The previously secret minutes of a meeting in 1970 between then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and leaders of the nascent settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria have been published for the first time – and they include some very surprising statements on both sides, with the secular Dayan raising the idea of allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and his religious guests making clear that they do not espouse it.
At one point, Dayan even floated the idea of bulldozing the Mosque of Omar, which is located next to the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, apparently just to test the settlement leaders' reaction and to make a point regarding prayer at the Cave of Machpela.
The meeting – described as a meeting between Dayan and “a delegation of settlers from Hevron” – took place on Wednesday, September 30, 1970, and its contents were published Friday by Arnon Segal, a Temple Mount activist, in Makor Rishon.
According to Segal, the meeting was held two days after the sudden death of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had been trounced by Israel three years earlier in the legendary Six Day War. The discussion was supposed to center on the arrangements at the Cave of Machpela that Friday, which was also the second day of Rosh Hashana.
Dayan and the defense establishment preferred to keep the Jews out of the Cave of Machpela that Friday and to let the grieving Muslims have it to themselves on their weekly holy day. The leaders of the Jewish community in Hevron opposed this decision, and were invited to the meeting to present their case.
Dayan steered toward the Mount
The delegation from Hevron was made up of Rabbi Moshe Levinger z”l, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Bentzion Haneman and Benny Katzover.
Dayan kept steering the conversation away from the Cave of Machpela, and toward the Temple Mount – possibly seeking belated approval from his kippah-wearing guests for his decision, in June of 1967, to hand over the keys to the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf.
Dayan asked why it is so important to pray at the Cave of Machpela itself, and mentioned the Temple Mount in comparison. “In the mosque in Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount – and this may be good or it may be bad – Jews are not even allowed to pray outside,” he noted.
"Sometimes I mock the Minister of Religions, good-spiritedly, because as Minister of Religions, he is in charge of regulations governing all religions, and he has to issue regulations, what is obligatory and what is not, on Ramadan... and I ask him, what regulations will you issue for the Temple Mount? Will you issue regulations as if it is a Muslim place? Do you, as the state's Minister of Religions, have to set regulations that govern the Muslim matters, or will you issue regulations for the Temple Mount and [separate] regulations for the Mosque of Omar and Al Aqsa?”
Dayan continued: “However, the policy followed by the government is that Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. This is absurd, this is no less than a right passed down to us from our forefathers, yet this is our policy. We do not want to head for a collision right now.”
According to Segal, the concept of a right passed down from the Forefathers (zchut avot) had been mentioned by the Hevron delegation with regard to prayer at the Cave of Machpela. When Dayan asked why this concept was supposed to apply in Hevron but not in Jerusalem, Rabbi Levinger replied: “The matter of the Temple Mount – it is joined by the Jews' unwillingness to pray [there].”
Dayan did not let up, however, and cited Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the IDF's Chief Rabbi. “Rabbi Goren does not accept this, and quotes the Rambam [Maimonides], who prayed at the Temple Mount.”
Rabbi Waldman retorted: “He is in a minority.”
Dayan insisted: “He says that the Rambam came and ascended the Temple Mount to pray there.”
At that point, Major General Shlomo Gazit, Chairman of the Committee for Diplomacy-Security Coordination in the Occupied Territories, who was present at the meeting, interjected: “Every few weeks, we have to deal with groups that go up to pray [on the Mount]. There is one old man who goes up to pray every year.”
'We could take a bulldozer and destroy the mosque'
The conversation returned to the Cave of Machpela and Friday's arrangements, reports Segal, but Dayan once again steered it back to the Mount. When Katzover protested that shutting off the Cave to Jews on the second day of Rosh Hashana “set a precedent that is not for the good for the Jews,” Dayan replied thus:
“The good of the Jews is a much more complex matter. If this was up to you [plural], and we in the government were to desire it, we could take a bulldozer and destroy the Mosque of Omar and say: 'This is our Temple Mount. No matter if we build a Temple or if we not build a Temple – we don't want a mosque there. Our Holy of Holies should be a Muslim mosque?!”
Katzover replied: “It's a matter of certain tests of possibilities. Just as I would not go to war to conquer eastern Jerusalem. When the opportunity arises, you do it. When there is no opportunity, you can't.”
"I agree with what you're saying,” Dayan answered. “We wouldn't take a bulldozer now and destroy the mosque because we have to live with 100 million Arabs. But what holds true for that, also holds true for the prayer [at the Cave of Machpelah] on Friday.”
Katzover: “That is precisely what we do not understand.”
Dayan: “There can be disagreements. I understand that well. It is OK for there to be disagreements between Rabbi Unterman and Rabbi Goren and it is alright for us to disagree too.”
The Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, was strictly opposed to Jewish ascent to the Mount, whereas Rabbi Goren was more lax on the issue.
Later in the conversation, when Rabbi Levinger insisted on prayer at the Cave on Friday, Dayan again needled him about the Temple Mount. “Do you have any attitude toward the Temple Mount?”
"On the Temple Mount, I am halachically forbidden to pray. That is a different matter,” said the rabbi.
Dayan: “We will talk about it [again] the next time a Rosh Hashana occurs on a Friday.”
Rabbi Levinger: “We hope that by then the Temple Mount will be in our hands and the Cave of Machpela will be in our hands.”
Dayan prodded Rabbi Levinger again, saying of the Temple: "But it will not build itself.”
Rabbi Levinger answered: “The holy sources say that the Temple Mount will come down from the sky, in its completeness and complexity.”
Dayan answered skeptically: “Some people say that the Six Day War also came down on us from the sky. In war you can do everything, but for an entire building to come down without first erecting it...”
In the end, Jews were kept out of the Cave of Machpelah that Friday.
The minutes were only published now, according to Segal, because Rabbi Levinger has passed away. Apparently, someone thought they could embarrass him.
Segal interprets Dayan's questions as attempts to tease the settler delegation, but notes that the latter actually "outflanked Dayan from the left," and expressed more moderate views regarding the Temple Mount than he did.
It should be noted that in the aftermath of the Six Day War, a euphoric wave swept through Israel, including its secular population. Figures like IDF Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin and Dayan enjoyed near-messianic status, and secular songwriter Naomi Shemer's "Father's Song," which included the chorus "Let the Temple be rebuilt," became very popular among all Israelis.