We have all heard the phrase “Status Quo” in reference to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel. It has been treated as a legal document, spelling out the control and access to the Temple Mount, which isQthe holiest place on Earth for the Jewish People. The phase “status quo” implies never changing.
But is the Status Quo, as it related to the Temple Mount, really unchanging? Is it really historically or even politically correct? Is it working? Is it a truly existing legal document?
Much has been written on the Quranic references and Islamic 19th century writings asserting the Jewish provenance to the Land of Israel and the Temple Mount. While I won’t repeat them here, a great example is a 2010 article from Tablet magazine “Allah is a Zionist.”
Then there are two obvious questions: 1. Why did the rabbis of 1967 not demand Israel maintain control of our holy Temple Mount, even if there were Jewish religious issues regarding access? Did the rabbis not have any concept of symbology, politics, control, historic value, archeologic opportunities, etc.? And 2. Why should a foreign power control anything in another country, except embassies/consulates? [It is generally accepted by citizens of any country that any property owned or administered by a person or entity is subject to the laws of the land, and not the owner, entity, religious order, or foreign government.]
Why after IDF Lt. Gen. Mordechai “Motti” Gur jubilantly declared “Har HaBayit BeYadeinu!” (The Temple Mount is in our hands!) during the Six Day War (June 1967), is it now not in our hands? Land and rights captured in modern defensive warfare belongs to the victor. Historically, it has always been that spoils belong to the victor.
We all think we know what the Status Quo is. After the Six Day War, Moshe Dayan gave control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Patriarchs Tomb in Hebron to the Waqf under Jordanian control. Instructions were given to IDF Chief Rabbi Goren to stop all Jewish actions through the newly formed Israeli Ministerial Committee on Holy Sites. [The Eroding Status Quo, by Yizhak Reiter, Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 2017, pg 21]
Due to fears and to soften international pressure on Israel, incredulously Israel ceded administration of the site (not just the Mosque but the entire holy Temple Mount) to Muslim clergy, including Jordan, who at that time was an enemy, and in a state of war with, Israel. And Prime Minister Levi Eshkol decided to continue the conduct of the long-held “Status Quo.”
I say long-held because this Status Quo of Jews not having access or control over the Temple Mount has existed for centuries. In other words, it has “always been done that way.”
We could say that the Status Quo started it with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. But let’s leap forward.
“Generally speaking, Jews were prohibited from ascending to the Temple Mount area during the period of Muslim rule over Jerusalem. During a portion of Mamluk rule (1250–1516) and under the Ottomans (1516–1917) it was forbidden for Jews to even come close enough to look onto the Temple Mount.” [The Eroding Status Quo, by Yizhak Reiter, Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 2017, pgs. 15-16]
This changed briefly when the British took over in 1920 and allowed all faiths to enter during certain hours, and pay fees to do so, but that ended with the murderous Arab riots of 1929 when the Supreme Muslim Council and the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem prohibited Jews from entering the site’s gates. So, the Status Quo went back to the way it was always done: keep the Jews out.
The proposal for a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem set forth in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (Partition Plan) of 29 November 1947, included in Part III, Section 13 called for: “1. Existing rights in respect of Holy Places and religious buildings or sites shall not be denied or impaired. 2. Free access to the Holy Places and religious buildings or sites and the free exercise of worship shall be secured in conformity with existing rights and subject to the requirements of public order and decorum. 3. Holy Places and religious buildings or sites shall be preserved. No act shall be permitted which may in any way impair their sacred character.”
It is important and interesting to note that from 1948 to 1967 when Jordan illegally occupied the Temple Mount and parts of Jerusalem (along with other occupied “West Bank” areas), the Jordanians lived up to none of the ideals laid out in UN GA Resolution 181 (Partition Plan). However, after June of 1967, Israel did live up to those ideals and more. But Israel, through Moshe Dayan, still continued the concept of a Status Quo where Jews do not have full rights or access to the Temple Mount. Back to the way it was always done: keep the Jews out.
I believe this continuation of the so-called Status Quo is because of the width of a horse’s ass. The “horse’s ass” story is a logical progression that the parameters of a highly sophisticated NASA spaceship are based on the width of a horse’s ass. [The complete story is below.]
The main finding of Nadav Shragai in his Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) November-December 2014 report entitled The “Status Quo” on the Temple Mount were: “1. The reality on the Mount, 47 years after the establishment of the status quo, has changed dramatically. The main elements of this status quo are no longer in practice. In many regards the status quo of 1967, which Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan crafted for the Temple Mount at that time, has “died” even though no one has buried it, while the political and diplomatic discourse keeps mistakenly referring to it as if it is still with us. 2. The reality that replaced the old status quo has greatly increased Muslim control and status on the Mount compared to the arrangements that emerged after the Six-Day War. Conversely, this situation has greatly degraded the status of Jews and the State of Israel on the Mount. And 3. The most notable element that remains from the old status quo is the prohibition of Jewish prayer on the Mount. The State of Israel does not intend to change this rule, and declares again and again that it intends to uphold it.”
So the Status Quo, which implies never changing, has changed. Just a few examples: The Gate of Mercy (Sha’ar Ha’Rachamim) compound is the fifth mosque that the Muslims have created on the Temple Mount, where in 1967, there was only one. The Muslims carried out unauthorized renovation in Solomon’s Stables (which caused serious damage to antiquities) and converted it into another mosque. They have closed tourist gates (Chain Gate and Cotton Gate). For a more detailed list of illegal changes Muslims made to the Temple Mount, see Nadav Shragai and Lenny Ben-David’s Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (29 Feb 2019) article “Who Is Breaking the Status Quo on the Temple Mount?”
Therefore, there is no Status Quo. It is time re-examine this situation that presents many security and sovereignty issues and not continue as is because that’s the “way we’ve always done it.”
It is also appalling to realize that nearly all the changes to the so-called Status Quo of the Temple Mount have been in the favor of the foreign power (Jordan) and only one religious organization (Islamic Waqf), in tight concert with the PA, all who are hostile to Israel (to say the least).
The Status Quo is, at its core, is an agreement or contract. To be legal, an agreement, contract or memorandum of understanding, must contain a few key universal elements:
- Context: what caused this contract to come into being, what is the current situation (status), etc. Perhaps a few “whereas” to set the scene.
- Parties: who are the entities/persons involved. It is obvious but important to note that the parties are agreeable to enter in a mutually beneficial agreement.
- Terms & Conditions: roles and responsibilities of each of the parties, detailed points on execution, how proper execution of the T&C will be measured, processes for revisions, how decisions are made.
- Breach of Contract: what determines a breach, who and how should notification of the breach be handled, time allowed for rectification of breach, what happens if a breach leads to termination (court or arbitrator, division or forfeiture of assets, etc.).
[For many years I have looked for an official government document outlining Moshe Dayan’s Status Quo, approved by the Knesset or Knesset committee, signed by an Israeli Prime Minister or Foreign Minister and counter signed by Jordan or the Waqf or both. I have been unsuccessful.]
So as Shragai states in his JCPA report, “the status quo of 1967…has “died” even though no one has buried it, while the political and diplomatic discourse keeps mistakenly referring to it as if it is still with us.” Shragai wrote this in 2014 based on events that start with continuing the old concept of a status quo, onto a similar status quo from 1967, which over 57 years after the establishment of the status quo, has changed dramatically (in other words breached) and hence, redrawn.
To support my assertion, I quote from Prof Hillel Frisch, who in 2015, as a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in his paper “Why the Status Quo on the Temple Mount Needs to Change” made the following important strategic and moral points:
“Strategically, the status quo must change because the demand that Jews (and Christians as well) be given the right to pray on the Temple Mount is interlocked with Israel’s justifiable demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as nation state of the Jewish People.
Most Palestinians oppose both Jewish prayer on Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state for the same ideological and theocratic reason. In their view, Jews can be no more than ahl al-dhimmi, a protected but subordinate religious minority under the protection of Muslims, and not a sovereign people equal to the Muslim Palestinian state and its nationals.
Only if the Palestinians accept the right of parity and religious freedom on the Mount in Jerusalem, and recognize Israel as nation state of the Jewish People will the War of Independence that Israel fought in 1948 be truly over.
In short, there will never be peace if a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is seen as a provocation or desecration of the holy place.
Then there is the moral argument. As a modern democratic state, Israel must ensure equality and parity to all religious communities who deem Jerusalem sacred. By opposing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, Palestinian Authority politicians and Israel’s Arab MKs show their true colors as leaders driven more by theocratic conviction and anti-Jewish prejudice than anything resembling democratic and liberal convictions.”
Therefore, to set things right, we have three choices:
- Continue with an ever-changing Status Quo that favors one side, therefore ending up with many political and security ramifications, let alone archaeological disasters. Follow the horse’s ass (see below).
- Take total Israeli control over the Temple Mount and kick the losers out. This would be taken as tremendous incitement.
- Develop a new agreement of understanding that is more in line with ancient and modern history. This involves the understanding and realization by Jordan and the Waqf that they lost the wars in 1948 and 1967 (and others), that the Temple Mount is in Israel’s hands, and that the mosques on the Temple Mount should be treated like other mosques throughout a free and democratic Israel.
The third choice would be a win for all. No more violence or harassment by militants, free access to tourists and worshipers of all faiths, better maintenance, better security, properly handled archaeological research, and more.
I challenge the smarter-than-me people at lawfare NPOs and NGOs (non-profit and non-governmental organizations) to redefine and start the discussion or process for creating a new Status Quo that addresses the arguments above. This should be taken only as a plan to set things historically correct (as the Temple Mount is the holiest Jewish site with a much later Muslim presence, approximately 1,600 years later.) and politically correct (recognizing the sovereignty under international law, ceded territory in 1994 Jordanian peace treaty, and Israel’s ability to maintain the site under the ideals of UN GA Res 181) for all.
The Width of a Horse’s Ass
The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.
Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates.
Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.
Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.
Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe (including England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.
And the ruts in the roads? The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels, were first formed by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.
So the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses. Thus, we have the answer to the original question.
Now a twist to the story.
When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are Solid Rocket Boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Morton-Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs, therefore, had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, a major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of two horse’s behinds.