A view of Temple Mount.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The scandalous decision by UNESCO to expunge the Jewish identity of the Temple Mount has aroused howls of protest from across the political spectrum, and rightly so.
Meeting on Tuesday in Paris, the 58-member Executive Board of the UN agency affirmed a resolution which caters to Islamic extremism by labeling the site a Muslim shrine while ignoring mountains of evidence dating back 3,000 years regarding its sanctity for the Jewish people.
The UNESCO vote is a slap in the face to history, archaeology and theology, and represents an assault on the very foundations of the Judeo-Christian tradition that underpins Western civilization. But even as Israel points an accusatory finger or two at the UN group, the government would do well to consider whether perhaps its own policies may have contributed to this farce.
After all, Israel bars Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, limits their access to the site and has allowed the Muslim Wakf which oversees it to destroy ancient archaeological relics there in the past. If this is how the Jewish state itself treats Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, then should it really come as a surprise when other nations seek to downplay or obfuscate our connection to it? Just yesterday, for example, an 18-year-old Israeli was arrested, according to media reports, “on suspicion of having bowed while visiting the Mount.”
I’m no lawyer, but since when can a person be arrested because he might have bowed down while visiting a public place? And even if he did bow, where exactly in the criminal code is such an act forbidden? How sadly ironic that this took place during Succot, when each day in the additional Mussaf prayer, we ask God to rebuild the Temple to which “we will ascend and appear and bow before You during our three pilgrimage seasons.”
Similar examples unfortunately abound. A chilling You- Tube video shot back in January shows big, burly Israeli policemen surrounding an Israeli teen on the Temple Mount and detaining him after he put his hand over his eyes and appeared to recite the Shema prayer. And just last week, five Israeli teens were arrested when they prayed at the entrance gate before setting foot on the Mount, even though a district court judge had previously ordered the police to allow them to do so.
For years, Jews ascending the Temple Mount have faced all sorts of restrictions such as limits on the hours they can visit and prohibitions against carrying a Bible, a prayer book or an Israeli flag. There have even been cases where police arrested Jews for moving their lips in a manner suggesting that they may have uttered a silent prayer.
What kind of message does this send to the world about how Israel relates to the Temple Mount, our holiest site? Sure, the UNESCO resolution is patently absurd and is worthy of all condemnation. It is akin to suggesting that Rome has no historical connection with the Colosseum, Athens has no claim to the Parthenon, and New York has no link to Yankee Stadium.
Indeed, next year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the expedition led by General Sir Charles Warren, a British surveyor sent by the Palestine Exploration Fund who conducted the first major modern excavations on and beneath the Temple Mount. Seven decades before UNESCO was established, Warren described his findings in his Survey of Western Palestine, published in 1884, in which he repeatedly referred to the site as the place where Israel’s ancient Temple had stood.
Clearly, the learned UNESCO representatives are in urgent need of a refresher course on history.
But frankly when it comes to the Temple Mount, what Israel does is far more important than what UNESCO says.
The way in which the Jewish state treats Jews visiting the site is simply intolerable, trampling their fundamental rights to freedom of worship and expression, and denying them their basic liberty to commune with their Creator without fear of punishment.
So by all means, let our diplomatic representatives holler and protest UNESCO’s unforgivable slur against Jews and the Temple Mount.
But at the same time, let’s start treating the site with the dignity and sanctity that it deserves, and allow Jews who wish to pray there to do so freely.