David K. Rees

Al-Aqsa/the Temple Mount and the Status Quo

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.

About the Author
Before making Aliyah from the United States, I spent over three decades as a lawyer in the United States. My practice involved handling many civil rights cases, including women's- rights cases, in State and Federal courts. I handled numerous constitutional cases for the ACLU and argued one civil rights case in the United States Supreme Court. I chaired the Colorado Supreme Court's Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and served on the Colorado Supreme Court's Civil Rules and Rules of Evidence Committees. Since much of my practice involved the public interest, I became interested in environmental law and worked closely with environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). I was on the Rocky Mountain Board of EDF. I received an award from the Nebraska Sierra Club as a result of winning a huge environmental case that was referred to me by EDF. I also developed significant knowledge of hazardous and radioactive waste disposal. I was involved in a number of law suits concerning waste disposal, including a highly-political one in the United States Supreme Court which involved the disposal of nuclear waste. As I child I was told by my mother, a German, Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, that Israel was a place for her and her child. When I first visited Israel many years later, I understood what she meant. My feeling of belonging in Israel caused me to make Aliyah and Israel my home. Though I am retired now, I have continued my interest in activism and the world in which I find myself.
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