Israel Surrenders the Temple Mount
Since Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, ending nearly two thousand years of Jewish exile and dispersion, only one other moment has rivaled its stunning historical significance. Nineteen years later, on June 7, 1967, Israeli paratroopers poured into the Old City of Jerusalem. Within minutes Lt. General Motta Gur ecstatically proclaimed: “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” On its southeastern corner, above the Western Wall, soldiers raised the Israeli flag.
Upon reaching the sacred Wall Defense Minister Moshe Dayan declared: “We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again.” Dayan promised Christians and Muslims that “their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved.” But he made no such promise to Jews. Instead he ordered the Israeli flag removed and quickly ceded internal administrative authority over the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf. Jews could visit the Temple Mount, he announced, but they could not pray there. Freedom of worship for Jews at their holiest site, where the ancient Temples once stood, was sacrificed to the fantasy of amicable relations with Muslims.
Recently the preferential status quo for the Temple Mount has been vehemently challenged. There were too many Jewish visitors, some even daring to move their lips in prayer, to please Muslim sensibilities. Enraged young hoodlums threw stones and a Muslim authority declared pointedly: “We reject these religious visits.” Palestinian officials warned of rising friction and conflict if the Temple Mount did not remain Judenrein.
Last week, amid rising Palestinian violence in Jerusalem – including the attempted murder of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who has strongly advocated and boldly asserted a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the holy site closed for one day to restore calm. That incensed Muslims even more since the chosen day, Friday, is their special day of prayer. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, echoing the Grand Mufti in 1929, stoked violence by urging resistance to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount by all necessary means.
Netanyahu hastily backtracked. Pledging “responsibility and restraint,” he promised not to alter the status quo even as he acknowledged that the Temple Mount has been “the holiest site for Jews” ever since “our patriarch Abraham.” Promising to oppose the efforts of Islamic extremists to foment unrest, he nonetheless yielded to their insistence that Muslims alone could pray on the Mount. Ostensibly balancing “a strong insistence on our rights” with determination “to maintain the status quo,” he relinquished Jewish rights to appease Muslim demands. Abbas, affirming Netanyahu’s capitulation, praised him.
It comforted some observers (including, predictably, Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times) that until recently only “a fringe of hard-core zealots” were drawn to the Temple Mount. Now, however, brides visit on their wedding day and school groups tour the site. A shanda, for sure.
Personal note: my first visit to the Mount, forty years ago, was guided by a friendly Arab antiquities dealer who walked me through Solomon’s Stables, built during King Herod’s reign beneath what became the al-Aqsa Mosque. Buried below the dirt floor were layers of Jewish antiquities that were subsequently bulldozed away to build a prayer hall and obliterate remnants of any Jewish presence on the Temple Mount.
Netanyahu’s malleability under pressure, especially when the interests of religious Zionists can be sacrificed, is not new. In 1996, after his first election as Prime Minister, he asserted “We are in Hebron by right.” One year later, under intense American pressure to appease Yasir Arafat following riots in Jerusalem, Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol. Dividing the city, it confined Jews to a tiny vulnerable ghetto while relinquishing historic Jewish property.
Yehuda Glick, now recovering from near fatal wounds, insisted that Jews be permitted to pray at their most sacred site. But his left-wing critics blithely tolerate religious discrimination – only against Jews – to pursue peace now. To be sure, as Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson correctly observed, (secular) Zionists from Theodor Herzl to Moshe Dayan – now including Netanyahu – have demonstrated little enthusiasm for religious sites or for Jews who revere them. Settling the Land of Israel comprised the bedrock of Zionism – until religious Zionists seized the opportunity to return to the biblical homeland of Judea and Samaria after the Six-Day War.
Netanyahu’s capitulation to Muslim demands for exclusive control over the Temple Mount, like unfulfilled government plans to expand Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, is trumpeted as political pragmatism. But his promise that prayer by Jews at their “holiest site” will remain forbidden only assures continuing conflict, if not between Jews and Muslims then surely among Jews.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner