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Holier to Whom: The Temple Mount

On January 3, Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took a 13-minute walk in Jerusalem’s Old City on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most holy site. Much of the “world” set its hair on fire and got hysterical – a bit of an overreaction. An ancient spiritual vortex, the Temple Mount has always been venerated, by pagans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is an inseparable part of Israel. 

Short-sightedly, when Israel liberated the Temple Mount from its 19-year occupation by Jordan, the daily control of the site was ceded to the Muslims. Now Israel’s new right wing government will increase its control on the site. There is supposedly a status quo there, which Israel is said to violate. This is the opposite of the truth. The world’s hysterical reaction to a visit to Judaism’s most holy site by Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir doesn’t merit the flood of anti-Israel condemnation it has received. It’s the Arabs who are trampling on a world historical site with impunity – up to now, that is.

GEVALT!
Headlines: Wave of international criticism after Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits flashpoint Temple Mount; Jordan summons Israeli envoy; condemnations from UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt; calls to maintain status quo from US, Europe; Palestinian Authority PM: Plot ‘to turn Al-Aqsa into Jewish temple.’ (The Times of Israel 1/3/23)

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price says the US is “deeply concerned” by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount earlier today. When asked about the visit during a press briefing, Price says the US believes the visit has “the potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence.” [Anything Israel does in Jerusalem has the same potential, often realized.]

Following a 13 minute, early morning visit by Ben-Gvir to Judaism’s most holy site – the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this: “The President has previously underscored the need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al Sharif/ Temple Mount, as has the Secretary [of State]. We have done so repeatedly with our Israeli partners; we have done so repeatedly with our Jordanian partners. We took note of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing platform calls for preservation of the historic status quo in relation to the holy places. We expect him to follow through on that commitment.”

For his part, Ben-Gvir says Israel’s new government, “will not give in to threats from Hamas.” He made his planned pilgrimage to the Jerusalem holy site almost immediately upon attaining his position as a strong, bold security minister. “The Temple Mount is the most important place for the Jewish people,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement made following his visit to the religious site. “We [will] maintain freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians,” Ben-Gvir stressed, adding that “Jews will climb the mountain.”

How far back in Jewish history is the Jews’ devotion to the Temple Mount? About 1,000 BCE King David conquered the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and proclaimed it the united capital of the Jewish tribes. David desired to build the Temple, but it was his son and heir, King Solomon, who was given that honor. Solomon placed the Holy Temple on the adjacent Mt. Moriah, the spot where Abraham had brought his son Isaac to be sacrificed.

After many twists and turns in Jewish history, the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, prior to which many Jews were forcibly taken to Babylonia. Two generations later, under the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, some of the Jews were able to return to Zion (Jerusalem) and the Temple was soon rebuilt. But in 70 CE the Romans destroyed the Second Temple which King Herod the Great (architecturally great but horrible in every other way) had built. The Romans banished the Jews from Jerusalem (not from the rest of the Land of Israel) and the area around the city was renamed Aelia Capitolina (130 CE), in a failed attempt to divorce its Jewish connection to its homeland. Also, Provincia Syria Palaestina,” was a second Roman invention of the Romans in 135 CE, to replace the name “Judea.” This change is the origin of the name “Palestine” which became attached to the Land of Israel.

Centuries went by and Jerusalem was reconquered again and again. But while the Jews were no longer the majority they always were present in Israel. In 637 CE the Muslims pushed out the current conquerors, at that time Christians, and took control of Jerusalem. Some of the Jewish residents (who had trickled back to Jerusalem) aided the Arabs in their conquest. For that, they were appointed guardians of the Temple Mount. 

Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock on the ruins of a church, which had been built on the ruins of a Temple to Jupiter, which was built on the site of the Jewish Second Temple, which was built above the Foundation Stone – the peak of Mt. Moriah. Soon after, the Al-Aqsa mosque was built nearby, cementing Islamic ties the site. See Note A below.

With all this history, the Jews’ unique #1 holiness of the Temple Mount stretches back about 4,100 years, to the time of Abraham and Isaac, roughly 2050 BCE. For comparison’s sake, Muslims had control of the Holy Sanctuary-Al Haram Al Sharif ( Arabic for the Temple Mount) for only about 1,250 years. And let’s not forget, Israel conquered all of the land of Israel in 1967, including the Old City of Jerusalem. That brings up the question of the “historic” status quo. 

With the mind-bending Six Day victory in 1967, Israel liberated all the lands it didn’t control after the 1948-9 war. The reuniting of the city of Jerusalem (in its long history it had never been divided except for 1948-1967) posed some problems. There was, and still is, a large Palestinian Arab population. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, were there, plus the Christians’ Holy Sepulchre Church, and more. What to do?

The then-Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, the heroic, eye-patched hero, and retired general, did not believe Israel should try to unify Jerusalem. He worried that entering the Old City would result in a deadly house-to-house battle which might cause damage to the holy sites. He even told his subordinate, Commander Uzi Dayan, “who needs that Vatican?”

Then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol overruled Dayan. The recapture of the Old City had been much easier than expected and returning the Old City, the Temple Mount, and its Western (retaining) Wall to Israel created incredible joy for Israelis and for the Jewish people. The whole Jewish nation was united in happiness. Levi Eshkol wanted to create a multi-faith council to run the Temple Mount, allowing all faiths to enter the the Mount.

But Dayan didn’t like that idea. He thought the Temple Mount should remain in Muslim hands. He also thought he knew better than the Prime Minister, Rabbinical tradition, and the people of Israel. He ignored the fact that when Jordan occupied the Old City for nineteen years, the Jordanians displaced the Jews who lived there, desecrated and destroyed all but one of its 35 synagogues, and even used thousands of broken tombstones from the ancient Mount of Olives cemetery as building materials for some roads and latrines. Nor was he alarmed that Jews were forbidden to enter into the Old City or to pray at the “Wailing Wall,” today known as the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount above it. Dayan also feared that Jewish religious zealots would attempt to build the Third Temple there.

“Dayan took it upon himself to grant control of the Temple Mount back to the Muslims because he wanted to ensure there wouldn’t be a third Temple. And there was nothing that Prime Minister Eshkol could do about it. After all, this Moshe Dayan was a hero.” (https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/365448)

Following this decision, the Islamic Religious Trust, the Waqf, was given most of the control over the Temple Mount, sharing responsibility with the Kingdom of Jordan. A “status quo” was established and was to be retained. The problem is that the Palestinian Arabs have run riot over the ancient, ultra-important site and even deny that the First and Second Temples stood on the site. This was a salient fact in the 1929 Waqf guide to the Temple Mt/Holy Sanctuary-Al Haram Al Sharif. See Note B.

The small changes that Israelis have made pale in comparison to Arab projects: destruction of archeological artifacts; unauthorized construction projects; closing of all entrances except one to Israeli Jews; minimizing hours that Jews can visit; where there was only one mosque on the Mount in 1967, today there are five; worship once restricted to the Al Aqsa Mosque today extends to the entire Mount; etc. See this article for the whole story: (https://jcpa.org/article/status-quo-on-temple-mount/)

As a general rule, the new right wing government will assert Israel’s Jewish standing rather than give in to Muslim threats. That, despite Western backing for Muslim militancy, promoted by  the dependably anti-Jewish/Israel Western mass media. Why does the West favor non-democratic, violent, extreme Islamist governments over the Israeli hyper-democratic Jewish State? Jew hatred, I guess. In any event, one hopes that the latest Netanyahu-led government will give credence to the title, “Jewish State of Israel.”  

Is there a people or group who have a better claim than the Jews to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? No, the Jews and Israel have ownership over the Temple Mount and the Old City, albeit with the responsibility to allow worship to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Let Israel take control away from the Waqf, reduce Jordan’s role, and bring about conditions where Israel makes the decisions necessary to give equal freedom of worship for all peoples. 

Note A: Jerusalem may be Islam’s 10th holiest site, not its 3rd. That contention grew as the Jews regained control of its eternal capital in the 20th century. (https://www.stepbystep.com/top-10-holy-places-in-islam-90769/)

Note B: A Brief Guide to Al Haram Al Sharif Jerusalem – 1929 (9 pages)

This small pamphlet, published by the Supreme Moslem Council (with the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, at its head), provides historical and location information about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which Moslems call Haram Al Sharif. The fact that this Moslem-written document admits to the fact that this site was where Solomon’s Temple stood is noteworthy, since in recent years, a number of prominent Moslem leaders and clerics have denied the legitimacy of Jewish claims that the Temple Mount is a place of great historical importance to the Jews. 

Text: “The site [Temple Mount] is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (2 Samuel XXIV, 25). (http://cojs.org/a_brief_guide_to_al_haram_al_sharif-_summary/)

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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