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Posts Tagged ‘Chaim Silberstein’

Jerusalem And The Three Weeks

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Mourning, repentance – and love of the Land of Israel. These are arguably the major themes of these Three Weeks of Mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple.

The first two are well known and require little elaboration. But how does love and concern for Eretz Yisrael fit in to the picture?

The answer is based on a watershed event in Jewish history: the notorious sin of the spies, a result of disdain for the Land of Israel. Moses had sent them to scout out the Promised Land, but the Jews, fresh off being rescued from the bondage of Egypt, seemed only too eager to hear and accept their negative report.

What was the divine punishment? The Talmud puts it this way: “You cried for no good reason, so I’ll give you something to cry about. On this day – the 9th of Av – many centuries from now, the Beit HaMikdash will be destroyed.”

And since we are bidden to recognize our mistakes, learn from them, and often go to the other extreme, it is clear there is no better time than these Three Weeks to increase our love and solidarity with the Land of Israel, the holy city of Jerusalem, and the site of the Beit HaMikdash.

We must do this, first of all, by learning about them and their importance – and about the contemporary threats they face. The Beit HaMikdash compound, for instance, is currently facing a multi-pronged attack. Let us briefly list the most recent fronts of hostilities:

* The Temple Mount is under the de-facto control of hostile Muslims who restrict the entry of Jews and do not allow them to pray there.

* The Muslims are currently desecrating the site of the Holy of Holies by placing scaffolding atop the Foundation Stone, so that they can carry out “renovations.”

* Possibly most egregious of all is the ban placed by Israel’s police on Rabbi Yisrael Ariel – head of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem and one of the original liberators of the site during the Six Day War – from even entering the Temple Mount.

The first, of course, has been the case for many decades. Arab control over the Temple Mount became more pronounced right after the Six-Day War when Moshe Dayan literally “returned the keys” to the Muslim Waqf, arousing little Jewish protest. Since then, the Waqf has embarked on a campaign of destruction of all archaeological evidence of Jewish claims to this site. A Waqf sign at the entrance to the site of the Beit HaMikdash reads, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard and everything in it is Islamic property.”

Can we truly claim Jewish sovereignty over a united Jerusalem if we allow this situation to continue without protest?

Supporters of Jewish Jerusalem were outraged last week when they learned the Waqf had turned the area of the Temple’s Holy of Holies into a construction site. The Temple Mount Loyalists filed suit in the Supreme Court on Sunday. They asked for an immediate restraining order to close the site, prevent those responsible for the desecration from entering, and enable the Chief Rabbinate to remove the scaffolding and end the desecration.

The petition states that the Waqf has taken advantage of its position to “harm the very heart of the Mount, in deepest offense to the emotions of the Jewish Nation…. Since the Early Prophets, the Foundation Stone has been the site of the High Priest’s exclusive service on Yom Kippur – the center of the world, according to Jewish faith, and the site on which the Ark of the Covenant was placed.”

Once again, without an international outcry from world Jewry, it is feared the request for judicial redress in the form of “quick and firm action and intervention” to put an end to this grave religious offense will once again fall on deaf ears.

And finally, many rabbis and other public figures have protested the unexplained police decision to prevent Rabbi Yisrael Ariel from visiting the Temple Mount. How ironic that Israel boasts freedom of religion and access to holy sites but bans a rabbi from Judaism’s holiest site – a rabbi who is the founder of the Temple Institute, which seeks to disseminate the principle taught in The Kuzari that “Jerusalem will be built when the Jews truly long for it.”

Jerusalem As Islam’s Capital?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

As most of you read these words, Egyptians are taking to the polls to elect their new president – and the outcome is liable to be fairly treacherous for their smaller neighbor to the northeast, Israel.

How so? One recent quote from a public endorsement for one of the candidates paints the picture: “Our capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, please Allah.”

The words were proclaimed by a prominent Egyptian Muslim cleric, endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate at a large election rally. “Our chants shall be: ‘Millions of martyrs will march towards Jerusalem,’” continued cleric Safwat Hagazy, in a speech broadcast on Egypt’s religious Annas TV.

“Yes, we will either pray in Jerusalem or we will be martyred there,” he threatened.

The Egyptians themselves are said to be not thrilled with their choices in this week’s election. One candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, represents the hated, ousted Mubarak regime; he was the last Mubarak-era prime minister. But his opponent, Muhammad Mursi, is the candidate of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood movement, which many Egyptians say they do not want to run the country.

Results of the recent parliamentary election, however, appear to belie this claim. Muslim Brotherhood candidates won over two-thirds of the legislature’s seats, and several more went to another Muslim movement. Thus, Mursi – whose supporters see Jerusalem as the future Muslim capital of the world – appears to be the favorite to win.

Not surprisingly, Hamas, the terrorist organization that now rules Gaza, has endorsed the Brotherhood, from which it actually emanated back in 1987. Other indications that a Mursi victory bodes ill for Israel include a written statement issued last month by the Brotherhood’s “General Guide” calling the formation of Israel the “worst catastrophe ever to befall the peoples of the world” and demanding that it withdraw from the entire “land of Palestine.”

Perhaps, one might ask, the Muslim longing for a presence in Jerusalem is based on purely religious considerations? Perhaps the Muslim claim on the Holy City is benignly similar to Christian claims that – at present – are not military in nature? Not quite.

For one thing, Jerusalem has little historic significance in Muslim theology. Muslim claims to the city merely disguise their long-term, nationalist, strategic plot to take full control over Jerusalem and rid its Old City of Jewish presence.

To underline this point, let us note yet again that while Yerushalayim is mentioned directly in the Bible approximately 650 times, it is not mentioned even once in the Koran – and Muslims actually turn their backs on Jerusalem when they pray! In fact, the Wikipedia entry on “Caliphate” – the worldwide Muslim-religious government that once existed and that Muslims hope to revive – mentions Jerusalem only once, in passing.

It is ironic that the Muslim name for what is supposedly their third-holiest city is Al-Quds – an abbreviation of a previous Arabic name of the city, “Bet Al-Maqdes” – referring to none other than the Beit HaMikdash, our Holy Temple. Thus, the name that the Arabs use for Jerusalem for the purpose of “Arab-izing” it – is actually one that perpetuates its Jewishness.

Today, when the Muslim word is once again thinking “Caliphate” and worldwide dominion, we must make sure not to be fooled: Whenever Muslim ties to Jerusalem are reawakened, it means Islam wants to conquer Jerusalem for political, nationalistic, or military reasons.

This first occurred in Muhammad’s own lifetime: Seeking to win over the Jews living near his hometown of Medina, he announced that prayers would be directed toward Jerusalem. As soon as he was rebuffed, he skillfully zigzagged and redirected Muslim prayers toward Mecca. When the Muslims later conquered the Holy Land, they totally ignored Jerusalem and established their capital in Ramle.

Twice more this pattern repeated itself in later centuries – and now it is happening once again. Until 100 years ago, Jerusalem remained way in the background for the Muslim world, but when Jews began returning to their homeland, Muslims again awoke and “remembered” the holy city as a pinnacle of its religious aspirations. Again, however, its interests are simply to rid the Middle East of Israel.

As recently as 1964, when the PLO was founded, its original charter did not even mention Jerusalem.

Israel’s Jerusalem Sovereignty Again In Danger?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

A brief review of Jerusalem’s police blotter for recent days looks like this:

* April 2: Haredi man, 55, is axed by Arab terrorist near Shaar Shechem (Damascus Gate); lightly wounded.

* April 15: Seven Molotov cocktails are hurled at Jewish homes in Maaleh Zeitim, causing a fire in one of them.

* April 19: Young worshipper on his way from Shimon HaTzaddik to Meah She’arim is stabbed by two Palestinian terrorists (moderate wound).

These follow on the heels of the more famous case of a female soldier who was stabbed on Jerusalem’s new light-rail train by an 18-year-old Arab just over a month ago. The terrorist has been indicted on charges of attempted murder.

What lies behind this most recent wave of Arab terrorism? Following the Shimon HaTzaddik attack, Knesset Member Uri Ariel of the National Union party said, “I expect from the police and the security forces to maintain our sovereignty [over Jerusalem] and the holy sites, and to protect the Jewish worshipers throughout the Land of Israel.”

His party colleague (and neighbor in the Binyamin-area community Kfar Adumim, east of Jerusalem) Prof. Aryeh Eldad similarly responded, following the firebomb attack in Maaleh HaZeitim, “The police are abandoning the security of the Jews at the Mt. of Olives.”

The common denominator of both parliamentarians’ responses is the erosion of Israeli control of its capital. Eldad was particularly indignant at the fact that the police came to the Maaleh HaZeitim neighborhood and questioned the guards for having responded so “forcefully” – by firing in the air.

In a letter to Police Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch, Eldad noted that “firebombs are lethal weapons, and they should be met with live fire…. The worst of all would be if the terrorist who meant to burn Jews in their sleep would continue in his ways while the guards who dared to protect the residents would be fired from their jobs.”

Ironically, just before Pesach a new police station was dedicated in the area. Minister Aharonovitch said at the time that the site of the new station was a strategic one, and that it would enhance the security of residents and visitors alike.

Unfortunately, the residents say the new police presence has not only not helped, it is barely felt. Just last week, several visitors to the gravesite of Eida Hareidit Badatz member R. Moshe Halbershtam on his sixth yahrzeit were stoned by Arabs; one Torah scholar was lightly wounded. A month ago, a bridegroom on the day of his wedding and his friend were similarly stoned by a group of Arabs when they went to pray at the groom’s grandmother’s gravesite. They were treated in Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, and from there made their way to the wedding hall.

It should be noted that it was recently released for publication that the police had arrested four suspected Arab rock-throwers, three of whom were released with restrictions; the fourth is still in custody.

We have reported in these pages before on the efforts to enhance the Jewish presence in, and Israeli control, of the holy and historic Mt. of Olives. Specifically, the International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim, formed in late 2010, has organized and sponsored several initiatives to this end. Earlier this month, the group ran an event in Yonkers, New York, at which Chairman Abe Lubinsky called on the Israeli government to “come out of the closet” in proactively defending and protecting the ancient cemetery.

Notably, Lubinsky linked Mt. of Olives with the entire issue of the possible division of Jerusalem. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “must defend Har HaZeitim if he truly cares about an indivisible Jerusalem,”Lubinsky said.

How so? The explanation is simple: Proponents of dividing Jerusalem often buttress their position by citing the Israeli difficulty, or even inability, in enforcing the law in Arab-populated neighborhoods. They also note the lack of Jewish presence in some of these areas. If Arab rock-throwers and terrorists continue to succeed in defying Israeli law on the Mt. of Olives, Shimon HaTzaddik, or elsewhere, while at the same time scaring Jews away from visiting these precious holy sites, pro-division elements will be emboldened and encouraged to strengthen their efforts.

It must be kept in mind that even if a few weeks or months go by without headlines on talks and efforts to divide Jerusalem, the danger is still very much extant. Just as our enemies wish to see Israel erased from the map, they never cease to pine for, at the very least, the division of Jerusalem.

We must do everything we can to ensure this does not happen. We must write to Prime Minister Netanyahu – bnetanyahu@knesset.gov.il – as well as to Police Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch – iaharon@knesset.gov.il – and other officials, expressing our outrage at the continued attacks in Mt. of Olives, Shimon HaTzaddik, and elsewhere in eastern Jerusalem. We must write of this phenomenon to newspapers and to our acquaintances.

Jerusalem: A City For Nations – Or A Jewish City?

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Over the past year, KeepJerusalem has been keeping you informed in these pages about developments in Jerusalem that are likely to affect its Jewish future, for better or for worse. We strive to educate readers regarding the importance of a United Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.

Unfortunately, but certainly not surprisingly, a counter-organization exists whose purpose is precisely the opposite. Its name is Ir Amim, or “City of Nations” – a name that indicates its very goal: To blur the specifically Jewish character of Yerushalayim, and to render the city more “international.” Its goal is “a more viable and equitable city for the Israelis and Palestinians who share it… [that] ensures the dignity and welfare of all its residents and safeguards their holy places [and] historical and cultural heritages.”

In short: not the city of King David, but that of Arabs, Christians, Jews, Greek Orthodox, and anyone else who happens to jump on the bandwagon.

Interestingly enough, the biblical vision of Yerushalayim is also one of “all the nations” – but only after the Beit HaMikdash is built and sacrifices are once again offered there. As the Prophet Isaiah says (56:7), “I will bring [those who join God's covenant] to My Holy Mountain, and gladden them in My House of Prayer…for My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Anything having to do with the Beit HaMikdash, of course, is the antithesis of Ir Amim’s vision for Jerusalem. The organization even opposes archaeological excavations carried out by the Elad organization to uncover more Jewish links with the Temple Mount area.

In July 2010, for instance, Ir Amim requested that the Supreme Court remove the City of David National Park from Elad’s management and return it to the direct administration of Israel’s Parks and Nature Reserves Authority (SPNI). And who heads the SPNI? It was announced this week that it will be ex-Knesset member Chaim Oron – who at the same time left his position as head of the radical left Meretz party.

As opposed to groups such as the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Temple Mount Antiquities and the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, what else does Ir Amim strive for? It website says it aspires “to a sustainable political future for Jerusalem, achievable only through a negotiated process between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Such a “negotiated process,” of course, means nothing less than a divided capital city, with clear negative ramifications regarding Israeli control in many other areas. It will also impact gravely on personal security in the city, and certainly a loss of Jewish control over the Jewish People’s historic capital and most sacred sites. Even the construction of new Jewish neighborhoods in areas under Jordanian control between 1949 and 1967 – no matter how far from the Old City – is opposed by Ir Amim.

For instance, Ir Amim writes: “Two planned massive construction projects, Mevasseret Adumim in E1 [near Maaleh Adumim] and Givat Yael in southern Jerusalem, have exceptional significance for the political future of Jerusalem. If they are built they will constitute barriers that will separate the West Bank from East Jerusalem; construction in E1 will also disrupt the contiguity between the northern West Bank and its south. [These] plans will severely impede the possibility of reaching an agreed settlement on the question of Jerusalem.”

It is clear, therefore, how critical such neighborhoods are to the future of Jewish Jerusalem.

Ir Amim says it employs a three-pronged strategy to achieve its goals: “1. Ongoing monitoring…and exposure of key developments in order to halt harmful government actions that impede equitability…or threaten to derail negotiations on final status issues. 2. Exposing…realities and ramifications of current government policies in Jerusalem…. 3. Working together with a Palestinian NGO to design, propose and quietly catalyze several Palestinian socio-economic institutions in East Jerusalem.”

Who helps Ir Amim achieve these goals? Most prominent among its declared supporters is no less than the European Union itself; its positions regarding Jewish Judea and Samaria, the Temple Mount, and the “peace process” well explain why it supports Ir Amim – thus snatching for foreign countries undue influence over internal Israeli policies. NGO Monitor reports that nearly three quarters of Ir Amim’s 20009 budget derived from European governments!

Other supporters include:

* Ford Foundation Israel Fund, which also funds Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and B’Tselem.

* The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, which seeks to “strengthen Israeli Democracy” and “promote liberal and pluralistic approaches to Judaism;”

* The New Israel Fund, which has a strong and notorious history of supporting anti-Israel campaigns.

Meet the staff: Chairing Ir Amim’s Board of Directors is Dr. Yehudit Elkana, billed as “active in Machsom Watch and peace organizations in Jerusalem.” Machsom Watch is a group of women who stand at IDF checkpoints and oversee the soldiers as they check potential terrorists, thus interfering with their work. Likud MK Ophir Akunis has described Machsom Watch as “politically subversive” and with a “goal of besmirching IDF soldiers throughout the world and then assisting in placing officers and senior officials on trial.”

Things Are Happening On The Mount Of Olives

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

In a city of Jewish symbols, the Mount of Olives is perhaps the most symbolic of all: With a theatrical view of the Temple Mount and the Old City, it was the last stop for the Divine Spirit before the destruction of the First Beit HaMikdash and will be its first stop when Mashiach arrives. During Holy Temple times, the Red Heifer was burned here for Israel’s purification, it was the last station for Jews visiting Jerusalem three times a year, and it was a decisive battle site during the Romans’ capture of Jerusalem 1,900 years ago.

Today, it is the oldest, largest, and most important cemetery in the Jewish world, with an estimated 135,000 Jewish graves. Among the Jews buried there are the prophets Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi; King David’s son Avshalom; Middle Ages Torah giants Rav Ovadiah of Bartenura and the Ohr HaChaim; Rabbis Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Shlomo Goren, and Yisrael Alter; the Sadigora, Gur, and Nadborna Rebbes; and Zionist leaders and figures such as Uri Tzvi Greenberg, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Henrietta Szold, and Menachem Begin.

Unbelievably, during the 19-year Jordanian occupation, nearly half the graves on the Mt. of Olives were vandalized and destroyed – proof that leaving holy sites under Arab control is not quite advisable. Arab vandalism continues even today, decades after Israel liberated the area in the Six-Day War, and many Jews still consider it an unsafe place to visit.

But this is now beginning to change. For one thing, renovation of the destroyed graves and headstones is underway, sponsored in part by official city bodies. Some 15,000 graves or stones have been painstakingly restored – leaving the shocking number of 50,000 or more still to go.

In addition, the City of David organization has established an online mapping system of the myriads of Mt. of Olives gravesites. The project has been described as being of “national and historic importance,” containing information on the location and accessibility of the graves, and of course the names of those buried there. The program is easily downloadable onto home computers, at no charge (www.mountofolives.co.il/map.aspx?CID=293).

Yet another Mt. of Olives program currently underway is the initiative of Jerusalem lands activist Aryeh King, founder of the Israel Land Fund. He is featured on a recent Jewish Press.com video explaining that “for the first time in over 70 years, Jews have returned to this plot of Mt. of Olives land – purchased by Jews, yet forgotten by their descendants – and we are now planting olive trees.… We are not living here yet, but we are working the land – and with God’s help, in four years [after the trees lose their orlah status] we will be able to enjoy their pure olive oil.”

Possibly the most important of the new Mt. of Olives initiatives is the formation of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim (Mt. of Olives). It was founded just over a year ago by Avrohom Lubinsky, a “simple Jew” from Brooklyn who visited his parents’ burial site one day and saw that the nearby graves had been smashed and ruined. The organization aims to put a stop to ongoing Arab desecration of graves by buttressing the slowly improving police efforts to this end.

Due to pressure by the committee, some 80 cameras have been placed around the cemetery, and another 67 are planned, as well as six heat sensors for nighttime supervision. A typical success occurred in November, when an Arab throwing bricks at graves and shattering headstones was apprehended within minutes by private security guards and handed over to the police. Sentenced to three months in prison, he related that he had been paid 1,000 shekels to perpetrate the attack.

The committee truly lives up to its name, having involved high levels of the U.S. State Department in its efforts. Leading member Jeff Daube, director of the Israel Office of the Zionist Organization of America, has met with U.S. Consulate officials in Jerusalem and with State Department representatives in Washington, leading to a mild condemnation of Arab vandalism on the holy site.

The committee has also been working hard to stop the expansion of a large mosque adjacent to the Jewish cemetery – but this is a topic for a future article.

It goes without saying that continued control of the Mt. of Olives is an absolute imperative in the framework of the Jewish people’s campaign to retain a united Yerushalayim under Israeli sovereignty. Israeli governments that consented in the past to “negotiate” arrangements in the holy city with the PA rejected its demand to transfer the Mt. of Olives to PA sovereignty and control – but were prepared to agree to the transfer of neighborhoods that control the access routes to the mount.

“Should any such agreement be implemented in the future,” writes Jerusalem historian Nadav Shragai, “it could endanger freedom of access to [Mt. of Olives] and continued Jewish burial there.”

Tense International Focus On Western Wall Ramp

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

In Jerusalem, even when it’s relatively quiet on most of the city’s fronts, the tensions always zero in on one place: The holiest spot in the world, the site of the Beit HaMikdash – the Temple Mount. Current events show once again that it is here that the battle to keep Jerusalem Jewish will be decided.

Even a seemingly simple issue such as the need to repair or replace an entrance ramp to the Temple Mount – used only by non-Muslims, incidentally – is enough to bring about a major international crisis.

The entrance in question, known as the Mughrabi Gate, is the only one permitted for Jewish use. Anyone who visits the Western Wall can’t miss it, as it’s right there, just above and to the right of the women’s section. Israel’s closure last week of the ramp – because it is shaky, weak, a fire hazard and all-around dangerous – has brought on an onslaught of protests and anti-Israel threats by Arab countries.

It will be recalled that immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, the Arab houses that reached almost up to the Kotel were razed, in order to create the broad Western Wall plaza in use today. The estimated 8 million worshipers and visitors who frequent the Kotel every year (including repeat visits) enjoy the open area either for praying, or for taking in the full grandeur of the Wall; many still do not realize that it is only a small part of the complete structure that enclosed the entire Beit HaMikdash in days of yore.

However, one large hill of dirt remained standing adjacent to the Wall after ’67. It served for years as a giant ramp by which tourists would enter the holy site – and religious Jews who wished to do the same (after immersing in a mivkeh and taking the other required halachic measures).

In February 2004, after heavy rains and snow, the hill partially collapsed. The Jerusalem Municipality announced that it would remove the hill almost completely – though only after conducting an archaeological dig at the site, as required by law – and then replace the entryway with a new wooden bridge.

After months of work – and Arab protests and threats – the dig was finally completed and the wooden bridge was erected. It was meant to be temporary – but no specific plans were made for its replacement. Then it happened: Two months ago, Jerusalem City Engineer Shlomo Eshkol officially informed Rabbi Shlomo Rabinovitch, the chief rabbi of the Holy Places, and Soli Eliav, the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, that the structure is officially “condemned” and must be replaced within 30 days.

The matter was not one for those two to decide, of course; anything having to do with the Temple Mount and the Western Wall has international repercussions and must be decided on top governmental levels. Prime Minister Netanyahu originally agreed to replace the bridge, but then reneged because of pressure from Egypt, Jordan and other Arab states. The city engineer’s “condemnation,” therefore, trumped Netanyahu’s “no decision” – and the bridge is now closed. Ignoring for a moment the Arab anger at this decision – tourists now have no way to enter the Temple Mount – the question is, where does this leave the many religious Jews longing for the Beit HaMikdash who wish to visit the site in purity?

The answer is: They are furious. They originally supported the decision to replace the dangerous bridge that they use to ascend to and descend from the Mount, but they also expected that an alternative approach would be offered them, as in the past, while works were underway. This has not been the case – and they are now concerned that it could be a year or more before they are again afforded the chance to frequent the holy site.

“We call upon the Government of Israel,” the Temple Mount Foundation said in a statement, “to activate its sovereignty over its capital, and to use this opportunity as well to reconsider the absurd regulations by which 12 Temple Mount gates are open to Muslims 24/7, and only one gate is open to Jews, and that for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week…. [The government must provide] freedom of worship to Jews at their only holy site.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic Movement in Jordan condemned Israel’s closure of the bridge: “There is no way to deal with the ‘occupation’ other than by an international struggle” – often used by Arabs as a euphemism for “war.”

Jordan’s foreign minister said that his country “rejects every Israeli attempt to influence the holy sites in Jerusalem and the city’s legacy and character.”

Most telling, however, is the way in which Israeli media report the Arab reactions. The Nana10 news site, for instance, wrote: “Many Muslim leaders fear that Israel is acting unilaterally regarding the bridge, thereby shunting aside the Waqf, the Muslim organization that controls the holy sites on the Temple Mount. It should be noted that Jordan, too, has a say in the matter, since it is Islam’s custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.”

The Next Battleground: The Eastern Wall

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Begging his or her pardon in advance, the reader is asked to imagine a Muslim cemetery alongside the Western Wall. Horrific? Inconceivable? Yet this is precisely what is happening before the very eyes of the police and Jerusalem municipal authorities just across the Temple Mount, at its Eastern Wall.

The gloomy story is as follows.

The Ophel is the biblical name given to the hilltop just south of the Temple Mount, from which the City of David slopes downward. It is mentioned several times in the Bible: twice in Chronicles II as the site of Jewish royal construction, and also in Nechemiah as a place that was resettled during the Return to Zion after the First Exile.

Its Jewish history is also traced to the times of the Mishnah, as it is mentioned in the Tosefta of Taanit in connection with the neighboring Kidron Brook and prayers for rain.

Keren HaOphel, or the Ophel Corner, is the present-day area that features the southeastern corner of the Old City and the Temple Mount. Its upper half towers 20 meters (six and a half stories) above the hill; its lower half is buried another 20-25 meters deep in the ground.

As anyone standing across the valley on the Mt. of Olives can see, most of the 800-meter long Eastern Wall is already dotted with Muslim graves, marring the presence of two prominent Old Jerusalem entrances there: Lions’ Gate, through which the Israeli forces entered and liberated the Old City in the Six-Day War, and Golden (Mercy) Gate, which has been sealed up for nearly five centuries.

However, the southernmost 80 meters are still mostly untouched, and are in fact protected, by law, from being built up or upon. Yet over the past several months, Muslims have been flagrantly violating the law and long-time custom by holding funerals there and adding new graves.

Dozens of graves have even been illegally dug with nothing but tombstones atop them – “saving” the space for future bodies.

“Keren HaOphel is a key site for studying the ancient remnants of the Temple Mount,” according to veteran Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, “[in terms of] history, architecture, topography, Hasmonean construction…. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the seven wonders of the world. We cannot allow ourselves to lose this treasure.”

Jerusalem lands activist Aryeh King told us that in 2004 he filed a court suit against allowing Muslim burials there – “and in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that I was right. It also stated that the area must be preserved as the National Park that it is, and in fact, appropriate steps were taken in this direction.”

“But of late,” King continued, “shortly after Niso Shacham became police chief in Jerusalem, things started to change for the worse. It’s interesting that Shacham was responsible for holy sites in Jerusalem around the time of my original court suit – and now that he is police chief, the situation has again deteriorated.”

According to King, the problematic situation has caught the eyes of the residents of Givat Assaf, Migron, and the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El. What’s the connection?

“The Supreme Court set a date for the demolition of their communities,” King said, “and the government seems prepared to follow the ruling, down to the last letter. [Editor’s Note: The destruction, thought to be imminent last month, has been put off at least until another hearing, to be held by next summer.]

“But the same Supreme Court has also determined that graves must not be dug at the Ophel, and so these people are asking why there is no date for the implementation of that decision. The graves should be dug up and relocated, just like occurred in Gush Katif.”

This option has barely been considered, as even just enforcing the law on no funerals and no new graves is not done, due to fear of Arab riots. Many feel this will lead to a “weeping for generations,” as Mazar put it.

Yaakov Yaniv, a former Arab Affairs Department head in the Shabak, has written, “The authorities are totally mistaken in enabling the Arabs to continue to take control of the Keren HaOphel via illegal burials. Without enforcement of Israeli laws there, lawbreakers are liable to sell burial plots elsewhere as well. Via burials of this nature, the entire Ophel and promenade area there is likely to lose the status of National Park and archaeological site.”

Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech invites you to do your part in keeping Jerusalem united under Jewish sovereignty. Fax your concerns regarding Keren HaOphel to Minister of Public Security Yitzchak Aharonovitch at 02-6496188, and/or visit www.keepjerusalem.org or send e-mail to tours@keepjerusalem.org to receive updates on our bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem and more.

 

Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development FundHe was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel is a long-time writer and editor. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/keeping-jerusalem/the-next-battleground-the-eastern-wall/2011/11/30/

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