’ bottomless hatred and partially because of the waves of incitement and lies. And our failure to punish low-level terrorism such as cursing and spitting at Jewish passersby has led to a rise in terror. We didn’t take care of the leaders of the Islamic Movement and the main instigators of violence in time.”

“The Murderers Must Be Killed”

Motti Yogev lives in the community of Dolev, which is located in the Yehuda and Shomron region. Dolev is situated in western Binyamin, on a mountaintop overlooking the Nachal Dolev nature reserve to the north and Nachal Mazor to the south of the settlement. Dolev is located to the west of Ramallah and northeast of the city of Modiin. It is a 20-minute drive from Modiin and about 45 minutes from Yerushalayim or Tel Aviv. Like Talmon, Neveh Tzuf, and Neriah, Dolev is part of the eastern chain of communities in western Binyamin.

As noted above, Yogev previously headed the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter. Today, as a member of the Knesset, he heads the Lobby for Yerushalayim. In a recent radio interview, Yogev was asked by the host for his opinion about the recent provocative visit to the Har Habayis by his colleague, Uri Ariel. He evaded the question, responding only with a terse, “I don’t go up to the Har Habayis.” Indeed, Yogev follows the rulings of the poskim and refrains on principle from visiting the Har Habayis. In light of the current situation, he advises even those who do visit the site to refrain from doing so for the time being in order to restore calm, although he is careful to avoid antagonizing them. Even when I questioned him on the subject, he quickly moved on to a different topic.

You personally do not go up to the Har Habayis?

“I don’t go there,” Yogev said, and then changed the subject. “We didn’t deal with the instigators in time. They have been fomenting incitement and spreading lies about the Har Habayis, thereby agitating the Arabs in the street. Just yesterday, I experienced their campaign of incitement in a ‘small’ way, albeit in Yaffo and not in Yerushalayim. In Yaffo, a scratch was found on the window of a mosque, and a false rumor immediately spread that the students of a nearby yeshiva had broken the windows of the mosque, in essence declaring war on the mosque. The rumor spread like wildfire and stirred up passions in the Arab street, leading to the massive Arab demonstration that took place in Yaffo and posed a genuine danger to human life. The truth, meanwhile, is that none of the students of the yeshiva were even in the area. They were all at home on vacation since the day after Yom Kippur, and even when they were in the yeshiva, they never went anywhere near the mosque. But this lie was fed to the Arabs of Yaffo, and it led to rioting.

“That, on a smaller scale, is the same as what is happening on the Har Habayis. There, too, there is a campaign of incitement and false allegations that someone is trying to do something against the Muslims. The people who are spreading these lies should be located and imprisoned. There should be administrative arrests carried out until there is a law that makes it possible to take legal action against the instigators.”

What about the stabbing attacks?

“Anyone who attempts to commit a murder should be killed. We need to deal with the murderers and with those who send them. A terrorist should be killed when he commits his attack, his house should be razed, and his family should be deported. The criminal system needs to be a part of our war against terror.”

As the chairman of the Lobby for Yerushalayim….

“Just a minute. I am one of the two chairmen of the lobby.”

Very well. In any event, have you been able to accomplish anything for the sake of the city?

“This past year, we succeeded in obtaining a special budget for Yerushalayim. I arranged for a special forum to be held with Mayor Nir Barkat, the district commander, and the representatives of various communities in order to assist the Jewish residents of East Jerusalem. We met several times, and it resulted in budgetary allocations as well as a sense of security and protection for the Jews who live there. I worked with the mayor on strengthening the eastern neighborhoods of the city, and, at the same time, we talked about strengthening the community centers in the Arab neighborhoods. But, in truth, that is something that the mayor would have done on his own. He didn’t need us.”

If you were the mayor of Yerushalayim, would you do anything differently from what Nir Barkat is doing today?

“I would continue his policy of strengthening the Israeli government’s hold on all the neighborhoods of the city, and I would return all the government institutions and authorities to those areas, so that our lives together with our neighbors would be more secure and there would be less potential for terrorism.”

And if you were in Netanyahu’s position, what would you do?

“I would send units from the army into some of the Arab neighborhoods, such as the refugee camp of Shuafat.”

How would you prevent terror attacks in Yehuda and Shomron?

“It is necessary to increase the security presence and to carry out arrests. There are leaders behind these terrorists and then there are the perpetrators. They need to be arrested and placed on trial for their crimes. We cannot allow ourselves to be reluctant to do that.”

Confrontation in Yerushalayim

In recent days, Motti Yogev has been one of the people most widely covered by the Israeli media. This is not only because of his many positions and vast experience, but mainly because of his frequent visits to the Old City of Yerushalayim. His tour of the area several hours before our interview was the latest of a series of such visits, including one on Chol Hamoed. On one of Yogev’s visits to the Old City, he was filmed arguing with an Arab woman who had heaped verbal abuse on a group of Jewish youths. Yogev was then seen responding angrily to a group of police officers who sent the youths away rather than “dealing” with the woman.

This woman, parenthetically, is one of a group of older Arab women who have a history of intimidating Jewish visitors to the Har Habayis. They would scream, curse and spit at their victims, provoking them to the extent that it would be impossible for the Jews to remain calm. Then, when they responded to the harassment, the Arabs would be quick to disseminate video clips that seemed to show Jews harassing elderly Arab women, which only contributed further to the incitement.

“The Arabs are masters at creating this type of false propaganda. In light of the incidents on the Har Habayis, the police decided to move those women to Rechov Chagai in the Old City, but they have simply gone on to harass Jewish visitors to the Kosel in similar fashion. Instead of chasing the women away, the police chose simply to place themselves between the frightened Jews and their Arab harassers, and the result was that the Arabs developed the courage to do more than simply spit and curse at passersby. That is exactly what Yogev has argued: Had the police responded properly to the low-level offenses of spitting and cursing, then the bolder acts of terror — the stabbings — would not have taken place.

I decided to ask a few questions about the units in which Yogev served in the army, Sayeret Shaked and Sayeret Matkal. In general, those topics are taboo. Questions are rarely asked about the units, and even when the questions are asked, answers are rarely given.

Based on the units in which you served in the army, I imagine that you were considered unique.

“In my day, the Shaked unit was a reconnaissance unit. I was in the Shaked unit and then I was a paratrooper. But yes, they are excellent units.”

I meant that the soldiers in those units are considered above average on a personal level. They are more ethical, more principled…

“I can’t say anything about myself, but I can confirm that the people in Sayeret Matkal are very serious.”

Yogev has worn a yarmulka since his childhood, which was at a time when religious Jews rarely became officers or were admitted into elite units. Today, it is much more common. Yogev was reluctant to discuss the subject, but he did reveal that he had the privilege of founding a shul for the soldiers of the unit.

At that point, Yogev had to cut our conversation short. “I am at Gan Shmuel now, at the location of today’s terror attack,” he informed me. Despite the late hour, he had not yet completed his schedule for the day.

Will you be back in Dolev tonight?

“Of course,” he replied, “but I must end this conversation now, because I am about to get out of my car.”

Before you go, can you please describe for us your confrontation with the Arab woman in the Old City?

“She was cursing at a group of Jewish youths, as well as police officers, exactly at the spot where the murder took place. Dozens of Arabs were passing by, and she was standing there and hurling epithets at them, and the police officers did not see fit to stop her or to arrest her. They should have stopped her and not permitted her to pass, but instead, they chased the Jewish youths away, and they even protected her and allowed her to pass. That is how terror begins. These old women engage in incitement, and then the Arab youths pick up their knives and stab Jews. That woman should have been placed under arrest until the evening, and a police complaint should have been filed against her for insulting police officers. We need to take care of terror when it is small, before it grows to the proportions that we see now.”

You were quite harsh toward that woman.

“That confrontation happened after I had heard from the youths of the Old City about all the abuse and harassment they suffer every day on their way to and from their homes from Arabs. For that reason, I felt that it was necessary to tell the police that they need to protect the good people and be on the offensive against their attackers, not the opposite.”



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