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During the past decade, Muslim clerics administering portions of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have destroyed Jewish artifacts unearthed around Solomon’s ancient Temple in a campaign to extinguish the historic ties of the Jews to their holiest site. These imams wish to rewrite history.
Similarly, a plan exists to create an entirely new history by, paradoxically, planting something into the earth of the Temple Mount that was never there before: Yasir Arafat. Reports abound that Arafat wishes to be buried where the ancient Jewish Temple stood, only yards from the ridge of Mt. Zion, King David’s burial spot. Israel cannot let this happen, no matter the world’s outcry on Arafat’s behalf.
Burial of Arafat on the Temple Mount would undergird Muslim claims to that spot – and thus to ancient Jerusalem and the Old City. Talk about “facts on the ground” – in short time the Mount would achieve Mecca-like status, codified by a shrine to a latter-day political Mohammed.
In life, what we see affirms more than what we simply hear or read. As hard as it is for us to conceive today, a century from now the images of millions of Arabs making a pilgrimage to Arafat’s tomb would reify in the collective mind of humanity an Islamic connection to the Temple Mount dwarfing that of the Jewish connection made in scattered history books. After all, who today remembers that Mecca itself was once primarily a Jewish-populated town?
Not even the United States would place its embassy in an East Jerusalem officially hallowed as a northern Mecca. It would be the world’s biggest political coup, and it would be accomplished without firing a single shot.
Even Jews, given such a scenario, might well lose their emotional attachment to the site, since reality always trumps theory. A theoretical Jewish holy site is no match against a countervailing living Muslim reality. It becomes simply nostalgia. Against the backdrop of an area overrun by zealous Muslim multitudes, Jews will feel alienated, pushed out.
Would the Israelis cave in? If history is a guide, Israel may first balk but later acquiesce due to the dominant attitude that land and holy sites are not as important as peace. A threat by the European Union to cut off all trade with a non-compliant Israel, as well as calls by the United Nations for boycotts, could influence Israeli decision-making.
Aside from economic pressure, Israel would be portrayed as heartless if it denied Arafat his “last dying wish.” Its refusal would be characterized as a unilateral decision over Jerusalem and thus an obstruction to peace.
The much-heralded concept of “land for peace” has in Israel repeatedly degenerated into “holy sites for peace,” as demonstrated by Israeli forfeiture of three historic sites: 1) the burial place of the biblical Joseph; 2) the oldest and second most holy and Jewish city, Hebron; 3) the Temple site in Jerusalem, which is off-limits to regular Jewish visitation as per the dictate of the Israeli government.
In each of the above instances, Israel relinquished Jewish administration of these sites out of fear of Arab rioting and out of a mindset that subordinates real Jewish sovereignty to a surreal concept – “peace.”
The Israeli/Arab conflict is a demonstration of the tactile vs. the conceptual. The Arabs hardly speak of peace as much as they demand the tangibles of land and holy sites. Thus, every few years, like clockwork, they garner from the Israelis more and more of the above. The Israelis speak of and yearn only for the ideal of peace. The upshot: peace eludes them ever more.
Placing Islamic monuments atop holy sites previously belonging to another religion, culture or nationality has historically been the Islamic modus operandi of displaying ascendancy and permanence. In Turkey, for example, the St. Sophia Mosque in Istanbul was, before Islamic hegemony, a Christian church. The landscape of the entire Middle East is littered with Muslim religious buildings directly above earlier Christian churches and monuments. We would be remiss in thinking that these are arbitrary historical events when, in fact, they are part and parcel of an overarching Muslim strategy.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel decided not to establish a concrete Jewish presence on the Temple Mount in order to be seen as “peaceful” and “unprovocative.” But territory is not an ideal – it is something physical, something tangible. Where a vacuum exists, it eventually must be filled. Arafat and the Arabs hope to fill it. Where a Jewish presence should have been will, instead, become an Arab presence that should not be. It will be the ultimate “in-your-face” gesture of Arafat to the Jews, delivered posthumously.
Secular Jews never thought a confrontation over the Temple site was worth it. Religious Jews felt that the sheer sacredness of the place rendered it off-limits. We were not even to walk within 100 yards of it. Incongruously, such other-worldly reverence has made it unusable for Jews and thus, in practical terms, irrelevant. Either way, Jewish political or religious timidity has resulted in a de facto forfeiture.
To be a landed people means knowing the importance of one’s land and historic/holy places. Call it pride. Call it the glue that unites a people. While ideas certainly inspire, a nation tied to a land must first recognize the primacy of its land and its historic sites.
It should be obvious that Yasir Arafat, the monster who dedicated his life to the destruction of a nation and a people, cannot be enshrined forever on that very people’s most holy site, its heart. If it were to happen, it would be an obscenity. It would be akin to carving the face of Osama bin Laden into the granite of Mount Rushmore. If allowed to happen, it would constitute utter, irredeemable capitulation.
About the Author: Rabbi Aryeh Spero is author of "Push Back" and was a pulpit rabbi for almost forty years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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