The Temple Mount: Getting Serious

It is time, I suggest, for us to start thinking seriously about the Temple Mount and our relationship to it as Jews. This is not an issue simply for those advocating building of a Third Temple on the Mount.

Arlene Kushner

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News from Palestinian sources protest Jews taking up residence near the Al-Aksa Mosque. Not a new story. Only weeks go, media expert Michael Widlanski reported that Voice of Palestine radio broke into its regular programming to announce that Israeli troops and Jewish extremists were invading Islamic holy places on the Temple Mount.

Following that, came a report that Jordan's Ambassador to Israel, Dr. Marouf Bakhit, had rushed to declare to officials at the Israeli Foreign Ministry that his country was outraged over the "provocative act" of a group of Jews who had the insolence to visit the Temple Mount in commemoration of Jerusalem Day. The official Jordanian news agency declared this "a provocative act that could stir up confrontation and evoke outrage of Muslims around the world."

It has been well documented that in September 2000 the Palestinian Authority used Ariel Sharon's visit to the Mount as a pretense for starting the Intifada they already had planned. This current incitement is bad news. Seems they're revving up the crowds again.

It is time, I suggest, for us to start thinking seriously about the Temple Mount and our relationship to it as Jews. This is not an issue simply for those advocating building of a Third Temple on the Mount. I advocate nothing of the sort; yet, I see that it affects us all.

It is, after all, the Temple Mount and not the Kotel (Western Wall) that is Judaism's holiest site. The Kotel is a retaining wall that helped to shore up the Mount on which the Temple stood, and so reflects the holiness of the place. But it is the Mount that is not only the site of the two Temples, but traditionally the site of many other momentous events in our history as well. It is identified as Mt. Moriyah, where the akeida (the sacrifice of Isaac) took place.

I am well aware that many think that this is "simply" ancient history and of no particular relevance to modern sensibilities. But this is not so. There is, first, the centrality of this place to our heritage. A people with pride does not lightly dismiss this. And then there is the sanctity that adheres: this is where the Holy of Holies stood, the sacred space the High Priest entered once a year. This is the place where the Jewish people communed with the Sh'khinah - the presence of the Almighty. The sanctity adheres.

About 1,300 years ago, the Muslims - for whom this is sacred territory with regard to Muhammad, said to have ascended to heaven from a rock on the Mount - built the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque nearby on the Mount. These were built on top of the remains of the Temple within the Mount. There is a great deal there, within; a labyrinth of tunnels and archeological remains. Excavations have never been permitted by the rabbis because of the sanctity of the place.

From 1948-1967, when Jordan was in control of the Old City of Jerusalem, no Jews were permitted there. Not at the Kotel, not anywhere in the vicinity.

When we retook the Old City in 1967, the Kotel and the Mount came into our possession. "Har HaBayit b'yadenu!" (the Temple Mount is in our hands.) went the joyous cry. There was singing at the site then, and praying and blowing of the shofar.

After that momentous capture, however, Moshe Dayan in what was presumed to be an act of tolerant wisdom and generosity - but which I perceive to have been an act of colossal stupidity - took down the Israeli flag from the Mount and called in Muslim religious leaders from the Islamic Trust (Wakf). Israel will retain over-all control, he told them, but he was turning over to them everyday control of the Mount, where they had holy structures. With that act, he took a large step towards surrender of the Mount - our Mount.

The Muslims are not interested in sharing. They are not interested in the kindness of our gestures. They are into taking control and banishing us. They perceive conciliation as weakness.

In recent years, there has been a series of decisions made by Israeli authorities that for me smack of appeasement, backing down that suggests we have no legitimate claim to be on the Mount. A mistake. Sometimes, no Jews are allowed up there at all. When Jews are allowed, they may not pray and must go only in controlled numbers. The point is not to "agitate the Muslim street." But they agitate anyway, and accuse us even of what we do not do.

It is time we maintained our legitimate presence on the Mount, and our right in principle to be there. Education must be done widely and forcefully, so that people understand precisely what this place is for us. It must be clear to all the world that this is not simply a "Muslim" place and that it matters to us, as well.

We in Israel are engaged in a battle for our survival. Let no one imagine that anything else is going on. The Palestinians, sly and crafty, are waging a "people's war", which means it is not waged just with violence, but also with lies and propaganda. One of the weapons they have been using is the fabrication that we do not have a legitimate history in this land, but that they do. We are merely colonial interlopers, occupiers. People believe it.

At the heart of this war is the Temple Mount, for that Mount is both the symbol and the concrete evidence of our ancient presence here. I cannot emphasize this sufficiently. If the Palestinians can convince the world that we did not have a presence on the Mount, then they will have robbed us of our oldest and deepest link to this land and our most solemn claim to it now. If we participate in this theft, by relinquishing what is ours through appeasement, apathy and foolishness, we will have done ourselves enormous harm.

Yasser Arafat told an astonished Bill Clinton that there were never Temples on the Mount. (I have no information on how Clinton responded.) Now Arafat's protege, Mahmoud Abbas, is on record with the same sort of statement. He also consistently calls for us to move back to the pre-'67 lines, which means relinquishing the Mount and the Kotel. There have been very extensive Muslim excavations within the Temple Mount, where they have constructed an interior mosque in an area called Solomon's Stables. In the course of this work, they dumped tons of rubble in a garbage heap; it included priceless archeological artifacts from Temple days. The objective was clearly to destroy the evidence of our having been there. Luckily, a private archeological venture by Israelis was begun that is sifting through the rubble and recovering the evidence

The Muslim intent and absolute lack of respect are clear.

Strength is required of us before it is too late.

© Arlene Kushner 2005