Between 1948 and 1967, not one Jew prayed at the Western Wall. Jews were prevented from entering east Jerusalem altogether, which was under Jordanian occupation.
The Six Day War changed that; with the hallowed words of Col. Mordechai Gur, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade that captured the Old City – “the Temple Mount is in our hands” – Judaism’s holiest site was liberated.
The scene, of soldiers barely removed from battle, most of whom were not religious, embracing the ancient stones of the Second Temple period is perhaps the most iconic in all of Israeli history.
But as quickly as a Jew could recite the shema, the government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, by handing over joint control of the Temple Mount to Jordan and the Wakf, the very entities which had previously banned Jews from accessing the site.
It is no surprise, then, that today Jews are again for all intents and purposes barred from ascending the Temple Mount. At those restricted times when they may do so, Jews are, astoundingly, forbidden to move their lips, lest a prayer be uttered.
The reality atop the Temple Mount reared its ugly head again last week, when MK Moshe Feiglin and his entourage were besieged by hundreds of Arab youths incensed by the politician’s “provocation.”
According to Feiglin, “The Muslim Wakf is paying people to be on the mountain only when Jews go up, to scare them and attack them. I believe they were waiting for me.”
This “status quo” – which the government has reaffirmed its commitment to upholding – is identical to that which existed from 1948-1967; namely, Islamic-imposed segregation, replete with fanaticism and hate, as manifested in the series of riots that broke out on the Temple Mount throughout February and March.
Acknowledging this reality has, however, become taboo. Instead, the ongoing unrest (in addition to the prevailing mass hysteria throughout the Muslim world) has been blamed on a Knesset session entitled, “The loss of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.”
That the Aksa mosque resides atop Judaism’s holiest site is no coincidence. While the Koran makes no mention of Jerusalem, Muslims built the Dome of the Rock in 689 CE as a testament to their conquest of the city. Indeed, throughout history, Muslims have attempted to rewrite the historical record by destroying religious sites in lands they claim.
Islam’s most sacred site, al-Kaaba, was a pagan shrine that predated Islam by centuries.
Following Mohammed’s seizure of Mecca in 630 CE, his followers destroyed hundreds of idols in the name of his new religion. This practice was repeated thousands of times over as Islam expanded across Africa and Europe.
The most notable examples include The Grand Mosque of Damascus, which was converted in 705 CE from a church dedicated to John the Baptist. The world-renown Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was a church for a millennium before the Ottoman conquerors of Constantinople transformed it into a mosque in 1453 CE (while the Hagia Sophia was made into a museum in 1935 by Turkey’s secular founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the current Islamist regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear its desire to restore it as a mosque).
The most vivid modern example occurred when the Taliban blew up the world’s two largest statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, prior to the US-led invasion in 2001. In recent times, churches, synagogues, Buddhist temples, etc., have been demolished or transformed by Muslims in places ranging from Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria, to Bangladesh, Mali and Egypt; from Indonesia, Iran and Cyprus, to Tanzania, India and Syria.
This process is unfolding on the Temple Mount itself, where the Wakf’s illegal excavations aim to destroy any trace of Jewish history; yet another example of the Muslim propensity to erase the presence and heritage of Jews in every Middle Eastern country save for Israel and to mask the flight of fleeing Christians throughout the region.
There is a clear lesson to be drawn regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Muslim bigotry and xenophobia explain why Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and why he cannot countenance even one Jew living in the West Bank. It is why Gaza is already entirely devoid of Jews.
Ironically, the international community decries the “occupation” as “Israeli apartheid”; whereas it is at worst but a direct, and legitimate, response to virulent Islamic segregation policies. If a Jew could live securely anywhere in the West Bank, there would be no need for IDF soldiers to be stationed there.
I recently had the opportunity to experience this truth first-hand by visiting the epicenter of Palestinian discrimination: Hebron.
There, some 850 Jews live within a fiveblock radius, a veritable ghetto fenced off from the city’s 150,000 Palestinian inhabitants.
My host in Hebron made clear the alternative to the local military presence; his house is riddled with bullet holes, the remnants of sniper fire commonplace before the IDF’s “occupation” of the adjacent hillside.
Not surprisingly, Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, the resting place of Judaism’s forefathers and the religion’s second holiest site, has been renamed the Ibrahimi mosque.
Similarly, Joseph’s tomb was ransacked and burnt to the ground in 2000 by Palestinians near Nablus. Only concerted international pressure prevented the PA from building a mosque on its ruins.
For the Palestinian mayor of Hebron, whom I interviewed, the city is plagued by the 0.5 percent of its population which prays three, as opposed to five times daily; Jews, who, living where Abraham roamed some 4,000 years ago, are dubbed “settlers.”
By contrast, Palestinians wanting to eliminate said presence are considered “peace-seeking.”
Clearly, though, there will never be peace, not in Israel nor anywhere else in the region, until Muslims reconcile themselves to a co-existence with the “others” in their midst.
In the interim, Jews must adamantly and proudly defend their title and free access to their holy places. This is especially crucial in light of a new report by Palestinian Media Watch showing that the PA is now setting its sights on the Western Wall.
“The al-Buraq Wall [i.e. the Western Wall] is an authentic part of the al-Aksa Mosque only,” PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Habbash is quoted as saying. Former Palestinian chief justice Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi believes that the Western Wall “is Islamic and belongs to Muslims alone,” thus Jews “have no right” to pray there.
Asserting Jewish rights – including the inalienable right for Jews to dwell in their biblical heartland – is not only just, but doing so will also begin to effectively erode the prevailing narrative that anything and everything other than the Palestinian yearning to cleanse Israel of Jews is responsible for the two-decade-long failure to usher in peace in our time.
The author is a correspondent for i24 News, a recently launched international news station which broadcasts out of Israel.