In the heart of Jerusalem, several meters from the Western Wall, is a place devoid of sovereignty, law and order, government, and rule of law: the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site where its two temples stood, is a place of some of the worst discrimination, humiliation, and persecution of Jews in the world.
Visiting the Temple Mount is like travelling to an oppressive, third world country. Upon entering the Temple Mount complex, Jewish visitors are forced to deposit their Jewish identities at the door, and must adhere to the laws of this new “country.” Then, for two, five or twenty minutes – however much time is sanctioned by the police – visitors are allowed to cautiously walk around.
The reason for this is because this Temple Mount country is controlled by the Islamic Waqf, which is administered and funded by the Jordanian government. In the evening, members of the Waqf, some of whom live in East Jerusalem, enjoy Israel’s social benefits and social security, and during the day, they prevent Jews from exercising their basic right to worship.
With the help of the Israeli police who are “only carrying out orders,” the Waqf searches for Jews who show any signs of Jewishness – even if it is merely moving lips in silent prayer – and detains them.
Their law? Islam. The Temple Mount? In their hands.
Want proof? During Ramadan, it is prohibited to bring water bottles and food on the Temple Mount. They are confiscated by the police at the entrance, and are piled up next to all the bibles, Star of David necklaces, and all other remotely Jewish-looking symbols that are regularly confiscated from visitors by the police.
Whatever this law is, it certainly is not Israeli law.
Like in undemocratic third world countries, on the Temple Mount you are afraid to get into trouble and the last thing you want is to get tangled up with the authorities.
Several months ago, a man reached out to me and recounted how after he made Aliyah at the age of 30 and served a full army service, his request to join the Israeli Police and Shin Bet was rejected. Why? Because upon making Aliyah, he ascended to the Temple Mount, shut his eyes, and was arrested for praying.
In Israel, there are only two places where security asks if you packed your bag yourself – the airport, and the Temple Mount. At the airport they search your suitcase for weapons and explosives, but at the Temple Mount they search you for Israeli flags or Psalms. That is the great threat in the eyes of the State of Israel – that the most Jewish place in the world should not be too Jewish.
And the security check? Only for Jews. Non-Jews quickly pass through the entrance and onto the Temple Mount, while Jews are waiting on line – sometimes for hours – to pass through security.
Not even the deadly terrorist attack on the Temple Mount in July 2017 changed the situation, in which Muslims have nine gates through which they can enter the Temple Mount unhindered. That is exactly how last month, a Palestinian Arab terrorist brought a knife onto the Temple Mount complex and attempted to stab a police officer.
All of these restrictions are public information. Behind the scenes, the police and Shin Bet operate an Orwellian surveillance of “Temple Mount activists,” which I have the “privilege” to be included in. Phone taps and general surveillance are just the things we know about.
When I established the “Students for the Temple Mount” movement together with several friends, we said that our modest goal was to return Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City. We don’t want a trip to the Temple Mount to be akin to a trip abroad. Rather, we want it to feel like a trip home, to the heart of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.
Unfortunately, the Temple Mount has become a national failure for the Jewish People. A place that is supposed to be the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae, the crown jewel of the Land of Israel that was liberated by the blood of our soldiers, has become the exact opposite.
Under our watch, it has become a nexus of extremism and neglect, and a symbol of Arab nationalism and Islamic extremism. While we pray at the Western Wall – the alternative holy site that was created for us in the absence of the Temple Mount – anti-Jewish incitement reigns above.
This fear of the Israeli authorities to exercise sovereignty over the Temple Mount forfeits our holiest site to the hands of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, and Hamas, who organize inciting marches and protests every Friday.
As we begin the new Jewish year, I call on the public to ascend to the Temple Mount, to feel its strength, and to help return Israeli sovereignty over it, one step at a time.
(Tom Nisani is the Chairman of “Students for the Temple Mount” and the National Activist Coordinator for “Im Tirtzu”)