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Let's do the time warp again

A brouhaha over who can pray at the Temple Mount recalls a similar disagreement ... that became known as the second intifada.

Arab Israelis take part in a rally in front of the Dome of the Rock, on the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, July 18, 2009. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

JERUSALEM, Israel — I just returned to Jerusalem after a month away. Or at least I thought I did.

I suspect I entered a cosmic wormhole that popped me out in the right place — the Israeli capital — only nine years earlier.

Muslim leaders claim radical Jews plan to pray at the mosques on the Temple Mount. Protect the Mount, goes the cry. Rioters throw rocks at tourists and at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall. Both sides scream that they’re being provoked.

That’s the news this week. But it was also the news in the week that started the second intifada in October 2000. So you’ll have to forgive me for wondering whether I passed through a fold in the space-time continuum on the flight back from Zurich, where I was vacationing on Lake Geneva after finishing up a book tour.

In October 2000, Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Islamic Movement inside Israel, called on Muslims to defend the Haram ash-Sharif (the “Noble Sanctuary,” which is also known as the Temple Mount because it was the site of the ancient Jewish temple).

To defend it against a visit by Israel’s then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon, and against Jews who supposedly wanted to pray there, and against archaeological excavations undermining the mount (the supposed digging was aimed at proving what Salah and his followers argue is a Zionist lie that the Jewish temple ever stood there). His call was in essence to defend the mount against any perceived affront to Muslim “sovereignty” over it by Israel.

The result: the second intifada, more than 1,000 dead Israelis and Palestinians, and another 7,000 injured. Secondary results: deep-freeze for a peace process that’s still frosty on the outside and ice-cold within, Palestinian civil war and a big boost for right-wing Israeli politicians who said the peace process was a mistake in the first place.

Despite such dreadful consequences, if Salah could go back in time, he’d do it over just the same.

In fact, that’s what he’s doing. He spent the last week in Jerusalem pushing for a violent response to the plans of a Jewish group to pray on the Mount. The Israeli police barred the group, which hopes their temple will be rebuilt on the site and the Jewish Messiah will come, from entering the holy precinct. That wasn’t enough for the sheikh.