Muslims pray at Temple Mount.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since Israel reunited Jerusalem nearly half a century ago, it has championed freedom of worship in the city, and particularly on the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is an especially sensitive venue, because it is a font of holiness for both Judaism and Islam – a holiness that must be shared and respected by adherents of both religions. That was the idea of then-defense minister Moshe Dayan when he judiciously agreed after the Six Day War to let the Wakf Islamic trust administer the Muslim holy places on the Mount, while Israel retained sovereignty.
This magnanimous gesture by the victorious Israelis to share the holy site did not alter the Muslim ban on Jews praying on the Mount that dates from the 13th century.
Today only Muslims can freely pray there.
This attitude was reflected in Yasser Arafat’s absurd claim that “historically the Temple was not in Palestine” – and that, by pernicious extension, the Jewish nation has no historical, sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world.
Last October, an Arab terrorist shot and critically wounded Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick. Police tracked down his assailant and killed him in a shootout. In a letter of consolation to the would-be murderer’s family, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared the gunman would go to heaven as a martyr for “defending the rights of our people and its holy places.”
In the ensuing rioting, police locked stone-throwing and firebombing Arab youths inside the Aksa Mosque, where they had stockpiled rocks and gasoline bombs.
As if an incendiary religious clash were not enough to worry about, right-wing Knesset members have made demonstrative confrontations on the Mount their goal.
The Mount has come to represent an unholy arena where rival traditions stemming from a common ancestor confront each other. The Temples were built there because it contains what Jewish tradition views as the foundation stone of creation, the spiritual junction of Heaven and Earth. Before it became home to the Holy of Holies, Jews saw the site as where Abraham’s faith was tested by God.
In contrast, the Muslim narrative teaches that our common forefather was not Jewish, as the binding of Isaac long preceded the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people.
Muslims consider Abraham the father of Islam by his son Ishmael, and celebrate his not being sacrificed. Muslim tradition teaches that the Mount belongs exclusively to Islam.
Accordingly, the Jews have no legitimacy whatsoever on the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, even for many ordinary, peace-loving Muslims – not to mention Islamist jihadists. Hamas, for whom Israel has no legitimacy at all, tries to whip up passions by falsely accusing Israel of wanting to destroy Al-Aksa, in the hope of igniting a holy war to destroy the Jewish state.
At a time of sharpening confrontation and diminishing prospects for peace, the Palestinian Authority could take a small step toward reconciliation by carrying out a confidence- building gesture that would help restore an atmosphere of holiness to the Mount.
While Muslim tradition sees no desecration in holding soccer games or picnic barbecues on the Mount, such practices are unnecessary provocations to Jews, whose religious sensibilities are thus constantly violated.
Despite his attempted murder, Yehudah Glick has been banned from the Mount. This week, however, his 19-yearold son, Shahar, was arrested there for asking a policeman why the ban on soccer playing at the site was not being enforced.
He was not the first Jew to be arrested there for asking the same question. A year ago, on February 12, a Jew was detained for asking a policeman why the ruling of the High Court of Justice banning soccer games on the Temple Mount was not being enforced.
“Police will from now on conscientiously enforce the law, and I have ordered police commanders to do so,” promised then-public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
Promises, promises. A year before that, in September 2013, a Jew was arrested for seizing a soccer ball from a Temple Mount game and handing it over to the police – who put it back into play. “The officers acted in contradiction to the law and their obligations,” Aharonovitch said then, vowing that the law would be enforced in the future.
There are many fronts in Israel’s war of survival, but we still have the liberty to choose our battles. Restoring a measure of holiness and mutual respect on the Temple Mount should be one of them.