In a certain school, the local school bully was beating up kids in the playground and stealing their lunch money. The school principal heard about this and, horrified, declared: I will stop the bully from hitting the other schoolchildren! Beginning the next morning, the principal himself stood in the entrance to the school. Whenever a student entered, the principal stole his lunch money and handed it over to the bully, who sat on the side and watched as the principal did his dirty work for him. At the end of the day, the principal proudly described to the staff how he singlehandedly stopped the bully from hitting any schoolchildren.
It went so well for the bully on the first day, that on the next day, the bully told the principal that he expected each child to pay double what they had paid previously. Otherwise, the bully threatened, he would get angry and start hitting the other kids again. The principal took this to heart, and every student that came in that day was forced by the principal to pay double. If any student didn’t have enough money, he was sent home. The bully watched from the side and smirked as he pocketed the cash. The principal sent a note home to all the parents that from then on, they were expected to send their children to school with enough money to give the bully, in order to prevent violence on the school grounds. At the end of the day, the teachers congratulated the principal for stopping the violence of the bully.

This story sounds too ridiculous to be true, but this precise behaviour occurs on a daily basis, here in Israel in 2013. The State of Israel fully supports freedom of religion for all people at all holy places. But there is one place in Israel where Jews are effectively banned from praying, singing HaTikva (the Israeli national anthem), or even waving an Israeli flag. At this spot, any Jew caught doing one of these actions is detained by the police. I am not referring to Shechem or to Ramallah, but believe it or not to a place under full Israeli control and sovereignty. And this isn’t just any place, but rather the most sacred spot on Earth for the Jewish people: Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). Here, according to Jewish tradition, G-d began creation of the world. Adam was created from earth taken from this site. Cain, Hevel, and Noach all offered sacrifices here. Abraham bound his son Yitzchak here. Yaacov slept here and dreamt of a ladder to the Heavens, with angels ascending and descending. The first Bet Mikdash (Temple) stood here until it was destroyed. The second Bet Mikdash (Temple) stood here until it was destroyed. Ever since, Jews have yearned for the third Bet Mikdash to be built here. Since the destruction 2000 years ago, whenever Jews were allowed by the non-Jewish rulers, they came up to Har Habayit, still the holiest place in the world, and the most opportune location to pray. (Today many Jews do not ascend to the Temple Mount for halachik reasons, but that is out of the scope of this article).

Yet today, any observant Jew who visits Har HaBayit today is accompanied by a Muslim escort and an Israeli policeman. Their sole purpose is to ensure that the Jews don’t dare pray to G-d or perform any religious or nationalistic act. If the Jew moves his lips in prayer, the police cart them away and detain or even arrest them!

Why are we in this ludicrous situation? Because the Muslims threaten violence if Jews pray on the Temple Mount. And the establishment is afraid to provoke the Muslims. According to Israeli law, everyone is allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. But like the story above, instead of protecting the Jews from those who threaten violence, the police prefer to pacify the violent bullies whatever the cost. The police are meant to enforce the law (in this case to enforce freedom of religion and allow the Jews to pray), and punish any rioters that break the law. But instead the police have been recast in the role of keepers of the peace and quiet, and they keep the peace by trampling the rights of the Jews. But hey, the Jews won’t riot so at least things will be quiet, right? You can argue – so what’s so bad about that? At least it’s quiet! But we are in essence giving up our rights to our spiritual center, to our very essence as Jews in the land of Israel! This view has become so entrenched that the establishment today accepts that Jewish prayer must be blocked to prevent Muslim violence.

What needs to be done to get out of this mess? First and foremost, the axiomatic linkage between Jewish prayer and Muslim violence must be severed. The establishment needs to be made aware that Jews deserve full rights to pray on the Temple Mount, and denying their rights in order to give in to Muslim threats of violence is unacceptable. Some suggestions how to promote this: go up to the Temple Mount and reconnect to our holiest site, or contact Members of Knesset to take a clear stand in favour of the right of Jews to pray there. Recently, eleven people ascended to the Mount and read Kriyat Shema, sang HaTikva, and waved an Israeli flag. They were arrested by the police (and released later that evening), and in doing so they raised awareness of the issue and highlighted the ludicrousness of the situation.

It’s time for the schoolchildren in the playground to demand that the school principal confront the bully, and not punish them.