One doesn’t have to be a Temple Mount loyalist to realize that something not good for the Jews is happening in the world’s holiest spot – under Israeli sovereignty.
Let’s start with the recent news that “The Jerusalem police chief has decided to limit male Muslim worshipers on the Temple Mount today to those over age 50 who do not live in Judea and Samaria. This, in light of intelligence information of intentions to disturb the peace following Friday prayers.”
This did not happen in a vacuum. Just a week earlier, the Temple Mount –site of the Beit HaMikdash, now situated “behind” the Western Wall – saw some of the most violent Arab rioting in recent memory. For the first time, Arabs on the Mount actually hurled Molotov cocktails at Israeli police, causing injuries.
Not only did the police not take advance action to restrict Muslim entry to the mosque for Friday prayers, they also, according to witnesses, barely took action to contain the violence once it started. The Mount remained open to Muslims throughout the incident and after it.
By way of comparison, in the course of the week before that, Israeli police closed the Temple Mount after Muslim disturbances three times – to Jews!
It is true that entry to the Temple Mount by Jews is a matter of dispute among contemporary rabbis, of whom only a minority permits it (after immersion in a mikveh and other precautions). Yet this matter transcends rabbinical disagreements, with long-term ramifications regarding continued Israeli sovereignty in any place the Muslims deem their own.
As such, even those who would not themselves visit Har HaBayit must protest when Israel prevents Jews from doing so. Not only is this an unjust and prejudiced policy against religious Jews, it also signals to the Palestinian Authority that sufficiently strong opposition by small groups of Arabs can actually impede Israeli enforcement of its own laws and policies. There can be no greater threat than this to a country’s sovereignty.
Let us review what happened during the week in question: On Sunday, the police closed the Mount to non-Muslims because of a mini-riot caused by the dropping of a copy of the Koran. It happened when a group of Muslim women gathered at the site to harass Jewish visitors. Afterward, Muslims continued to enter the site freely; Jews and Christians were kept out.
On Monday, the scene repeated itself: Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin of the Likud arrived for his monthly visit, Arabs at the site protested threateningly, and the police quickly closed the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims.
On Wednesday, Arab women surrounded and threatened a Jewish group, leading to another near-riot, as well as the closure of the holy site once again to Jews.
Former Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon, never a fan of Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria, was a witness to Sunday’s events: “Because of a book that fell, they close the Temple Mount to hundreds of people waiting to get in? The Minister of Public Security must be called and asked about this.… Who’s in charge here?”
He added that Knesset members should visit the Temple Mount to see the situation themselves and find solutions. “It cannot be that every Jew who comes to visit is suspected of wanting to blow up the compound.”
Clearly, the main interest of the police – and apparently of their overseers in Israel’s government – is to ensure that each day passes as peacefully as possible. They take the short-term view: Anything that threatens to disturb the peace and arouse international headlines must be avoided at all costs, as quickly as possible. If this means forbidding Jews from entering their holy site, so be it.
The problem is that Israel – unlike Jordan, when it ruled Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Authority that now controls the site of Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem – takes pride in ensuring free access to members of all religions to all religious sites under its control. Ever since the internationalization of Jerusalem was first proposed in the mid-20th century, Israel has always claimed that such arrangements are unnecessary, as the Israeli government sees to it that all holy sites remain open for free religious worship.
So why are Jews constantly discriminated against – by Israeli police! – when they seek to enter their holiest site?
Violence is bad. But must the fear of it lead the police to allow Muslim women to determine by their actions whether Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount at a given time? If so, this means that Israel is no longer allowing free Jewish access to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
How can Israel complain about Arab entities restricting Jewish entry to holy sites when its officials often do the same thing on the Temple Mount as a matter of policy?
Incidentally, and apropos the election of a new Pope, let us not think it’s only Muslims who have a problem with Jewish rule in Jerusalem. Back in 1919, Pope Benedict XV reacted to the Balfour Declaration with these words:
“There is one matter on which we are specially anxious, and that is the fate of the Holy Places, on account of the special dignity and importance for which they are so venerated by every Christian. Who can tell the full story of all the efforts of Our Predecessors to free them from the dominion of infidels, the heroic deeds and the blood shed by Christians of the West through the centuries? And now that, amid the rejoicing of all good men, they have finally returned to the hands of Christians, our anxiety is most keen as to the decisions which the Peace Congress in Paris is soon to take concerning them. For surely it would be a terrible grief for us and for the Christian faithful if infidels were placed in a privileged and prominent position: much more if those most holy sanctuaries of the Christian religion were given to the charge of non-Christians [emphasis added].”
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In addition to visiting Yerushalayim, there is much our readers can do to become strong advocates for keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty. Visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for information on our bus tours in news-making areas of Jerusalem.
About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
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