This past Wednesday, I ascended to the Temple Mount, as I have done many scores of times, and, following the police security check, was permitted to enter the compound Muslims call the Haram A-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. The precincts were empty, totally so. I did not see more than a half-dozen Muslims there, except for eight tourists who appeared to originate from an Asian country. Despite this dearth, there were more policemen than usual and they appeared more heavily armed and quite tense. This was understandable, given that two Israeli police officers patrolling outside the Mount had been killed the previous week by terrorists who had stashed their weapons in the complex beforehand.
That we were allowed in at all was a minor miracle, as visits by Jews had been halted during the morning window for non-Muslims to be present. Someone had apparently opened a Jewish prayer book, an act that is forbidden. There actually is a list of some twenty actions a Jew (or a Christian, for that matter) cannot do at the holiest site in Judaism. That includes murmuring, moving ones lips as if praying, bowing or shaking in a ritual fashion. That ban of such activities is the practical translation of what is known as the “status quo.”
This week’s developments, with Muslims refusing to enter the Mount and choosing instead to conduct prayer assemblies outside, is all because of a perceived change in that status quo – the planned introduction of metal detectors in response to the terror attack. Who would have thought that a metal detector was such a powerful instrument?
A fortnight after the Six Day War, then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan formally delegated the internal administration of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian-run Waqf Islamic Religious Trust, and agreed to a status quo arrangement that no Jews would be permitted to pray therein. At a meeting in October 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Jordan’s King Abdullah II and then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this assurance:
Israel re-affirms…the status quo of the Temple Mount, in word and in practice. Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount.
In doing so, Netanyahu continued Israel’s 50-year commitment, upheld numerous times by the country’s High Court, to the status quo. This, more than anything else, has contributed to the delegitimization of the standing of Jews at the site most sacred to the Jewish nation. You can see this when organizations like UNESCO claim that the Old City is not Israeli, and that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is Palestinian.
This is why I was cheering on the Women of the Wall. A fight over a religious location; violent repression of free expression; an obscurantist adversary; an issue of freedom of worship: all the ingredients were present, but when pressed on the obvious parallel between the Temple Mount’s ban on Jewish prayer and the Western Wall’s ban on some forms of female Jewish prayer, Member of Knesset Tamar Zandberg of the leftist Meretz party declared in 2013 that while every person of any religion has the right to pray in the places he or she considers holy, “Jews will only be able to pray in the places holy to them after the occupation ends and Jerusalem is [re]divided.”
Each Party will provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance…The Parties will act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions, with the aim of working towards religious understanding…freedom of religious worship, and tolerance…
So then why on Saturday did Jordan’s minister in charge of the Waqf hold Israeli authorities “responsible for the mounting tension and violence in the holy compound,” when it was three Arab terrorists who had murdered two Israeli policemen? Were his words in line with the peace treaty’s goals?
I am not sure if the metal detectors will be in place by the time this piece is published, but it would be a tragic error if Israel withdraws and retreats from the plan due to Muslim pressure. It would only be the latest instance where such pressures endangered people of all faiths on the Temple Mount, including tourists. Palestinian pressure on the Waqf forced Jordan to abandon the idea of 24-hour surveillance cameras last year, even though it was the King’s idea, which Secretary Kerry had promoted enthusiastically and even Palestinian Authority President originally didn’t oppose. Those cameras perhaps could have prevented last week’s terror attack.
Once again — as with the 1937 Peel Partition, the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Menachem Begin’s 1977 Autonomy idea, the 2000 Camp David II negotiations and Ehud Olmert’s left-behind map in 2008 — the Palestinian Arabs willingly sabotage any attempt to inject rationality and equity into the Arab conflict with Israel and Zionism. They have threatened violence to achieve their political goals since the Pesach Riot of 1920. Waqf officials are now calling for mass prayers outside the compound, and I presume that riots are their ultimate goal.
In 1929, they fabricated a Temple Mount “takeover” that led to 135 Jews killed and a pogrom in Hebron. Now, they falsely promote the same lie that “Al-Aqsa is in Danger.” Their unwillingness to acknowledge Jewish nationalism, their diplomatic rejectionism and their preference for violence as a strategic tool is what is wrong here — not Jews seeking basic civil liberties. We seek no less than Muslims themselves who wish to pray at Cordoba’s Cathedral, although we desire to obtain our rights through peaceful means.
If their posturing forces Israel to yield, there’ll be no end to the pressures at every turn. Arabs need be taught, as patronizing as this may sound, that they are subject to the same rules as everybody else. To let them believe we are not truly convinced of our rights here in Jerusalem and at the Temple Mount will only compound Dayan’s error in 1967, which set the tone for their “diplomacy” since then — with the Temple Mount but a microcosm of the greater conflict.
Yisrael Medad, Secretary of El Har Hashem (To the Mount of the Lord), is a member of the Temple Mount Activists Coordinating Committee.