Will egalitarian worship at Robinson’s Arch foment unrest in Jerusalem?

The Islamic Wakf, haredi Jews and the Israeli archaeological community all oppose the creation of a mixed prayer area there.

Jérusalem illuminée lors du festival de musique sacrée (photo credit: HANAN BAR ASOULIN)
Jérusalem illuminée lors du festival de musique sacrée
(photo credit: HANAN BAR ASOULIN)
The Supreme Court is set to discuss the government plan that has since been frozen to set up a mixed worship area at Robinson’s Arch. Some members of the American Jewish community were really disturbed that the compromise proposal was frozen. The context of the government decision was the current wave of terrorism that Israel is experiencing. It is critical to note that any construction for an enlarged and revised mixed worship area at Robinson’s Arch could foment great unrest in the Jerusalem area.
Already, the Islamic Wakf has come out against the mixed worship area at Robinson’s Arch. According to a report in Walla News, the Wakf Foundation claims that this mixed worship area will ignite further violence in the Jerusalem area: “We oppose any change to the [...] Aksa Mosque and its surroundings. The Wakf will not lend a hand to such a step. Everything is explosive in the Middle East and such harm is likely to incite a violent atmosphere.”
The Wakf added that mixed worship in the area would cause significant archeological damage to areas that have great significance in Islam: “Damage to antiquities is a violation of the site.”
Israel is presently experiencing a wave of terrorism that has largely been fueled by the myth that al-Aksa is in danger. From September 2015 to the present, 55 people have been killed and 812 wounded largely due to the lie that the status quo on the Temple Mount has been violated. Given this, one must ponder how bad the violence could turn should Women of the Wall proceed with its plans to build a mixed prayer area.
American Reform Jews are adamant about having a mixed worship area. Should the Israeli people be forced to bear the brunt of Muslim violence just so that foreigners can enjoy their type of worship at a historically vibrant site? Some may claim that Muslim opposition should not be a consideration since the Wakf itself is infamous for destroying Jewish archeological relics on the Temple Mount. Following the construction it did in Solomon’s Stables, thousands of years of Jewish history were destroyed.
The whole project in Emek Tzurim was founded to salvage Second Temple findings out of the debris left over by the tractors.
Also, every time the Wakf wants people to start rioting, it claims al-Aksa is in danger.
However, the Muslims are far from the only issue. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews are also greatly disturbed, for religious reasons.
In addition, the Christian churches could also come out against the plan due to the damage that would be caused to areas that are also significant to them. It was in this area that Jesus was presented as a baby. It was in this area that Christians believe that he prayed and taught. And it was in this area that the Christians believe Jesus foretold that the Temple would be destroyed.
Furthermore, Jerusalem’s archeological community is also up in arms. The Jerusalem Archeology Park houses Robinson’s Arch, a Herodian street, an ancient stairwell, rubble from the destruction of the Second Temple and numerous other archeological treasures. Among the great finds in the area are a Hebrew inscription that proclaims: “You shall see and your hearts shall rejoice. Their bones shall flourish like grass.” In addition, it has entire sections devoted to the Umayyad Dynasty and later Islamic periods. Other excavations near Robinson’s Arch have uncovered around 30 Muslim graves and an Umayyad palace.
The archeological community believes that the plan for egalitarian worship in the area will damage the crown jewel of Jerusalem’s archeology and a lifetime of their work. They are prepared to file lawsuits to preserve their work. According to a petition that Jerusalem’s archeological community submitted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “Immediately following the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the area of the garden, as distinct from the area intended for prayer, was allocated for uncovering the remains of Jerusalem’s past. Over the course of a decade, an excavation team under the direction of Prof. Benjamin Mazar excavated here and uncovered amazingly well-preserved and breathtaking remains from the Second Temple period that provide a unique view of the magnificence of the city.
This is the only place where one can see the collapsed great stones of the wall of the Temple Mount that fell during the destruction of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago.”
For these archaeologists, the existence of an egalitarian worship area at Robinson’s Arch violates the designated purpose of the area. As Israel’s Antiquities Authority chief Yisrael Hasson proclaimed, “Converting the site into a prayer space will prevent adequate preservation and management of the finds.”
Presently, only 20 meters of the archaeological park is available to the public and the archaeologists due to egalitarian prayers. If the compromise deal comes to fruition, irreparable damage will be caused to these great archaeological treasures.
In the eyes of many throughout Israel, a major motivation for the Women of the Wall group insisting upon mixed prayer services at the Western Wall and Robinson’s Arch is to prove a political point. But Robinson’s Arch and the Western Wall are not places for demonstrations. These are holy places with many rare archeological remains. If they came to the Aksa Mosque and demanded mixed worship there, they would also receive a hostile reaction. Given this situation, I call upon the Supreme Court to not take a stance supporting Women of the Wall.
The author is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.