Lately, hardly ever a day passes without a news item relating in some way to the Temple Mount. This is not only true as regards Israel’s local media, including longer in-depth articles in weekend editions – newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Le Monde have been devoting special reports to the site, as well.
On the average of once a month or so, the Knesset’s Interior Committee convenes, chaired by Likud MK Miri Regev, who enthusiastically supports Jewish prayer within the compound. Police representatives are required to report on their activities and explain their failure to uphold the law which guarantees free access and worship. Arab MKs shout and rant and warn that their constituents will react violently, a tactic for which they never apologize, and never denounce.
The courts are also a venue for Temple Mount activity. After being arrested four years ago and banned from the Temple Mount for some two years, Yehuda Glick, a central figure of the Coordinating Council of Temple Mount Organizations, recently won a NIS 30,000 payment from the police in the courtroom of Magistrate Malka Aviv for unjustified arrest. Last month, following a two-week hunger strike, another ban was lifted by the police after they realized its arbitrariness could not be defended.
Not only are old customs being revived, but new customs are being encouraged.
The past few years, brides on the eve of their weddings have been visiting the Temple Mount. Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely was one of the more famous such visitors. This has developed from the necessity for ritual immersion prior to entrance for those who observe those halachic instructions. Since religious unmarried women do not visit the mikveh, the first opportunity they have is just prior to their chuppah ceremony. The IDF also has weekly visits of hundreds of soldiers.
Islamists are quite concerned by these developments. Arab-language websites followed by Jewish activists are full of pictures and stories. Video clips are uploaded and Facebook accounts highlight occurrences. They post and translate posters issued by Temple Mount groups. And they exaggerate details or resort to fictitious renditions of reality.
Anyone who visits cannot miss the men of al-Shabab al-Aqsa, recruited by Sheikh Ra’ed Salah’s Northern Branch Islamic Movement, who sit in study circles.
They are there to “defend al-Aqsa” by staking out territory through a squatting maneuver so as to prevent Jews from attempting to pray on the Temple Mount or display any other overt act of obvious Jewish identification with the site.
These extremists are paid for each “shift” that they work, as are those of a “Women’s Corps” who share the “defense” duties. Arab affairs expert Avi Issachoroff has written that these ladies, also recruited by the Islamic Movement, are generally poor, divorced or widows. Their salaries and transportation are taken care of, as are those of the men, by Salah’s group.
They shout insults and cries of “Allah Akhbar” at non-Muslim visitors, and recently, physically move into the space of the Jewish visitors, attempting to cause an incident that will then be exploited, as has happened previously when a policeman was blamed for “throwing” a Koran on the floor.
The Islamic presence is varied. The site itself is administered through the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Trust/Wakf. Hamas tries to make inroads. There are, at times, members of the Kharkat al-Tahrir and Salafist movements as well as others depending of the events of the day, such as pro-Sisi and anti-Morsi demonstrators or supporters of Erdogan of Turkey. More importantly, though, was the March Jordan-Palestinian Authority agreement.
That document recalled “the unique religious importance, to all Muslims, of al-Masjid al-Aqsa” and “the role of King Al Sharif Hussein Bin Ali in protecting…the holy sites in Jerusalem… [since] March 11, 1924.” It also recognized “that the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people is expressed in realizing the State of Palestine whose territory encompasses the land within which al-Masjid al-Aqsa (al-Haram al-Sharif) is situated.” The parties operationally agreed that King Abdallah II is to be “the custodian of the Jerusalem holy sites.”
There are other Muslim voices. Mudar Zahran published on December 9 his “Who Is Destroying Al-Aqsa Mosque?” describing a recent visit to the Temple Mount. He was shocked at Al-Aqsa’s neglected state, being in need of maintenance.
Scaffolding has been up for years to impress donors, but nothing gets repaired. He learned that Jordan provides the money for salaries but that there is no accountability for the staff’s handling of the money.
One staff member, asked why al-Aqsa was in such a state, told Zahran to ask Azzam al-Khatib [al-Aqsa’s manager]. Another employee at the Dome of the Rock informed him, oddly, that “this is all the fault of the Jews; they are to blame for all of this.” The answer he received to the question of how the Jews were responsible, exactly, was a shrug of the shoulders. His conclusion was that “it seems that it is we Arabs and Muslims who are harming Al-Aqsa, not Israel or the Jews.”
The real negligence on the Temple Mount is the unwillingness of the State of Israel to assert its full sovereignty there. Ever since Moshe Dayan squatted down with the Wakf on June 17, 1967, together with David Farhi, and symbolically returned the keys to the gates, the state has sensessly kowtowed to the most fanatical behavior.
Only in August 1967 did Dayan take the key to the Muhgrabi Gate back from Wakf head Hassan Tahboub, and military police were stationed at the entrance to the gate. Later, regular police assumed supervision.
On April 22, the above mentioned PA-Jordanian Agreement on Jerusalem caused MK Yariv Levine (Likud) to ask the foreign minister a Parliamentary Question. Noting that the agreement seemingly represents an attempt to negatively affect Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem and its holy shrines, his two queries were: 1) What is Israel’s official stand regarding the agreement? And 2) Why does Israel not declare publicly and firmly that it rejects this injurious attempt?
The answer came a month later from then deputy foreign minister Ze’ev Elkin, and it reads:
“1. The setting of Jordan’s position complies with Israel’s outlook and contributes to the distancing of undesired elements, including Qatar and other Arab Muslim countries.
2. The Jordanian recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in east Jerusalem is not new but has been reestablished by this agreement.
3. The agreement does comply with the terms of the special status awarded to Jordan concerning the holy sites to Islam according to the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, 9 (2), and therefore restricts the Palestinian aspirations, symbolically and administratively, on the Temple Mount.”
This is an irrational approach, injurious to Israel’s interests. I can imagine King Abdullah singing Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s song, “Two Banks Has The Jordan.”
The Temple Mount is a national site, of religious, cultural and historic importance.
Its intrinsic Jewish value is immeasurable. We still fast over it being besieged and its destructions. With all the difficulties, the state must resolve the absurdity of the situation whereby a Jew is the second-class citizen at this so very Jewish place.
The author is secretary of El Har Hashem, an advocacy group for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount and a member of the Coordinating Council of the Temple Mount Organizations.