The expression “ground zero” connotes the place of essence, of origin, of fundamental significance. In Israel, Har Habayit, The Temple Mount, has come to be seen as that essential, irreplaceable, and defining place of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel.
This clarity of understanding, is, like many realities here, perceived more clearly by our citizenry than by our leadership. It is our citizens who increasingly understand and embody the wisdom that “he who controls Jerusalem controls Israel, and he who controls the Temple Mount controls Jerusalem.”
“He who controls Jerusalem controls Israel, and he who controls the Temple Mount controls Jerusalem.”
In this sense the Temple Mount represents an important geopolitical reality for Israel to recognize and to address. The all too predictable dog-whistle-like cries that “al-Aqsa Mosque is under attack” are a manipulative effort to prevent Israeli control over the mount.
So too is the posture of King Abdullah of Jordan, whose foreign policy approach is by and large to put a gun to his own head, threatening to pull the trigger if he doesn’t get his way. However, with the Temple Mount, he acts, and Israeli leadership react, as if Abdullah has compromising pictures of our leaders in his drawer, which he threatens to reveal if Israel gets too “proprietary” and overly “Judaizing” with the Temple Mount.
The result has been a long-term absurdity, where Israeli leaders tolerate a true desecration of Judaism’s holiest site, and the nauseating humiliation of Jewish visitors, all in the name of some mythical “status quo.”
The status quo is just Israel denying its own connection to the Temple Mount
The “status quo” is merely the self-abasing willingness of Israel to deny its connection to the Temple Mount, all in the ever important, but always elusive dream of keeping a lid on things.
Thankfully, in the past couple of years, the embarrassing situation is starting to change. Change has been driven by us, the citizens of Israel, in classic grassroots manner. Brave individuals, and committed organizations such as B’yadenu (“In our Hands,” a reference to General Motta Gur’s famous pronouncement after the Temple Mount was liberated during the Six Day War) have consistently challenged absurd, humiliating and completely arbitrary protocols that, whatever the thinking behind them was, only serve to enrage and inspire Jewish visitors to contemplate acts of civil disobedience.
The Temple Mount has become its own human rights issue, its own civil rights campaign. Here the strivers, the excluded, yes, the oppressed, are us, Jews, denied a natural and ennobling connection with our holiest site.
There are 10 entry points to the Temple Mount, but only one accessible for Jews. It happens to be on a ramp that has all the structural integrity of what collapsed on Mt. Meron. Hours are limited, days are restricted, and the slightest inclination of possible unrest results in Jews, never Muslims, from being barred.
WHILE MUSLIMS play soccer and desecrate antiquities, Jews have been prosecuted for reciting the Shema.
As I said, the winds of change are beginning to blow, and the only reason they are is because there have been consistent challenges to protocols that have been upheld in court.
Increasingly, prayer is being heard, both individually and even in minyans. Israeli flags have been known to appear, and even the “Hatikvah” has been sung. Most recently, intrepid members of B’yadenu, including our CEO and a Board Member, along with former MK Yehuda Glick, blew shofarot outside the Eastern wall of the Mount, prompting their knee-jerk detention, but ultimately – after legal intervention – their release.
Just as the Abraham Accords succeeded in bursting the bubble of received wisdom as to how peace could be advanced in the Middle East, so too, it is high time for Israel’s leaders to recognize that they must break out of the failed assumptions and approach that have characterized Israel’s control, or lack thereof, of the Temple Mount.
It is time to assert our sovereignty over our holiest site, to send a clear, unambiguous message to the world, friends and adversaries alike, that the Temple Mount will indeed be a place for free worship and association by respectful people of all faiths, including Jews.
At a time when Hamas chooses to project itself as the “Guardians of Jerusalem” and when segments of the Arab community see the opportunity to exploit Israeli reasonableness and compromise for the weakness that is ultimately perceived, it is absolutely critical that we assert ourselves on the Temple Mount.
Al-Aqsa has never been nor will ever be under attack, except if the mere presence of Jews on the Temple Mount is perceived as a threat in the ethnically cleansed mentality of some Muslim visitors. To that perception, we need to invoke timeless kindergarten wisdom: “well, we’re sorry you feel that way, but you are going to have to learn to share.”
I am very proud of the individuals and the organizations who, with great clarity, and even greater determination, have made the reclamation of the Temple Mount into a new Jewish imperative. The proof of that determination is the dramatic rise in Jewish ascendance to the Temple Mount. More than 50,000 Jews ascended this past year, a number greater than any time since the destruction of the Second Temple.
In this new year, may we redouble our efforts to extend our rights, presence and our connection with the Temple Mount. It is not a zero-sum game. Asserting our rights comes with no derogation to anyone else.
When King Solomon inaugurated the First Temple, he invited the nations of the world to come to pray there. We are similarly welcoming. It’s just that it is long overdue for the Temple Mount to be beckoning and welcoming to Jews.
Next year on the Temple Mount!
The writer is a director of B’yadenu. He is also the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at [email protected]