Saturday, September 2, 2017

The human landscape on the Temple Mount is slowly changing, but changing - by Nadav Shragai

...It remains to be seen how the "pilot" MK visit this week turns out, but when it comes to "ordinary" Jews visiting the Temple Mount, we have long since passed the trial state. The human landscape on the Mount is slowly changing.

Nadav Shragai..
Israel Hayom..
01 September '17..

A lot of Palestinians were trying to turn the first visit to the Temple Mount by MKs in two years into another flashpoint. At least for now, it isn't working. Two days before the visit, the Committee for Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa in the Palestinian Legislative Council announced that Israel's decision to allow MKs "to enter Al-Aqsa will not be allowed to pass quietly and will lead to a blowup in the situation in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine."

The council, an official PA entity, urged Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to scupper plans of the "occupation." PA television channels also threw a match onto the Temple Mount embers in an attempt to reignite the flames that were mostly quenched due to concerted efforts in the wake of the shooting attack on the Temple Mount and the ensuing metal detector crisis.

A documentary film that ran on PA television revisited the old lie that the Jews were the ones who planned to set fire to Al-Aqsa mosque in 1969, and even held up attempts to put it out. The mosque was set on fire by Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian Christian, who was arrested, tried, found insane, and committed to a psychiatric hospital.

A day before the MKs' visit, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They also spoke about "the settler attack on Al-Aqsa." A branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades) broadcast threats that they would attack the Knesset members based on intelligence it had obtained. MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) made it clear that the Arab MKs would visit the Mount "whenever they want."

But Tuesday's visit to the Temple Mount was quiet. The first to enter was MK Yehuda Glick (Likud), who was shot and wounded three years ago by a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad over his Temple Mount activity. Glick recovered and became an MK, but since May 2016, when he was sworn in, has been barred from the Temple Mount. A week and a half ago, Glick tried to enter the Temple Mount compound, but was kept away by the police. After speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Glick was persuaded that the Mount would soon be opened to MKs on a permanent basis. A year ago, the police informed Netanyahu that visits to the Mount by MKs presented no problem for their forces, but Netanyahu preferred to play it safe and repeatedly postponed making a decision on the issue.

The Muslim Waqf and the Jordanians were informed of the details of this week's "pilot" visit. The police were deployed in droves, not only on the Mount, but also around it. The rules were clear: no media and no government ministers.

Upon leaving the Temple Mount, Glick got into a debate with Hagit Ofran, one of the leaders of Peace Now, who was leading a protest. The two spoke about the Temple, but each one was talking about a different time and different circumstances. "Anyone who ascends the Mount with good intent brings more peace to the world," Glick summed up, "and anyone who promotes incitement and hatred is the guilty one."

Habayit Hayehudi MK Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli was the next MK to enter the Temple Mount compound. Mualem-Rafaeli and Glick lead the Knesset Lobby to Strengthen Jewish Ties to the Temple Mount. Mualem-Rafaeli, like Glick, was visiting for the first time after a prolonged absence, and found it difficult to hide her emotions.

But with all due respect to the only two MKs who chose to take part in Tuesday's test run, the real story is the quiet revolution that is taking place on the Mount itself. Before Tisha B'Av this year, Israel Hayom published an in-depth analysis of the massive changes to the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. As it turns out, the change is much deeper than we thought. Not only in numbers -- an increase of 500% in the number of Jewish visits to the Mount compared to previous years -- but also who those visitors are.

What we are seeing is no longer the "hard-core" Temple Mount activists or the "extreme Right," but rather people from a much broader social spectrum. The Temple Mount has ceased to be an issue for "freaks."

The new visitors to the Temple Mount include students, teachers, soldiers, the elderly, children, brides and grooms on their wedding day, religious, secular, and haredim. There are also some who visited the site decades ago and since then haven't been back, until now. A remark by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that somehow stayed off the public radar echoes in the background: "The Palestinians have to understand that every violent action on the [Temple] Mount, all the tension that they create, will lead to the opposite [result] -- more Jews visiting."

In the Hebrew month of Av this year (July 24-August 22), the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount rose by 172% -- 4,469 compared to 1,606 who visited during Av in 2016. On Sunday, Rivka Brestiker, a nurse at the Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital in Jerusalem, visited the Temple Mount. Two days later, she married her beloved, Uriel Ohayon. Brestiker, who is from the settlement of Kedumim, described a sense of being uplifted, of holiness and power. This was her first visit, "and not her last," she said.

Ilana Rezvanifur of Jerusalem, a mother of four and grandmother of 11, who visited the Mount this week for the first time in a long time, doesn't fit the "old" profile of visitors, either. She made aliyah from Shiraz, Iran, 45 years ago, and admits that she couldn't sleep the night before her visit. She sums it up in a few words: "I'm like a bird returning to its nest."

The fact that this nest is home to two Muslim houses of prayer and is the third holiest place to Islam does not affect how she feels about it: "This is the reality," she said. "It's painful, but now is our time to see and be seen there."

Rabbi Shmuel Moreno, from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nof Zion, also visited the Temple Mount for the first time in some 30 years.

"It's time to return to the Temple Mount, to return to the place from which we have a hold on the entire Land of Israel, not only in terms of sovereignty, but also in terms of religion. My personal feeling is that just like Shabbat is the holy day of the week for Jews, the Mount is the holiest place. Israel is called the Holy Land. The Mount is the source of that holiness, and it's time to implement that," Moreno said.

He accepts with sadness the government's regulation against Jewish prayer on the Mount: "Apparently, Jewish prayer at this place is significant and threatens someone, although I'm convinced that in the future, that will change."

A more palpable change for Moreno, compared to his visits in the past, is the attitude of the police. "The police give Jews the sense that visiting the Mount is acceptable, not some wild or extremist act," he says.

A visible change

Israel Hayom has already covered three changes taking place on the Mount. The first: the collapse of the sweeping rabbinical ban from 1967 against entering the Temple Mount compound. Hundreds of rabbis, mostly from mainstream religious Zionism, now allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount. As a result, we have the second change, a significant rise in the number of Jews who want to visit. It took the police years to adjust, but they have adapted to the new rulings and the more heterogeneous Jewish population that wants to visit.

A surprising result of the new police policy is an informal understanding between the police and many Temple Mount activists: the visitors agree de facto, although not explicitly, to forgo public prayer there, and the police allow many more Jews in.

Improved communication between the police and Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount had led to another surprise for those who remember how sour relations between the police and visitors used to be: for the first time, representatives of Temple Mount activist movements took part in the ceremony inducting a new commander of the David Sector of the Israel Police, which is responsible for the Old City. More than that, representatives of the various organizations were not only there, they were also invited to make farewell speeches in honor of outgoing Commander Doron Turgeman, who has been succeeded by Commander Haim Shmueli.

Even David Zucker from Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood rubbed his eyes in disbelief. His grandchildren arranged for him to visit the Mount for his 90th birthday. He arrived with a few of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren -- four generations of one family.

"After the Six-Day War, I would visit the Temple Mount every Shabbat with two of my children. It was something ordinary. Once we even went into the Dome of the Rock. As the years went by, I stopped going. Today, now that the reality on the Temple Mount is becoming a little more comfortable, we are returning, the Jewish people are returning. I looked around and I was moved," he said.

"Old people, fathers, mothers, and children. You don't need statistics and rulers to understand that a change is taking place. You see it."

On one hand, Zucker still observes a kind of humiliation: "You're accompanied by police and they watch you to see that you don't, heaven forbid, mutter a prayer. Even when someone pulls out a cell phone, he is immediately suspected of trying to pray via his device. On the other hand, everything is conducted in a much better, calmer spirit. The guides who take groups around are free to present historical sources, quote from the Torah and Talmud," he says.

Rivka Shimon, who takes brides on tours of the Temple Mount, says that the most exciting visits for her are the ones in which her grandchildren take part: "They experience something powerful here, through nonpolitical and very innocent eyes, a sort of a first encounter -- this is where the Temple stood. This is where the Levites played. Here the Cohanim [priests] stood.

"It gives them an experience that illustrates, as far as possible, what they are learning about in Bible studies in school, and they are awestruck. On the other hand, there is a sense that you're always being hurried to finish the visit. Everything is very limited and keeps to the route that the police set rules on ahead of time. There's no real possibility of walking around the Mount calmly and at ease," Shimon said.

Mattiya, 14, from Petach Tikva, visited the Mount this week. He plans to make many more visits. Last week, at the start of the Hebrew month of Elul, a group of women came to the Temple Mount. For 11 of them, it was their first visit. Rabbi Hiyya Ben Hamo from Modiin also visited for the first time in a long time.

Last week, a group of Ethiopian kesim [religious leaders] toured the gates of the Temple Mount compound with Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu, a member of the Chief Rabbinate. Ari Odes, who lived in Gush Katif until the 2005 disengagement, also visited the Temple Mount this week, the first time he had been there in 20 years.

Odes, who used to manage the talent agency Bamah Achat (One Stage), said that his visit was not motivated by considerations of retaking the Mount and a Jewish presence there, important though they might be. In a social media post last week, he explained: "I am going, inspired by the children of [the Judean settlement] Kfar Etzion, who for 19 years revived the dream of returning home by looking past the lone oak tree. I am going as an act that my friends and I perform every Monday at the Kissufim crossing, looking westward, home, expecting to return soon."

Not everyone welcomes the new sights on the Temple Mount. The Muslims, as we know, see the visitors to the Temple Mount as "settlers," "occupiers," and "aggressors." The false narrative of "Al-Aqsa is in danger" continues to spread, sending attackers and murderers into the street.

In recent years, Israel has even been accused of plotting to change the status quo on the Mount and allow Jews to pray there, even though the prohibition against that is stringently enforced and despite Israel's formal denials.

The haredi world is giving Jews who visit the Temple Mount a real tongue-lashing. Unlike the Modern Orthodox rabbis, among haredim the religious ban against visiting the Mount remains in place with virtually no exceptions.

Just this week, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni lambasted Jewish visitors to the Mount. Only a few weeks ago, the haredi newspaper Bakehila ran a front page headline that read: "A Mount of Lies." The paper reported that a "disturbing number" of 1,264 Jews had "erred" by visiting the Mount on Tisha B'Av. A different edition of Bakehila described "lost Jews in haredi garb" visiting the Temple Mount. A haredi magazine, Mishpacha, reported that Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef had issued his ringing warnings against visits to the Temple Mount at the request of security officials who were alarmed at the spike in the number of Jews visiting the Mount.

Even if that is true, the security officials were jumping on a train that had already left the station: Yosef strongly rejects any Jews visiting the Temple Mount at all, in any numbers.

In any case, the fact that the issue is even up for discussion in the haredi community is a change. Despite the ban, there is a sector of the haredi public, albeit not a large one, whose members visit the Mount. This week, the Joint Task Force of Temple Mount Movements put out a short clip, overseen by Avraham Bloch, that became a hit and that questioned the halachic ban on visiting the Mount.

Bloch quoted haredi rabbis who find it permissible to visit the Temple Mount. The haredi website Behadrey Haredim‎ published a blog entry by Rabbi Mendel Ratah in favor of visiting the Temple Mount. This comprises something of an earthquake for haredi society, and the item continues to garner virulent responses.

It remains to be seen how the "pilot" MK visit this week turns out, but when it comes to "ordinary" Jews visiting the Temple Mount, we have long since passed the trial state. The human landscape on the Mount is slowly changing.

Updates throughout the day at If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.Twitter updates at LoveoftheLand as well as our Love of the Land page at Facebook which has additional pieces of interest besides that which is posted on the blog. Also check-out This Ongoing War by Frimet and Arnold Roth. An excellent blog, very important work. 

No comments:

Post a Comment