Tension on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount isn’t new. The site of both the First and Second Temples in ancient times and al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine today has the potential for friction built-in.
But what we are increasingly seeing are cynical attempts to exploit the holy site for a different purpose, for narrative rather than peaceful religion. The Palestinian rioters who desecrated the site by throwing rocks and firecrackers at police and on the Jewish worshipers gathered at the Western Wall below the Mount, did not go to the area Muslims call al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) or al-Aqsa compound for a spiritual Ramadan experience.
Video footage of clashes between Israeli police and security forces and Palestinian rioters at the site have gone viral and are often difficult to watch. There certainly seem to be cases of police overreacting and attacking Palestinians who appear to be unconnected to the violence. Nonetheless, what needs to be kept in mind is cause and effect.
The Muslims who stockpiled stones, rocks, logs and firecrackers in al-Aqsa did not do so for religious purposes. They prepared for a riot – to attack police and Jewish worshipers – not for prayers. Police did not storm al-Aqsa Mosque to “conquer” it. They broke in to arrest the rock throwers who had barricaded themselves inside after Friday prayers. Some of the masked Palestinians waved Hamas flags and praised arch-terrorist Muhammed Deif as they tried to bombard the Jewish worshipers who had come to pray at the Western Wall at the start of the Passover holiday.
With their unholy actions, the rioters are disturbing the freedom of prayer of everyone, including other Muslims. The vast majority of the 50,000 or so Muslim worshipers in the al-Aqsa area on Friday came with the peaceful intention of prayer at Islam’s third holiest site. The fact that so many thousands were able to gather there shows that Israel is intent on protecting freedom of worship for the Muslims.
It is Jewish worship that is limited at Judaism’s holiest site. The Muslim extremists object to any Jewish presence on Temple Mount and now refer to the entire area as “al-Aqsa” and yesterday they threw rocks at buses traveling to the Western Wall. Jews who ascend Temple Mount note, however, that part of the area serves as a soccer field, far from serving religious needs.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority have all accused Israel of carrying out “provocations” and an “assault” at the site. They are hoping to turn it into a battle cry. It is easy to rally Muslims everywhere around the lie that al-Aqsa is in danger and needs defending. The terrorist organizations are hoping that this becomes as self-fulfilling prophesy.
While Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas in the coalition, called for calm, he described al-Aqsa as a “redline.” Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi, as is his wont, went to the area to try to gain political points and far from trying to soothe tensions, added fuel to the flames.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, called on Muslim religious authorities to work to stop the violence and, in a noteworthy move, reminded extremist Jews who were considering performing the sacrifice of a paschal lamb that offering animal sacrifices on Temple Mount is forbidden.
The sensitivity of the area was seen last year when Hamas in Gaza launched rockets in the direction of the Israeli capital on Jerusalem Day in May, also coinciding with Ramadan, sparking what was to turn into an 11-day mini-war during which thousands of rockets rained down on Israel and there was widespread rioting by Arab-Israelis.
Stockpiling rocks and weapons in a mosque is a desecration, not a way of elevating its religious status; similarly, launching rockets in the direction of Temple Mount does absolutely nothing to “protect” it. On the contrary.
The Temple Mount is significant to all three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Thousands of Muslim worshipers were able to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque yesterday, during Ramadan, as a few hundred Jews also went up to Temple Mount, on Passover, while Christians could be seen celebrating Easter in Jerusalem.
Israel cannot allow a minority of violent rioters to desecrate the holy site. Anyone who supports freedom of religion and truly cares about the Temple Mount should condemn the Arab rioters, not the police.
As Jerusalem prepares for the traditional Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall today, we pray that the police and security forces will continue to protect all worshipers. And we add our own prayer for peace.