It’s the way of the world. There are always complexities and provisos and competing perspectives.
But first matters first: Sometimes the way of the world encompasses death. Nechama Rivlin, Israel’s First Lady, wife of Israel’s president Ruby Rivlin, has passed away, one day before her 74th birthday. She underwent a lung transplant three months ago because of her incurable pulmonary fibrosis, but coronary difficulties interfered with her recovery.
Greatly loved in the country, and now deeply mourned, she was a warm and compassionate woman who focused in recent years on art, activities for children with special needs, the environment and nature. She was hospitable to IDF soldiers and diplomats called her “gentle.”
She will be laid to rest tomorrow, on Har Herzl. Baruch Dayan HaEmet. May her memory forever be a blessing.
When last I wrote, I celebrated Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), which marks the re-unification of Jerusalem in 1967. Jerusalem is ours, I declared proudly. And for the most part, indeed it is! The point I wished to make – exceedingly valid and greatly significant – is that our superior claim to the city is historical, legal and religious. We will never consider a division of Jerusalem.
But there is a proviso of considerable importance with regard to Jerusalem. That proviso has to do with Har Habayit, the Temple Mount: the most sacred place in the world for Jews.
Credit: Israel Today
People often refer to the Kotel, the Western Wall, as the most sacred place for Jews. But the Kotel is part of a retaining wall that supported the (expanded) Mount on which the Second Temple was constructed. Today it has sanctity because it is the closest that Jews – who have immediate and regular access to it – can get to the site above, where the Temples had been situated. But in the end, it is the site where the Temples stood, up on the Mount, which has the greatest sanctity. And here’s the rub:
That Mount is part of Jerusalem – under Israeli sovereignty in theory. Jews, however, do not have immediate and regular access to it, while Muslims do.
We acquired control of eastern Jerusalem, where the Temple Mount stands, during the Six Day War in 1967. The famous oft-repeated cry in the course of the battle for the city was “Har Habayit B’Yadenu!” “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” That was Motta Gur, IDF Chief of Staff who commanded the brigade that broke through to the Old City via the Lions Gate. Soldiers wept. Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar (pictured below) and recited prayers. Listen:
Fifty-two years later, this description still evokes tears. So, how did we get where we are now?
Several factors played into the situation:
There were – and still are – traditional rabbis who maintained that Jews should not go up on the Mount because it is not certain precisely where the Temples had stood. To step accidentally on that sacred ground would be a desecration.
Many scholars believe that the Temples stood where the Muslim Dome of the Rock (with the golden dome) is now located. That is the approach taken today by most of those who do ascend and are mindful of this issue: they carefully avoid stepping in that area. And even 50 years ago not every traditional rabbi had this concern – Rabbi Goren actually wanted a synagogue built on the Mount. There was, however, no consensus on this, and the doubt raised by respected rabbis created a problem.
But of greater direct impact was the action taken by then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan.
Dayan, shown center, entering the Old City on the day Israel took the Temple Mount
Dayan had no religious attachment to the Mount; he viewed it as part of the historical/ archeological heritage of the Jewish people. Some are convinced that he had his own agenda. But whatever the case, what he did, for all practical purposes, was to give the Temple Mount away:
The Mount was administered by a Muslim Wakf (Trust) controlled by Jordan (Jordan had been illegally occupying eastern Jerusalem). Mere hours after Rabbi Goren had blown the shofar on the Mount, Dayan — overruling others such as head of Central Command, Uzi Narkiss – removed the Israeli flag from the spot and then cleared out the paratrooper company that was present. He declared:
“We have returned to the holiest of our places, never to be parted from them again….We did not come to conquer the sacred sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but rather to ensure the integrity of the city and to live in it with others in fraternity.”
Dayan told the Arabs that, while Israel retained political sovereignty over the area, they could continue to be in charge of day-to-day religious administration of the Mount. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (emphasis added):
“Dayan thought…that since for Muslims the mount is a ‘Muslim prayer mosque’ while for Jews it is no more than a historical site of commemoration of the past…one should not hinder the Arabs from behaving there as they now do.’ The Israeli defense minister believed that Islam must be allowed to express its religious sovereignty – as opposed to national sovereignty – over the mount; that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be kept on the territorial-national level; and that the potential for a conflict between the Jewish religion and the Muslim religion must be removed. In granting Jews the right to visit the mount, Dayan sought to placate the Jewish demands for worship and sovereignty there.”
This was a grievous error, with which we have been forced to contend for more than half a century. If indeed Dayan naively imagined that with this arrangement he was fostering good will between Muslim Arab and Jew, the years have proven him very much mistaken.
The Arabs are not foolish: they understand the religious and national import of the Temple Mount for Jews, and wish to control it completely for that very reason. Symbolically, their control of the Mount serves to undercut Israeli sovereignty throughout the Land. They frequently invoke libelous charges about Israel’s threats to the Mount’s integrity. They have excavated huge quantities of precious ancient Jewish archeological artifacts, without required Israeli supervision, in order to weaken the Jewish connection to the Mount. And they behave as if the Mount is exclusively theirs.
In many ways, Israeli authorities have acquiesced in this arrangement. Certainly, the libels are quickly refuted. But it is difficult to comprehend how the enormous and damaging excavation of artifacts proceeded unhindered. Perhaps it is simply easier to acquiesce when not doing so results in violence and negative PR, including claims in international forums that Israel is trampling on Muslim rights.
Muslims may ascend the Mount at any time of day, every day (with certain exceptions, as when there is a breakout of violence). Outrageously, Jews have very limited hours for visitation, and the numbers allowed up at one time are restricted. Even worse, visibly religious Jews (with covered head, etc.) are more stringently restricted (presumably either on the assumption that their very presence might provoke Arabs or that they would be more likely to attempt to pray).
In 1967, the Knesset passed the Law on the Protection of Holy Places, which states in part that it is forbidden “to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places…”
The limitation on visitation by Jews to the Mount contravenes this essential principle.
For many years there was an absolute prohibition on Jewish prayer on the Mount, so absolute that Jews found to be praying were taken off the Mount and sometimes arrested. There are no words for how offensive this is: Jews not allowed to utter prayers on their holiest site because of a situation established by Dayan and demanded since by Arabs, who refer to it as “the status quo.”
In a case brought before the Israeli Supreme Court in 2003, it was ruled that:
“…every Jew has the right to ascend the Temple Mount, to pray on it, and to commune with his Creator. That is part of the freedom of religious worship…At the same time, this right, like other basic rights, is not an absolute right, and in a place at which the likelihood of damage to the public peace and even to human life is almost certain – this can justify limiting the freedom of religious worship…”
And so, an “out” was provided: Not infrequently, Israeli authorities/police, have used this declared limit on the right of Jews to pray on the Mount to restrict their activity. Rather than move in to control mob violence by Arabs and protect the Jewish right to pray – for the Arabs do indeed threaten violence – the police invoke concern about impending violence to restrict Jews.
It is more than a bit painful to recount this situation. But I will say that there has been a bit of loosening of the restrictions on Jewish prayer of late, with hope that improvement will increase.
The Israeli – Jordanian peace treaty of 1994 gave Jordan a “special role” – not defined specifically – in the administration of the Temple Mount. On several occasions, I have observed with enormous frustration a tendency shown by our government to acquiesce very readily to demands made by the King of Jordan with regard to one matter of another concerning the Mount and even its environs.
Over time, with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, there has been competition between Jordan and the PA with regard control of the Wakf. At one point, there were two Wakf entities. Presently, Jordan controls the Wakf with considerable input from the PA.
I close this subject of the Temple Mount (for the time being) with this very current report by Naomi Kahn, of Regavim (emphasis added):
“Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced back in February that he had instructed authorities to prevent the opening of a new mosque at the Temple Mount’s Gate of Mercy,’ the Islamic Wakf has continued construction work at a feverish pace, causing irreparable damage to the ancient structure.
“Israeli NGO Regavim petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice on the eve of Jerusalem Day, renewing its earlier call to prevent the opening of the mosque…The petition, based on documentation of the Wakf’s recent activities at the site, proves beyond a doubt that the Wakf has taken steps to permanently turn a historic structure at the ‘Gate of Mercy’ into a mosque, carrying out construction work that has irreparably damaged the ancient building, in flagrant violation of Netanyahu’s instructions to enforce the closure of the building.
“Regavim’s first petition was submitted in March, but Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz allowed the government and the Wakf 90 days to respond—all the time the Wakf needed to transform the site into a Muslim-only compound.
“The defense establishment identified radical Islamist activity at the site, orchestrated by Hamas operatives, and the government requested a court order to shut down the site, which was duly issued by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. The Wakf ignored the court order and continued its construction project—in broad daylight and in flagrant disregard for the law.”
As the Israeli government was not enforcing the closure order that had been issued at its request, and the Wakf was continuing construction, Regavim returned to the High Court and requested that the 90 day period for responding be shortened.
The Israeli government argued that the relevant authorities “are taking steps to regulate an overall approach for dealing with the ‘Gate of Mercy’ compound; there is, therefore, no need for a temporary injunction to be issued at this stage.”
Needless to say, “the Wakf continued to carry out illegal construction work on the Mercy Gate structure, installing ceiling fans, lighting, furniture, and room dividers—permanent changes that have harmed the ancient structure, all without any oversight of the Israel Antiquities Authority as required by law.
“The exclusive use by Muslim worshippers of this building turns it de facto into a mosque, which creates a security threat of the highest order—one that security experts warned against in no uncertain terms. This was precisely the scenario the government foresaw when it asked for (and received) the Magistrate’s Court’s closure order.
“Netanyahu declared at the end of February that ‘Israel has not given its consent to opening the mosque on the Temple Mount.’ A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time declared that Netanyahu had given instructions ‘to enforce the court order without compromise and to ensure that the site remains closed,’ but in practice it appears that the work that is turning the site into a mosque has passed the point of no return.
“It is impossible to overstate the massive damage that has been done to the rule of law in this case: Lawbreakers do whatever they please at a holy site that is of indescribable religious and archaeological significance, in violation of a court order,” said Yakhin Zik, director of operations at Regavim…”The bottom line is that on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s watch, Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is being trampled.”
Here you have a video of hundred in the mosque in February, shouting “With spirit and blood we will redeem Al Aksa.”
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.