Mounting tension

Will the banning of non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount help calm the Palestinians? We doubt it.

A Border Police officer overlooks Temple Mount and the Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A Border Police officer overlooks Temple Mount and the Western Wall
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel continues to uphold the status quo in word and practice on the Temple Mount, read a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released late Saturday night. Israel rejects claims that it intends to divide the Temple Mount between Jews and Muslims, the statement continued. And Israel honors the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as reflected in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
That status quo agreement, unfortunately, includes the policy of only Muslims being allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. As Netanyahu’s statements reaffirming that agreement read: “Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount.”
While an affront to any forward thinking, liberal and democratic society, the statement upholds the long-standing policy that has been in place since Israel took over control of the Old City in 1967. All non-Muslims – Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Sikhs and others – will be prevented from uttering prayers while visiting the Temple Mount. Enforcement, apparently, will include a careful watch-out by Israeli police, Waqf officials and other “status quo” guardians for lips moving fervently, hands pressed together in supplication, prayer books surreptitiously referenced.
It sounds ridiculous, but following the flurry of meetings involving US Secretary of State John Kerry, Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the upholding and rededication to that policy – along with the installation of more surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount – was seen as the best course of action to diffuse the rein of Palestinian terror on Israel.
But despite these very public moves, will the banning of non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount help calm the Palestinians? We doubt it.
Any utterance by proponents of increased Jewish presence on the Temple Mount – whether by a government minister or a member of a fringe right-wing group – is enough to cause an instant storm and encourage Palestinians to gather rocks and firebombs in a warped sense of ‘protecting’ their holy site. It doesn’t take facts on the ground, only words, to inflame passions.
And in the meantime, since there is no law against free speech, it is likely that those Israelis who are not content with the status quo will continue to make declarations.
However, it doesn’t detract from the offensive premise that the simple act of prayer, an inherently spiritual act, represents an affront to Muslim sensibilities and therefore must be proscribed. In what is essentially a “blame the victim” argument, Jews and members of other faiths, whose only crime is to beseech an abstract higher power, are being blamed for triggering Muslim violence.
Why can’t Muslims be asked to control themselves? Limiting freedom of religious expression on the Temple Mount out of deference to Muslim extremists’ sensitivities is akin to other cases in which Western values have been compromised or curtailed to appease zealotry. Some in the West were willing to accept, for instance, that the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices was in some sense a result of France’s failure to assimilate two generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies; or that it could be tied to French military action against Islamic State; or that the murders should be “understood” as reactions to disrespect for religion on the part of irresponsible cartoonists.
Similarly, the ongoing knifing, stoning and shooting of innocent civilians in the streets of Jerusalem, Beersheba, Tel Aviv, Itamar, Gush Etzion and other locations are condoned by some by positioning it as a reaction to certain Israeli policies, such as “occupation” or alleged Israeli attempts to “Judaize” the Temple Mount.
Should Palestinians’ legitimate fears and concerns about their third most holy site being compromised be addressed through dialogue and mutual respect and without incitement, lies and distortion? Of course they should. Should Israel reassure Muslims that they have no intention of infringing upon Muslim freedom of religious expression on Haram al-Sharif? Yes again.
While we understand and accept the need to publicly reaffirm the status quo on the Temple Mount, restricting non-Muslims’ religious rights there is an intrinsic affront to liberal values that will likely fail to assuage Muslim extremists.