Moments after the liberation of the Temple Mount on June 7th, 1967: From left, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel – founder of The Temple Institute, the ‘Nazir’ Rabbi David Cohen, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and unidentified IDF soldiers. Courtesy of the Temple Institute

For those who might have thought that the incident of Palestinian flag-flying over the nation’s holiest site qualified as incitement against the State of Israel, now we know better: the Israel Police have determined that the use of General Motta Gur’s time-honored, cherished slogan, “The Temple Mount is In Our Hands,” constitutes incitement against Arabs and can lead to violence.

Members of the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement who are organizing a protest rally against the continued Wakf-sponsored archeological destruction on the Mount have received police permission to hold that rally next week, opposite the Temple Mount. However the police have now made their authorization conditional upon not holding banners with the words “The Temple Mount is in our hands” or the use of any other “slogans or speeches that incite.”

One of the rally’s organizers also reported that in addition to classifying Gen. Gur’s famous Six Day War announcement as incitement, “the police warned against saying anything at all that relates to sovereignty on the Temple Mount, because such talk infuriates the Arabs.”

Motta Gur’s famous statement — the pure, clarion call of eternal Jerusalem — unified a nation. One hundred and eighty IDF paratroopers died fighting for the unification of Jerusalem. If Mom, apple pie and baseball are American, then “The Temple Mount is in our hands” is quintessentially Israeli – no less than Am Yisrael Chai.  Is it racist to dream of being a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem? Oops, sorry, I forgot, not everyone feels comfortable singing those words of HaTikva.

Of course, what makes the timing of this revelation so exquisitely absurd is its juxtaposition with the release of the most recent Palestinian Authority “incitement index.” According to Strategic Affairs Ministry director-general Yossi Kuperwasser, Palestinian incitement is “going on all the time” at an institutional level, communicated through Palestinian television, newspapers and textbooks and manifest in three distinct messages: that the Palestinians would eventually be the sole sovereign on all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea; that Jews, especially those who live in Israel, were not really human beings but rather “the scum of mankind,” and that all tools were legitimate in the struggle against Israel and the Jews.

Evidently, definitions of incitement differ. It’s a cultural thing. While the police worry about expressions of Israeli sovereignty, the Palestinians are incited enough by the very fact that we are alive.

Meantime, archaeological destruction on the Temple Mount continues, and Jews are not permitted to pray at their holiest site.

Enter the US State Department, which released its International Religious Freedom Report two weeks ago. The report is highly critical of Israel’s illegal policy of denying all non-Muslims the right to pray on the Temple Mount, despite the ruling of the High Court to the contrary, and basic Israeli law.

In truth, the most perfunctory examination of Israel’s Protection of Holy Places Law (June 27, 1967) informs us that the Israel Police should be busy arresting themselves, for their part in preventing Jews from praying:

The law reads in part: “The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places…. Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.”

Following the State Department report, National Union MK Aryeh Eldad has drafted a bill mandating separate hours for Jews and Muslims to pray at the Temple Mount. “My side of the mountain…”

But as a case in point: Early on the morning of Sunday July 29, the day the fast of Tisha B’Av was observed, hundreds of Jews from all over Israel arrived at the entrance to the Temple Mount to ascend the mountain in purity and reverence, including the author of this blog.

All during the preceding week, and even early that very morning, the Israel Police had given assurances that the Temple Mount would be open to Jewish visitors that day. This was communicated in response to individual inquiries as well as by reports in the media. All those who gathered in anticipation at the site that morning, after making all the necessary arrangements according to Jewish law, tending to logistics at great personal cost, and in some cases traveling great distances, did so on account of the police assurances.

After keeping the crowd of Jews waiting on line in the sun, the police abruptly announced that the Temple Mount would be closed to Jews all day. No explanation was offered, and certainly no attempt was made to apologize. Later, the police issued a statement to the effect that the decision to close the Mount was based on intelligence that indicated there were plans to cause “provocations” at the site, implying that elements among the Jewish visitors were bent on causing trouble.

It was only later, in response to an appeal made by an attorney representing the Jews who were denied access, that the police clarified that the alleged, possible provocations were planned by Islamic elements. But the damage to the reputation and image of the Jewish visitors – who were collectively punished in an odd “pay it forward” response to the specter of potential Muslim unrest – had already been done, and the police had their cake and ate it, too: quiet on the Temple Mount, no headaches – and another jab at the meddlesome Jews who demand their rights of freedom of religion.

MK Eldad’s initiative is an encouraging development whose time has come. But the question of Israel’s relationship to the Temple Mount needs to be addressed on the most basic level as well. How can Jews be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount when the very mention of any Jewish connection to the site is defined as incitement? How can we insist upon an undivided Jerusalem, if we cannot state that the Temple Mount belongs to Israel?

Jews have been praying for world peace for almost 2,000 years.  It is inconceivable that the act of prayer, the purest expression of a soul’s yearning, should be interpreted as incitement. How can it be hoped that the police will accommodate non-Muslim prayer, while those who have been accused of prayer at the site – leading rabbis among them (including Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, founder of The Temple Institute and one of the paratroopers who fought that day with Motta Gur) – are served with illegal restraining orders, distancing them indefinitely from the Temple Mount? “Illegal” because they broke no law; Jewish prayer at the Mount is guaranteed by Israeli law. Evidence continues to mount that the police operate as a rogue agency – not like the official protectors of Israeli law, but like an independently owned and operated franchise. Or worse: Are they getting their orders from above? This mystery remains unsolved.

The Temple Mount is har habayit, the Mountain of the House – it’s not just another issue; it’s the home. Every challenge we face as a people – security, the Iranian threat, peace with our neighbors, internal strife and economic prosperity – are all connected to how we relate to this place. How we relate to this place, in turn connects to how we view ourselves as a people: Who are we? Where are we going? What are our responsibilities, both to ourselves as well as to humanity?

The Temple Mount is the key to Israel’s identity, and what happens there is directly related to the spiritual healing of all mankind. As long as we cannot utter a few words of simple prayer there, as long as the most fundamental yearning of a Jewish heart expressed at Israel’s holiest site is considered to be incitement, then the hearts of Israel and of all humanity will remain in dire need of that healing.