Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By Daled Amos

Jerusalem in general, and The Temple Mount in particular, continue as lightning rods of controversy that threaten to break out into violence.

Just this month, following Biden's meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, The White House issued a statement that read, in part:

The President affirmed his strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and cited the need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. [emphasis added]

Not so fast.

In Protecting the Status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem an article he wrote for The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Nadav Shragai writes about the original "status quo" designed in 1967 by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.

While Israel's success in reuniting Jerusalem and taking control of the Temple Mount was an exciting moment that filled Jews with pride --
Dayan, however, was moved by other considerations that pushed such emotions to the side: On both sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict there were deep-seated religious components that were intermingled with nationalist foundations. On both the Israeli side and the Arab side, the two religions – Judaism and Islam – had nourished countless struggles between the two sides.

Dayan saw himself duty-bound to try and establish a barrier between religion and nationalism, and prevent situations where the conflict was liable to take on a religious hue. He believed that it was possible to allow Islam to express its religious sovereignty over the Mount – religious sovereignty, in contrast to national sovereignty. Dayan believed that, in this manner, it would be possible to confine the Israeli-Arab conflict to the national-territorial domain, eliminating the conflict’s potential to become a religious one.

In permitting Jews to visit the Temple Mount, Dayan sought to curb demands for Jewish worship and religious sovereignty on the Mount; by giving religious sovereignty to the Muslims on the Temple Mount, Dayan believed he was blunting the site’s importance as a hub of Palestinian nationalism.

This situation is a status quo that has gone through major changes. For example:

o  Restrictions on Visits by Jews: The original status quo prevented Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, but allowed them to visit the site. Today, by contrast, Jews are often prevented from visiting the Mount (even without praying there) or such visits are substantially restricted

o  Expansion of Muslim Prayer Areas: When the status quo was established, the Muslims prayed only in the al-Aqsa mosque. Over the years, their prayer areas on the Mount were greatly expanded – first to the Dome of the Rock, which originally was a memorial shrine, not a mosque...In 2000, the Muslims began using two additional prayer areas in the compound: Solomon’s Stables in a subterranean space in the southeastern part of the Mount, where the Waqf established what became known as the al-Marwani mosque, and a section of the al-Aqsa mosque from an earlier period, located under the existing al-Aqsa mosque. Likewise, a large section of the Temple Mount compound was paved and serves, in practice, as a prayer site for tens of thousands of worshipers, primarily on Muslim holidays.

o  The Inclusion of Jordan in the Administration of the Temple Mount: The original status quo granted Jordan involvement in the administration of the Temple Mount through the auspices of the Waqf, which was an arm of the Jordanian Ministry of Sacred Properties. Jordan is, in practice, the official employer of Waqf workers on the Temple Mount and pays their salaries. Today, Jordan’s influence over the Temple Mount has expanded greatly...Today, Jordanian influence de facto extends even to the way the Israeli police conduct themselves on the Temple Mount.

Today, Muslims use the name “al-Aqsa” not only to designate the mosque that bears that name -- now, they also use the term to define the entire area of the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall.

As Shragai puts it:

From many standpoints, the status quo of 1967 formulated by then- Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan is dead. However, public debate continues to relate to the status quo as if it is still alive and binding

For all of Dayan's efforts, Muslim efforts to deny the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount continued and gathered steam. In 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution that did recognize that Jerusalem was holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, it also contained a special section on the Temple Mount claiming that it was sacred to Islam, while omitting that it was holy to Jews as well. The Muslim names Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif were used, but the terms Har HaBayit and even Temple Mount were not.

The following year, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with Israel Radio that it was “completely clear that the Temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple,” adding that “no one can deny the fact that Jerusalem is holy to three religions today,” including Judaism.

Palestinian Arabs responded by demanding an apology from Guterres for denying the UNESCO-approved Muslim monopoly on the Temple Mount.

Apparently, Israel should be grateful to Guterres for allowing that Judaism is one of 3 religions with a claim to Jerusalem.

Matti Friedman writes in The Treasure of the Jews that the underlying problem here is "one affecting many Western observers, with their narrative of a city 'sacred to three faiths'—namely, a failure to understand the unique centrality of Jerusalem in Judaism or to admit that the city is of interest to other religions only because it was sacred to Jews first."

It’s impossible to understand the city without grasping that Jerusalem has existed at the center of Jewish consciousness since Rome was a village on the Tiber and that it has that role in no other religion. Christianity cares about Jerusalem because Jesus and his followers were Jews who orbited the Jewish ritual center on the Temple Mount. Islam built the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount because that was the site of the Jewish temple. Both imperial religions have more important cities elsewhere but came here with architects and stonemasons to create a physical expression of a claim central to both—that they had supplanted the numerically insignificant but historically imposing natives of Judea.

When organizations in the UN like UNESCO are not busy being manipulated by its members to attack the legitimacy -- if not the outright existence -- of Israel, such organizations fall back on platitudes about the equality of the three monotheistic religions sharing a common, equal historical connection to Jerusalem.

But as Friedman notes:

This idea—that all thought systems and cultures are interchangeable and everyone’s ideas equal—is a religious idea in itself, the product of a specific moment in Western thought and one that could use some more rigorous introspection from its adherents.

 This is the same kind of equality that is offered Palestinian Arabs who are described as indigenous. That is quite magnanimous, considering that their roots, history, language and culture are all derived from Arabia -- unlike the Jews who are a product of the land of Judea.

That is why the ties of the Jewish people to the land is more than just question of time.

According to Allen Z. Hertz, a former senior adviser to Canada’s Prime Minister on aboriginal issues, Jews are not merely indigenous to the land of Israel -- they are aboriginal:

Of all extant Peoples, Jews have the strongest claim to be the aboriginal People of Eretz Israel. There, the Hebrew language (biblical Hebrew: yehudit יהודית) and Judaism gradually emerged, leading to the birth around 2,600 years ago of a distinct People that self-identified as Yehudim (יהודים). Earlier, the Holy Land was home to their immediate ancestors, including famous personalities like Kings Saul, David, and Solomon. There were also other local Peoples—like the Philistines, Phoenicians, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Samaritans. But with the exception of the few surviving Samaritans, all of those other ancient Peoples have long since vanished.
What of the Arab People? The great Arab People of history is aboriginal to Arabia, not the Holy Land. Judaism, the Hebrew language, and a self-identified “Jewish” People were already in Eretz Israel about a thousand years before the ethnogenesis in Arabia (circa 600 CE) of the Arab People, the birth of which was approximately coeval with the emergence of Islam and Classical Arabic.

Or as Friedman puts it:

if you dig past the city’s Islamic and Christian layers, what you’re going to find is Jewish.

Are Jews supposed to be thankful when a UN official will acknowledge that Jews have an equal share in Jerusalem when the very holiness of Jerusalem itself derives from Judaism?

A primary cause of the change in the status quo of The Temple Mount is the ease with which Arab violence has been incited and the confidence with which more violence is threatened. It is not enough that Israel has the history and the connection to Jerusalem and The Temple Mount. 

Without the will and the ability to stand up for the special connection between the Jewish People and The Temple Mount, the status quo will continue to change against the Jews. 

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