...Preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount is a capitulation not only to threats and violence but also to Palestinian mythology and denial of historical facts. The proposed bi-partisan bill is a partial yet overdue step to enforce the Jews’ freedom of worship and Israel’s sovereignty in the heart of its capital and on Judaism’s holiest site.
22 May '14..
A bi-partisan bill drafted by MKs Miri Regev (Likud) and Hilik Bar (Labor) was recently submitted to the Knesset to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, including with ritual objects such as a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefilin (phylacteries). The Temple Mount is holy to Jews because the first and second Jerusalem Temples once stood there. However, Rabbis disagree about the permissibility of Jewish access to the Temple Mount: some rabbis (generally the ultra-orthodox) forbid the Jews’ access altogether, fearing that it might desecrate the Holy of Holies; others (generally the Zionist rabbis) allow Jewish access in designated areas. However, Jews who follow the second stance are not allowed by the Islamic Wakf and by the Israeli police to pray on the Temple Mount for fear of Muslim violence.
The proposed bill only refers to the Temple Mount plaza, not to the Al-Aqsa mosque. And yet, Mohammad al-Madani, chairman of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction of Israeli Society, has said that allowing Jews to pray on Judaism’ holiest site would constitute a violation of “the sanctity of Islamic and Christian holy places.” Palestinian political analyst Abdel Raouf Arnaout falsely claimed in the Saudi daily Al-Watan that the bill is meant to allow Jews to pray inside the Al-Aqsa mosque. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas himself had warned in an interview with the same Al-Watan newspaper (on June 3, 2013) of an Israeli “plot” to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and to build the Third Temple in its stead.
The Temple Mount is one of the “core issues” of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At the Camp David Conference in July 2000, Yasser Arafat shocked the American and Israeli delegations by claiming that the Jerusalem Temple was a myth (Arafat first said that the Temple had been built in the Biblical town of Sichem, but he later denied the Temple’s existence altogether). And yet, when Arafat launched his terror war against Israel in September 2000, he aptly named it the “Al-Aqsa intifada” calling upon Muslims to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque from a Jewish plan to destroy it and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple in its stead. There is no lack of irony in the self-contradictory Palestinian position on the Temple Mount: on the one hand, it denies the past existence of the two Jerusalem Temples; on the other hand, it claims that Israel plans to “re-build” the Temple.
Neither is this contradiction new. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Jerusalem Mufti in the 1920s and 1930s, triggered the 1929 violence and the Jewish pogrom of Hebron after claiming that the Jews were planning on destroying the Al-Aqsa mosque and on rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple. In 1931, al-Husseini hoped to repeat the bloodbath on a larger scale when he convened a pan-Islamic conference in Jerusalem at which he disseminated photomontages of Jews with machine guns attacking the Dome of the Rock.
Since September 1996, when Arafat launched a wave of riots against Israeli civilians, the Islamic Waqf has ceased to cooperate with Israel on its activities on the Temple Mount, carrying out instead illegal construction projects. As a result, the Waqf built two new mosques on the Temple Mount: the Solomon’s Stables mosque in 1996 and the Al Aqsa Al-Qadim mosque in 1999. In the process, the Waqf removed tons of archeological rubble containing artifacts dating back to the First Temple period. Decorations and inscriptions were polished away from ancient stones, and stones with Hebrew writings and Hasmonean stars were thrown into Jerusalem’s municipal garbage dump. Thus do the Palestinians publicly deny the Temple’s existence even as they actively erase proof to the contrary.
Nevertheless, at Camp David, the Israeli delegation agreed to share Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state. The United States suggested Palestinian custodianship over the Temple Mount and full Palestinian sovereignty in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City. The deal faltered only when the Palestinians rejected the American proposal. Even after the failed Camp David summit, Israel suggested a division of sovereignty over the Temple Mount whereby a future Palestinian state would control the upper level, and Israel the lower one. In December 2000, then Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami offered the Palestinians full and exclusive sovereignty over the Temple Mount (including the lower level), provided merely that they recognize the sites’ holiness to the Jewish people and prevent the destruction of Jewish remnants on the Mount. Yet even that proposal was rejected by the Palestinians.
Preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount is a capitulation not only to threats and violence but also to Palestinian mythology and denial of historical facts. The proposed bi-partisan bill is a partial yet overdue step to enforce the Jews’ freedom of worship and Israel’s sovereignty in the heart of its capital and on Judaism’s holiest site.
Dr. Emmanuel Navon heads the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.