Steve Kramer

Temple Mount, the epicenter of violence

There’s been a lot of mayhem lately at the Temple Mount (the summit of Mount Moriah) in Jerusalem, which is a magnet for religious Jews, especially during Passover. Because this year Passover, Easter, and the Muslim holiday of Ramadan coincided, more violence than usual has resulted. The current custodianship over the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City is unsatisfactory. A change may be required so that the Temple Mount is peaceful, as a holy place should be.

The Temple Mount is the site of the Holy Temple (c. 959 BCE) and its subsequent replacement, the Second Temple (c. 587 BCE). It is the holy of holies of Judaism.  There, at the Foundation Stone of the world’s creation, Abraham brought his son Isaac to prepare him for sacrifice to the Lord. The Greeks temporarily desecrated the Temple when they dedicated it to Zeus c.156 BCE, before the Maccabees restored it to Jewish control. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Romans built a new temple to Jupiter in its place.

After the Muslims defeated the Christians in Jerusalem in the late 7th century CE, the oldest existing Muslim monument, the Dome of the Rock, was built on the identical site, above the Foundation Stone. At that time, the area had been the site of a garbage dump, showing the lack of importance that the Byzantine Christians attached to the Jews’ holiest site. (I saw the top of the Foundation stone in the shrine in August 1967, just after Israel won the Six Day War.)

Close by on the Noble Sanctuary, the name the Muslims call the Temple Mount, the al-Aksa (or Aqsa) mosque was soon built, which is considered the third holiest Muslim site. Today, the Muslims use the term, “Al-Aksa” as a synonym for the entire Temple Mount and shriek, “Al-Aksa is in danger!” to incite the brainwashed Muslim youth to riot on the Temple Mount against the police, the Jews worshiping below the mosque at the Western Wall, and Jews on their way to the Wall.

At the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan controlled the older, so-called eastern part of Jerusalem, as well as much of Judea and Samaria. “Upon its capture by the [Jordanian] Arab Legion, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed and its residents expelled. Fifty-eight synagogues — some hundreds of years old — were destroyed, their contents looted and desecrated. Some Jewish religious sites were turned into chicken coops or animal stalls. The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews had been burying their dead for over 2500 years, was ransacked; graves were desecrated; thousands of tombstones were smashed and used as building material, paving stones or for latrines in Arab Legion army camps. The Intercontinental Hotel was built on top of the cemetery and graves were demolished to make way for a highway to the hotel. The Western Wall became a slum area.”

During Israel’s 1967 defeat of the Arabs and the reunification of Jerusalem after 19 years of Jordanian occupation, Israel’s Minister of Defense, retired general Moshe Dayan, made what many — including me — consider a terrible mistake. He allowed the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust, to retain control of the Temple Mount, albeit with Israel in overall charge of security. As Israeli commentator Arlene Kershner points out, “While Dayan apparently had some notion of being respectful of Muslim sensitivities, the Muslims most definitely do not return the favor. They are not interested in sharing.” See Note at end.

Jordan’s King Hussein, whose Hashemite clan had once been the protectors of Mecca and Medina, was made the “protector” of the Muslim holy sites by the Israeli government, a prestigious position. Although the Jordanians had been ousted from Judea and Samaria, the king retained a political role in what the Arabs termed the “West Bank.” However, Hussein disengaged totally from Judea and Samaria in 1988 after deciding it was more of a hindrance than an asset to his rule in Jordan.

This brings us to the present. During the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, the Muslims fast until evening every day. The Palestinian Arab leadership, especially Hamas, annually signals their easily provoked followers to riot against the Jewish presence in Jerusalem, to stone Jews, and even to kill them in their continuing effort to drive the Jews out of Jerusalem and Israel and “into the sea.” Naturally, Israel fights back against this terrorism, causing Israel to be repeatedly vilified in most of the Western media. I won’t bother to try to explain this partiality other than to point out that it’s an omnipresent expression of Jew-hatred.

Not at all happy with the situation is the old and ineffectual leader of the PLO/Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Despite Abbas’ steadfast anti-Jew/Israel policy of paying terrorists a bounty and an income for life for killing or maiming Jews, Abbas nevertheless seems to his many detractors like he’s cooperating with Israel – which he is to a certain extent. Israel’s present and past leadership continue to prop up the PA leader because they expect his replacement to be even worse.

Abbas tries to look more in control than he actually is. King Abdullah, another Arab leader who requires Israeli support, desperately wants to be perceived as THE Arab protector of al-Aksa, a role that he can’t fulfill. Hamas, with its junior partner, Islamic Jihad in Palestine, enjoys its recent role as “liberator” of the Muslims in Judea and Samaria while keeping the Gazans under tight control. (In 1988, the Hamas Covenant affirmed that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the “West Bank” and the Gaza Strip. It has not been revoked.) What can Israel do, if anything, to improve the situation at the Temple Mount?  

Perhaps Saudi Arabia, which controls Mecca and Medina, has a role to play. The Abraham Accords’ main partners of Israel, the Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco, have all benefited from joining with Israel in various ventures, mostly in trade and defense. Behind them looms Saudi Arabia, which is the richest and most prestigious Gulf Arab nation, with the greatest political clout of any Arab country. It approves of the Abraham Accords but is reluctant to join at this time.

If the Saudis had a role in maintaining order at the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, replacing or partnering with King Abdullah, perhaps things would improve. If that were to happen, the Saudis might gain a better understanding of Israel’s problems with the Palestinian Arabs. It might lead them to soften their position on a peace settlement and might induce them to become an Abraham Accords member, which would raise the prestige of the Jewish-Arab partnership. 

Whether Saudi Arabia is an answer to Muslim violence in Israel is unknown. What is known is that Israel’s leaders haven’t been successful in keeping terrorists at bay. I believe that a harder approach could be more effective than the current softer, conciliatory one. That tactic has gotten Israel nowhere, because the Palestinian Arabs still think that violence will ultimately result in the destruction of Israel. But, it won’t!

Note: When the IDF won control of the Old City on June 6, 1967, “…the brigade’s chief communications officer, Ezra Orni, retrieved an Israeli flag from his pouch and asked [Colonel, later General] Gur whether he should hang it over the Dome of the Rock. “Yalla,” said Gur, go up. Achmon accompanied him into the Dome of the Rock. They climbed to the top of the building and victoriously fastened the Israeli flag onto a pole topped with an Islamic crescent.

Except then the flag was quickly and unceremoniously lowered. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, watching the scene through binoculars from Mount Scopus, urgently radioed Gur and demanded: Do you want to set the Middle East on fire? Gur told Achmon to remove the flag. But Achmon couldn’t bear the notion of lowering the Israeli flag, and so he instructed one of his men to do it instead.

It is, in retrospect, an astonishing moment of religious restraint. The Jewish people had just returned to its holiest site, from which it had been denied access for centuries, only to effectively yield sovereignty at its moment of triumph. Shortly after the war, Dayan met with officials of the Muslim Wakf, who governed the holy site, and formally returned the Mount to the Wakf’s control. While Israeli soldiers would determine security and stand at the gates, the Wakf would determine who prayed at the site, an arrangement that would effectively bar non-Muslim prayer. The Temple Mount was no longer in Gur’s [or Israel’s] hands.

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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