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Do We Really Care About Jerusalem?

   For a nation that swore an undying oath of loyalty to Jerusalem more than two millennia ago, we Jews sure have a funny way of showing it.
 
   Indeed, more than four decades may have passed since Israeli soldiers bravely liberated the eastern part of the capital and reunited the city, but our control over its most sacred of sites has never seemed so precarious.
 
   Take, for example, the events of last week. During the course of the Sukkot festival, Israel’s police succumbed to threats of violence from Palestinian and Arab leaders and barred non-Muslims from setting foot on the Temple Mount. Muslim women, and men over 50, were of course permitted to ascend freely.
 
   Consider the irony of this situation: the guardians of law and order in the Jewish state saw fit to allow the followers of Muhammad to pray where Solomon’s Temple once stood, but not the followers of Moses.
 
   Adding insult to injury was an astonishing, though highly predictable, decision by Israel’s Supreme Court, which on October 8 rejected a petition filed against the police over their policy prohibiting Jews from visiting the site.
 
   The petitioner, Yehuda Glick, made a simple and compelling argument to the justices: what about the basic and fundamental right of Jews to freedom of religion and worship?
 
   Moreover, he pointed out, the police were trampling on the elementary principle of equality before the law by differentiating between Jews and Muslims.
 
   But the august judges would have none of it. Tossing aside all those pesky “rights” and “principles,” they preferred instead to accept the State attorney’s claim that the police decision was based on the need “to preserve public order.”
 
   Now, you might be thinking: Isn’t that as it should be? Who doesn’t want “to preserve public order”?
 
   But don’t let such hogwash fool you.
 
   If there is a threat to “public order,” it emanates from the Arab rioters who gathered on the Mount on Yom Kippur and hurled stones at a group of French tourists visiting the site because they mistakenly thought they were Jews.
 
   And if there is a real danger to public safety, it stems from the likes of the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, whose leadership incited Arabs to “defend Al-Aksa mosque” knowing full well that violence would result.
 
   But it most assuredly does not come from loyal, law-abiding Israeli Jews who merely wish to exercise their right to visit a holy site and commune with their Creator.
 
   So if the police truly wish to preserve “public order,” let them start by taking a stand in the face of the Palestinian rioters, thugs and hoodlums who resort to threats and violence to get their way.
 
   Instead of blocking Jews from visiting the Mount, the police should escort them up there and arrest anyone who tries to prevent them from doing so.
 
   It seems our leaders have yet to learn what Thomas Jefferson pointed out some two centuries ago – namely, “The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.”
 
   That means when one group – in this case, Palestinian Arabs – tries to block another group (Israeli Jews) from effectuating their rights, it is the responsibility of the powers that be to come to the defense of the latter, rather than capitulate to the former.
 
   But all this, unfortunately, has become par for the course in Israel. For years we have tolerated the intolerable and watched in muted silence as the Temple Mount slowly slips out of Jewish control.
 
   Tangible proof of this can be found just a few minutes outside the Old City, at the Tzurim Valley National Park at the foot of Mt. Scopus.
 
   It is there that a group of volunteers each day sorts through mounds of rubble dug up illegally by the Muslim Wakf (Islamic religious trust) on the Temple Mount over the past decade.
 
   In a deliberate attempt to tighten their grip on the Mount and erase any evidence of a Jewish presence there, the Wakf has systematically burrowed under the site where the Temple once stood, in the process destroying invaluable archaeological and historical relics.
 
   The Wakf then proceeded to unceremoniously dump the tons of wreckage near the Kidron river valley, right under the noses of Israeli authorities.
 
   Officially known as the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation, the volunteers sifting through the piles are valiantly looking to rescue whatever remains of our ancient past. The program is run by the City of David (or Ir David) Foundation, and it has recovered some incredible items dating back to the First Temple period and beyond.
 
   These include coins and pendants, mosaic tiles and pottery, and even a seal bearing the name of a priestly family mentioned in the book of Jeremiah.
 
   When I visited the project last week, I was overcome with emotion as we sorted through the mud and “got our hands dirty” trying to recoup what is rightfully ours.
 
   A few minutes later, as we separated the soil and rocks, several pieces of bone became apparent, sending a shudder through us all.
 
   The staff member present quickly examined the findings, and identified them as being from an animal, noting that the singe marks indicated they had probably been used in a sacrifice offered at the Temple.
 
   Where else in the world, I wondered, can a Jew possibly connect in such a concrete and physical way with the glory of our magnificent heritage?
 
   But amid all the excitement, there was something deeply unsettling about the whole experience.
 
   After all, does it make any sense that in the sovereign Jewish state we are forced to pick through the refuse from our holiest site while foreigners defile it at will?
 
   We may turn in prayer toward Jerusalem three times a day, plead for it to be speedily rebuilt, and even break a glass at weddings in memory of its grandeur. But if we really cared about Jerusalem, would we allow it to be sullied and despoiled so wantonly by our enemies?
 
   The answer, of course, is no. We do love Jerusalem, and we do care for it, each of us in our own very personal way.
 
   But as the events of recent weeks make clear, we need to start translating that concern into action, and do something to strengthen our collective hold on the Holy City.
 
   So the next time you pray, add another plea for Jerusalem. Write your congressman and send a letter of protest to the White House. Make a donation to the City of David Foundation, or buy a home in Israel’s capital.
 

   Whatever it is, do something – now! – to keep Jerusalem Jewish. Before it slips through our hands once again.

 

 

   Michael Freund, whose Jewish Press-exclusive column appears the third week of each month, served as deputy director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu from 1996 to 1999. He is founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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