All it took was a Knesset discussion to incense the Arab world. More than 30 MKs from across the political spectrum weighed in during a plenum meeting Tuesday entitled, “The loss of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.”
MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) initiated the motion, billed as the first time ever that the Knesset has examined the prohibition against Jews and other non-Muslims entering the Temple Mount area – known as Haram al-Sharif by Muslims – to pray or perform any other outwardly religious act.
Though no resolution was passed and no actions were taken, the very fact that the Knesset dared to discuss the issue was enough to rile up the Arab world. Arab League representatives met in what they called an “extraordinary meeting” in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss the matter. The league’s Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Helli voiced concern that “Jewish extremists would storm the holy site.” PLO Ambassador to Egypt Barakat al-Farra said that, “If Israel continues this policy, it proves that it does not want peace but continues to violate international law.” And in Jordan, 47 of the 150 members of the country’s lower house of parliament signed a motion that the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel should be annulled. The Jordanian Parliament also passed a non-binding resolution to expel Israel’s Ambassador to Jordan Daniel Nevo and recall its own representative to Israel in protest.
Historically, Israel has been hyper-sensitive – and accommodating – to Muslims’ religious sensitivities connected to Haram al-Sharif. Shortly after then Col. Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade that conquered the Old City during the Six Day War, declared “the Temple Mount is in our hands,” then-defense minister Moshe Dayan essentially handed the keys to the Temple Mount to the Jerusalem Waqf, the Islamic trust. Today, Hamas and Palestinian Authority flags are flown over the area. The Israeli flag is not. Muslim authorities have unilaterally undertaken construction and excavation projects, including a huge mosque in an area of the mount known as Solomon’s Stables.
No less worrying from a liberal perspective, however, is the Muslims’ repression of Jewish religious expression on the Temple Mount. Jews – and other non-Muslims, for that matter – are prevented from praying on the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people. Jews who go up to the Temple Mount on the few days and times designated for non-Muslim visitors are accompanied by a Waqf official and an Israeli policeman. If the visitor displays outward signs of prayer – such as moving of lips or reading from a prayer book – he or she is immediately and forcefully removed, and sometimes even arrested.
Jerusalem police officials, political leaders, and even our courts of justice have argued in the past in favor of the “status quo” that prevents Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, in order to avoid unnecessary friction.
Going up to the Temple Mount and praying is a “provocation,” they say. Muslims are sensitive to what they see as Jewish encroachment on their holy site, and many figures involved in supporting the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount have a broader agenda of wresting control over the entire area from the Muslims.
Perhaps. But it is incomprehensible to us why the quiet reciting of prayers incenses Muslims so.
In any event, maintaining the status quo is the official policy of the Prime Minister’s Office. In the name of peace and in the interim until a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is achieved, our government is asking that Jews not “provoke” Muslims by praying on the Temple Mount.
Still, the controversy surrounding the Temple Mount is yet another reminder that finding a modus vivendi in Jerusalem, a name that ironically incorporates the Hebrew word for peace, remains a major obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is just one of many obstacles that need to be overcome before peace is achieved.