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November 26, 2014 12:50 am

The Temple Mount and ‘Disproportionate Response’

avatar by Maurice Ostroff

The Temple Mount atop Jerusalem's Old City. Photo: Dave Bender

The Temple Mount atop Jerusalem's Old City. Photo: Dave Bender

Since pundits who profess to understand the Arab-Israel conflict regularly accuse Israel of “disproportionate response,” it would be interesting to know whether these opinion makers consider the current attacks on Jews in Jerusalem to be a “proportionate” response to activists who wish to pray on the Temple Mount.

What is all this verbal and physical violence about? The current “status quo” permits Jews to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray while there. By way of background, the Temple Mount, believed to be the site of the First and Second Temples, is the holiest place in the world for Jews. It is also believed by Muslims that about 550 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, Mohammed flew to this site on a winged horse named Buraq and then flew to heaven to plead with God before returning to Mecca. The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand on the site today, and it is the third holiest place for Muslims.

In 1948, Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem where the Temple Mount is located – and annexed it in 1950. The annexation was considered illegal and void by the Arab League and all countries except Britain, Iraq, and Pakistan.

During its rule, Jordan refused to honor its undertaking in terms of the 1949 Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement to allow free access to Jerusalem’s Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Jews were barred from the Old City and denied access to the Western Wall and other Holy Places. Synagogues were destroyed and tombstones were used in the construction of latrines. Christians were also adversely affected.

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By contrast, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War, Israel showed extreme respect for the Islamic religion. In a conciliatory act, Moshe Dayan ordered the removal of the paratroopers who had liberated the Mount and lowering of the newly raised Israeli flag. He made arrangements known today as the “status quo,” which provided that the Islamic Waqf would continue to manage the site while Israeli police would be responsible for security. Non Muslims including Jews would be allowed to visit but strangely and perhaps naively not permitted to pray.

Now, however, some religious Jews who revere this sacred site are vexed by the remaining condition prohibiting Jewish prayer on the Mount and a group of activists led by Yehuda Glick have for years made a practice of praying silently there.

Whether or not we agree with Rabbi Glick’s actions and even if we consider them to be provocative, they don’t by any stretch of imagination resemble the hysterical descriptions by some opinion makers. And they of course don’t justify the attempt on his life. In an incendiary speech in Ramallah on the 10th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, PA President Abbas warned against changing the status quo despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated declaration that the status quo will not be altered. Moreover, when Israel closed entry to the Mount for one day in an effort to stem the violence, Abbas called this a “declaration of war.” And Abbas said that activists like Glick who wish to share in praying, tolerance, and respecting one another at the site, were “contaminating” the Temple Mount.

It is worrying that U.S. Sate Department spokesperson Jen Psaki and Secretary of State Kerry seemed to accept these incendiary reactions as unworthy of comment.

But of course, when Israel builds a house in East Jerusalem or uses force to stop the murder of its citizens, this is an outrage that the U.S. condemns immediately. Talk about a disproportionate response.

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