This past summer, Jewish holy sites have been shut down (Aaron’s Tomb), booby-trapped (Joseph’s Tomb), bombed (Rachel’s tomb), desecrated with pro-Hamas banners (Temple Mount), and even graffitied with the caption—“slaughter the Jews” (Western Wall). Despite these developments, the mainstream media has remained rather silent, thereby suggesting an apathy for Jewish worshipers, their holy sites, and access thereof. This essay seeks to document what the media has largely ignored as well as the difficulties Jews face when visiting their holy sites.
Temple Mount (Mt. Moriah)
The Temple Mount, where the First and Second Jewish Temples stood, is also where Jews believe Abraham sought to sacrifice Isaac, and where the strongest manifestation of God’s Shechinah—“Divine Presence”—exists. Despite the Temple Mount being Judaism’s holiest site, Jews cannot pray there by law. Since 1967, the custodians of the Temple Mount—Jordan’s Islamic Waqf—have banned Jews and other non-Muslims from praying and from openly displaying religious symbols. As recent as this past June, Jews have been arrested for praying on the Temple Mount. Non-Muslims visiting the Temple Mount are also subject to strict visitation hours, available for four-and-a-half-hours each day, Sunday through Thursday. Recently, Palestinian rioters barraged Israeli officers with chairs and stones as the officers sought to protect Jewish visitors during visitation hours on Eid al-Adha—a Muslim holiday that then coincided with Tisha Ba’av, a Jewish holiday. A massive pro-Hamas banner was also unfurled that day. Hence, Jews not only suffer prayer and time restrictions at their holiest site, but sometimes intimidation and physical harassment as well.
The brother of Moses and a Jewish prophet, Aaron is believed to be buried on Mount Hor, Jordan. Nevertheless, Jordan’s government and Islamic Waqf have prohibited Jews from worship here as well. In August 2019, Aaron’s Tomb was closed over a suspicion held by the Jordanian’s Waqf’s Minister that “Jewish pilgrims” had hosted an “illegal prayer service.” Reinforcing support for the Waqf’s prohibition of Non-Muslim worship, the Chief Commissioner for the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority declared, “In terms of [Israelis] coming as tourists, we will not prevent them. But we can prevent these religious practices and we will do just that… in the future [we] will stress that no religious practices be carried out except for Islamic ones…” While the tomb has since been reopened, Jordan’s government has confirmed that displays of Judaism are not welcome in its country, even going to the extent to have banned tourists with “Jewish items” from entering the country.
The Western Wall is holy for Jews as it is the closest point to their holiest site—the Temple Mount—where they can pray. Unlike the restrictions that apply to Jews on the Temple Mount, Muslims can worship at the Western Wall, the exterior wall remaining from the Second Jewish Temple upon which Muslims believe Mohammed stalled his animal (al-Buraq) before ascending to heaven on his night journey. While much of the Wall is accessible from the Jewish quarter, a segment referred to as the Kotel HaKatan is accessible from the Muslim Quarter and is regularly attended. In July 2019, the Kotel Hakatan was vandalized with Arabic graffiti reading, “Slaughter the Jews.” This call for violence serves as yet another example of recent intimidation that Jewish worshipers in Jerusalem have recently suffered.
Located in Nablus, a hotbed for Palestinian terror and a city completely under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction, Joseph’s tomb arguably remains the least accessible site for Jewish worshipers. Jewish worshipers are allowed to visit only one night a month under an IDF military escort. These escorts occur after midnight, and are “routinely” ambushed with stones, and sometimes even gunfire and molotov cocktails. In July 2019, a pipe bomb was placed in Joseph’s Tomb in anticipation of Jewish visitors, which the IDF detonated before the first escort arrived. Since 2000 alone, the tomb has also thrice been set alight by locals. As evident here and in the example immediately below, Jewish holy sites outside Israel’s jurisdiction become very difficult, if not impossible, for Jews to access, to worship thereat, and to protect.
The wife of Jacob and a foremother of Judaism, Rachel and her tomb rest according to Jewish tradition in Bethlehem. The tomb is surrounded by a concrete barrier, which was erected to prevent casualties from firebombs. While the site was ambushed with bombs in 2005, 2006, and 2017, the site suffered its most recent attack this June—when a group of Palestinian assailants threw a pipe bomb in the site’s direction. While no casualties were recorded, worshipers at the site could smell smoke from the explosion. These consistent string of incidents, confirm the experience of physical intimidation that many Jewish pilgrims have suffered by daring to visit holy sites in and near the Palestinian Territories, such as Joseph’s Tomb and the Temple Mount.
This past summer has witnessed a totality of five severe incidents, all of them either terroristic or violent in nature, that have targeted Jewish worshipers and some of their holiest sites in Jerusalem, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. The international media has largely failed to cover these incidents, suggesting either its apathy for the religious freedoms of Jews, its greater ignorance of the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, or even an alternative agenda. The media must be held accountable for failing to better contextualize the on-going conflict, and for thereby, inspiring misinformed opinions and policies that will perpetuate conflict.