By Rabbi Menahem Lester
Israel’s parliament, The Knesset, recently debated the Temple Mount. Likud MK, Moshe Feiglin proposed that the rights of Jews and Christians to pray on Har HaBayit, the TempleMount, should be enshrined in law. In theory, this is already the case as freedom of religion is a principle of the state.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has ruled that Jews should be allowed to pray there, within certain limits and jurisdictions; nevertheless, Israel’s police have invariably stepped in to ban such worship, citing security requirements.
The Temple Mount is holy to three religions: site of both the first and second temples until the destruction of the Second Temple, 2000 years ago, It is most holy to Jews with the accessible Western Wall forming part of its boundary.
Christianity stepped in 1700 years ago building a church which remained until the advent of Islam. For Christians, although the site is holy, it does not constitute that degree of holiness accorded in Judaism. The Muslims destroyed the church and in turn built their own houses of worship – the golden mosque and Al Aqsa. Throughout the years up to 1967, very little was heard about these mosques; only since the Oslo accords have they became the focus of unrest. During the years 1948-1967 of Jordanian rule, Jews were prohibited from approaching the Western Wall, even though the 1949 Jordan-Israel Armistice Agreement mandated Jewish worship. Islam’s primary sites are Mecca and Medina with others in Iraq and Iran; worshippers at the Aqsa Mosque face Mecca and have their backs to the Temple.
The decisions of the 1967 Israel cabinet and the Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan, set the seal on the confused situation prevailing today. Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi to the Israel forces, present when the Mount was restored to Jewish suzerainty, re-initiated prayer services.
[One must add that halachic opinions differ regarding Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, with some voices discouraging; nevertheless, Maimonides permits, even encourages Jews’ access providing they refrain from trespassing on the Temple site itself, especially the Holy of Holies].
Nevertheless, the 1967 Israel cabinet was none too concerned with Jewish spiritual yearnings and in an act of religious disinterest, transferred the everyday running of the TempleMount to the WAQF, a Jordanian-based, Moslem religious organisation.
Rabbi Goren’s prayer-services were discontinued.
Gradually, over the years and the growth of the Palestinian nation concept, the focus of the Mount has moved from a Muslim religious symbol to become a national symbol for the Palestinian cause.
On numerous occasions, Arabs have reacted to the presence of Jews on the TempleMount by rioting; apparently they are readily offended and react accordingly although there’s no doubt that that some of the rioting is premeditated.
At the same time, the WAQF has actively promoted the Muslim cause in two ways: further mosques have been built at the site and great efforts made to eradicate all evidence of the original Jewish civilisation. One can readily fault the slow response of the Israel authorities to such desecration whilst at the same time acting over-cautiously in appeasing Muslim sensibilities. Oft-times, nowadays, the police prevent non-Moslems from ascending at all.
A stage has been reached where Jews (or Christians) accessing the site must be escorted and warned not to pray or make any manifestation of prayer – lest the mob is offended and voices its offense in the traditional way. Last year, a bride on her wedding day ascended with her father to recite Tehillim (psalms) before the ceremony. The police, anxious to appease Muslim sensibilities, arrested them and they were fortunate they didn’t miss the wedding. Jewish Nationalist MKs have also gone to assay the situation, as have, more recently, a visiting Canadian parliamentary delegation, who were dismayed to witness the rioting and concurrent discrimination against Jews and Christians.
So the Knesset debated the situation. This very act was sufficient to incite the authorities in Jordan. Islamic Jordanian parliamentarians have instructed their government to rescind the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace agreement. More significantly, their parliament has voted to expel the Israel ambassador and recall their own. The PA has complained to the UN Security Council for this action which “provokes the Palestinians and may also be perceived as serious acts of incitement in the wider region”. This is all a result of Israel’s parliament debating the issue without doing anything substantive.
One can see that, there is zero tolerance on behalf of the Islamic zealots; with this mindset prevailing in the Muslim world, it is difficult to envisage any peaceful settlement in the near future.