In recent years, both Israeli politicians and Jordan’s King Abdullah II have accused the other of breaking the “status quo” on Al-Aqsa/the Temple Mount, as though the status quo had been the same for decades. The latest example is King Abdullah II claiming that Israel has breached the status quo this week, thereby causing the recent riots. That is clearly political garbage. A plague on all their houses.
When I first came to Israel in 2014, I lived in the Old City of Jerusalem, about half a block from the Jewish Quarter and half a block from the Muslim Quarter — almost exactly in the center of the Old City. Unless there were crowds, I could walk to Al Aqsa/the Temple Mount in only a few minutes, something I did often. It was a place of peace. I could go there and just think. Nobody was at the gate. Nobody followed me around. Nobody inspected what I was wearing. Sometimes I would sit quietly and recite a prayer in Hebrew in my head, but no one else could tell that I was doing so. Besides, usually I was alone. To me, that was the status quo.
I believe in places of peace and have felt them all over the world. For the most part, people make places of peace. I have felt them in places as different as Buddhist Temples in Thailand and Al-Aqsa/the Temple Mount. Sometimes nature helps. There are places in the Colorado mountains where I have felt the peace.
I can only remember one time when I was on Al-Aqsa/the Temple Mount back then when I was not alone. A Muslim friend of mine who lived on the largely-Arab Mount of Olives just east of The Old City and described himself as an “Israeli Arab” were walking by the Dome of the Rock, from the outside probably the most beautiful building I have ever seen with its Gold Dome and wonderful blue mosaic walls that are hundreds of year old. As we were walking by the Dome of the Rock I told my friend that I would love to see the inside of the building some day. He replied that I could. When I asked if I would be welcome, he said “of course.” It was getting late, so we agreed to go together on another day, but we never did. Even together, we were in a place of peace.
A number of years later, I took an American friend of mine whom I had known for over 50 years to Al- Aqsa/the Temple Mount. It was no longer a place of peace. You could feel the tension when you walked in. Almost immediately, we were stopped by a guard from the wakf, the Muslim religious body which governs the top of Al Aqsa/the Temple Mount and is subordinate to the King of Jordan. The guard was polite but ice cold. One could feel the tension. He let me pass, but stopped my friend who was wearing long tights. The guard deemed them inappropriate for a woman and gave her a long skirt which she was required to put over them. Inside, my friend and I could walk freely, but could only leave by one gate, which led to the Muslim quarter. It was a very long way from the status quo that I remembered. Instead of leaving with a feeling of peace, I felt very very sad.