Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem May Save the Temple Mount
This past Monday, I arrived in Israel to begin a whirlwind tour with 30 millennial Evangelical pastors from across the United States. All but two of them were on their first trip to Israel. The experience was both breathtaking and heartwarming. None of the pastors on the mission was a seasoned “Christian Zionist,” but all had a passion for the Bible, for the land of the Bible and for the People of the Book that puts our own religious feelings about Israel to shame. We have a lot to learn from our Christian brethren.
There were many highlights of the trip — too many to fit into this short dispatch. Instead, I would like to use the limited space to focus on Jerusalem, and particularly our visit to the Temple Mount. I would also like to reflect on the ongoing debate and discussion in diplomatic circles and the media about moving the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
You can hardly swing a cat in Jerusalem without hitting a holy shrine or an archaeological dig that is deeply meaningful to one religion or another — or, indeed, to all of them. We visited many such holy sites, and must have certainly passed many others unknowingly — seemingly meaningless piles of collapsed masonry covered in moss.
There was only one site that we visited that made us all angry. On Wednesday morning, we patiently waited in line at the security booth next to the Western Wall, and after a few minutes walked up the temporary wooden walkway onto the Temple Mount. Our hour-long visit was an exercise in frustration and disillusionment. We were all immediately struck by the shabby condition of this ancient site. Wherever you look it is dirty and grubby, and all the buildings are in an absolutely dreadful condition — including, shockingly, the two mosques, which are ostensibly the third holiest prayer shrines of the Islamic faith.
I have seen the Temple Mount from afar thousands of times, but this was my first-ever visit, and it was the first time that I was able to take a closer look at the holiest geographic location of Judaism. What a disappointment it turned out to be.
I must admit: I had always imagined the Temple Mount to be an awesome and impressive place. Over the years, I have had the privilege to visit many well-known national heritage sites all over the world — in countries such as Italy, France, Greece, China and of course countless sites in Israel — all of them revered and cherished, protected and lovingly treated by their national or religious patrons, who clearly see their own collective dignity and beauty reflected in the way their precious monuments appear to visitors and outsiders.
Like you, I have seen pictures of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest shrines of Islam. In Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram — the “Great Mosque of Mecca” — has gone through numerous facelifts, and is purported to be one of the most beautiful and well-maintained religious shrines in the world. In Medina, the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi — the “Prophet’s Mosque” — although more modest than its Mecca counterpart, is a wonderful prayer space, visited by most of the annual Hajj pilgrims after their time in Mecca.
Considering that the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount is the third holiest shrine on the Muslim holy shrine shortlist, one would imagine that its treatment and appearance would reflect the care and attention devoted to the two primary mosques of Islam. I expected the same of the Mosque of Omar, or the “Dome of the Rock”, whose copper cupola dominates the Jerusalem skyline. How shocking it was, therefore, that these two ancient shrines are so dilapidated, and the plaza on which they stand is so badly maintained. As one of the pastors put it to me, how hard would it be to pressure-wash the flagstone floor of the Temple Mount plaza once a week so that it looked clean and fresh? And why are there discarded chairs and sun umbrella stands standing abandoned in a Muslim holy site?
The Western Wall may represent the sad remnant of our destructed Temple, but the depth of spirituality and dignity of this diminished spot far outshines the atmosphere on the Temple Mount. Spiritually the place seems dead. No joy. No love. No warmth. Everywhere else, Jerusalem is a bustling city, full of spiritual yearning and religious longing. The Temple Mount is the opposite — stagnant and negative.
For me, it hammered home the point of how important it is for the world to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and for the US Embassy to move there as soon as possible. This is not and has never been about Islamic claims on Temple Mount. This is all about the forces of evil trying to thwart God’s plan for humanity under the fraudulent guise of religious respect.
So as not to end on such a sour note, let me conclude by saying that since I have been to the Temple Mount and seen it so decrepit, and so devoid of God’s presence, actually I feel elated and rather happy. This is just like Rabbi Akiva, who the Talmud records told his friends after they had all observed the desolation of the Temple Mount, that he felt joyous knowing that the prophecies of destruction had come to pass, and that consequently, so too would the prophecies of salvation, liberation, redemption and resurrection become reality.