Did Jews Contest the Temple Mount During the Mandate Period?

Reading an article by Marian Houk, Dangerous Grounds at al-Haram al-Sharif: The Threats to the Status Quo recently,  I came across this:

Jerusalem attorney and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann told an audience in New York City last October [sic] that they should know there was no ‘Status Quo’ on the Temple Mount during the British Mandate [between 1922 and May of 1948], “because ‘Status Quo’ applies only to sites that are contested, and during the entire Mandatory period, there were no Jewish claims to access, or to do anything on the Temple Mount. We had deep attachments, there were contested sites – the Western Wall was contested, Rachel’s Tomb was contested…But it was not relevant [to the Haram al-Sharif]…There have not been practical Jewish claims on the Temple Mount for a thousand years. It’s a Muslim place of worship”.40

The reference there, 40, is to a talk entitled “Jerusalem: Flashpoint for Regional & Global Conflict” in which author and Bloggingheads“, Robert Wright, speaks with Israeli attorney Daniel Seidemann on December 12, 2014, starting at approximately 27:05

As I have published Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 3 in 2020, “The Temple Mount and the Status Quo Revisited“, the status quo directly affecting Jewish holy sites was only formalized in November 1928 by the British and that was because they simply continued the previous Ottoman Empire formulation of the status quo which ignored Jewish property rights and/or claims. All religious sites that were supervised under Ottoman governance until December 1917 when General Allenby conquered the city in a physical sense belonged only to Moslems and Christians (churches and monastaries). Jews had but privileges or honoured customs of worship at locations that were considered Moslem. Even Rachel’s Tomb, while rennovated by Moses Montiefiore in 1841 and was considered Jewish property, nevertheless was used as a mosque and for Moslem funeral rites. It was a shared site. Jews had no exclusive ‘holy sites’. The Cave of the Patriarchs was off-limits and Jewish (and Christian) entrance was prohibited (except in very unusual circumstances, usually when money was deposited in the hands of a Moslem official).

As for the Temple Mount, there surely were Jewish claims to access and they did enter, both prior to World War One and for a few years afterwards. By the mid-1920s, the Mufti Haj Amin El-Husseini began to increase restrictions on Jews entering and after the 1929 riots, for all practical purposes, Jews could not enter even as tourists.

But what did occur was that the Mufti extended the Temple Mount’s borders.

As the so-called International Commission of 1930 decided,

To the Moslems belong the sole ownership of, and the sole proprietary right to, the Western Wall, seeing that it forms an integral part of the Haram-esh-Sherif area, which is a Waqf property. To the Moslems there also belongs the ownership of the Pavement in front of the Wall and of the adjacent so-called Moghrabi (Moroccan) Quarter…Such appurtenances of worship and/or such other objects as the Jews may be entitled to place near the Wall either in conformity with the provisions of this present Verdict or by agreement come to between the Parties shall under no circumstances be considered as, or have the effect of, establishing for them any sort of proprietary right to the Wall or to the adjacent Pavement.

In other words, a wall that was built by Herod, a Jewish king, and where, for centuries, Jews had worshipped, was not Jewish property. All Jews could rightfully claim were the bringing of “hand-books or other articles customarily used at their devotions either as a general thing or upon special occasions”, the “wearing such garments as were of old used at their devotions”. The “prohibitions against the bringing to the Wall of benches, carpets or mattings, chairs, curtains and screens, etc….are to be made absolute…The right, however, for Moslems to go to and fro in an ordinary way along the Pavement shall be respected and remain inviolable as hitherto. It shall be prohibited to bring to the Wall any tent or a curtain or any similar object with a view to placing it there even though for a limited space of time. The Jews shall not be permitted to blow the ram’s horn (Shofar) near the Wall…”.

To speak as if the Jews could, in any way, possibly ‘contest’ the Temple Mount is obfuscating the entire issue. Non-Moslems could only enter the Haram precincts after the first third of the 19th century as for four centuries strict security measures had been in place. In April 1947, a young Jew, a recent immigrant and survivor of the Holocaust, who accidentally entered the Haram compound, was beaten and stabbed to death by Moslems. He wasn’t the sole victim of Moslem exclusivity practices.

Once Jewish political sovereignty retuned in 1967, of course there was a renewal of internal Jewish debate over whether entrance should be permitted and whether the Moslem apartheid approach to the Temple Mount is justified. That does not indicate that all was dormant, as there were aspirations and yearnings. Dothan Goren has published (in Hebrew here) a survey. We know that the precursors of political Zionism, the Rabbis Kalischer, Alkalai and others, discussed the possibility of sacrificing the Paschal offering on the Temple Mount as a link in the very practical return to Zion. The students of the Vilna Gaon thought likewiseIn 1836, Kalischer proposed a far-reaching project to Baron Anshel Rothschild: that the latter should purchase the Temple Mount from the Egyptian ruler Muhammed Ali. The Kabalah school of the Rashash was also quite attune to the Temple Mount as the story of their attempt to bring the Messiah reveals.

Dormant to an extent, yes, but not sterile or fossilized or outside planning considerations.

There is much to argue about and discuss regarding Jewish rights on and to the Temple Mount. There is no need to corrupt history.

About the Author
Yisrael Medad, currently is a Research Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem and Deputy Editor of the English Language Anthology of Jabotinsky's Writings. American-born, he and his wife made Aliyah in 1970. He resides in Shiloh since 1981. He was a member of the Betar Youth Movement World Executive and is a volunteer spokesperson for the Yesha Council. He holds a MA in Political Science from the Hebrew University and is active is many Zionist and Jewish projects and initiatives.