Visiting The Temple Mount: Much Ado About Nothing
This past week, The New York Times ran an ominous sounding headline: “Hard-line Israeli Minister Visits Jerusalem Holy Site; Palestinians Seethe.”
What made them seethe? Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s new minister of national security in the Netanyahu government (identified as an “ultra-nationalist”), had the temerity to make “a provocative visit” to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s old city. As its name suggests it is the site of the ancient Jewish temples, millennia before Islam existed to challenge it. But Times correspondent Isabel Kershner reported that Palestinian leaders were provoked by the visit into “a furious reaction.” Why? Because Muslims claim the Mount as exclusively their own.
Ben-Gvir’s visit (at 7 a.m.) lasted less than fifteen minutes, time enough for him to condemn “racist discrimination” against Jews who are prohibited from praying on the Mount. But that was long enough for the Palestinian Foreign Minister to condemn it as “an unprecedented provocation” and a “flagrant assault.” Rather than dismiss this absurdity, Kershner cited Ben-Gvir’s visit as an example of ”the uncompromising approach to the Palestinians that has been promised by the new [Israeli] government.” Worse yet, it comes “at a time of growing violence in the occupied territories.”
Kershner did not identify (Palestinian) responsibility for the violence. Nor did she note that “occupied territories” are a favorite Times misnomer, to which she contributes, for Biblical Judea and Samaria. To her credit, however, she is aware that the Temple Mount is “the holiest site for Jews” – but only “the third holiest for Moslems.” Yet while Jews and non-Moslem tourists are permitted to visit, “they are not supposed to pray there.”
To understand why not it is necessary to return to the Six-Day War (1967), when the Israeli army reclaimed the Western Wall and Temple Mount – a joyous moment in Jewish history. But it quickly became a self-inflicted Jewish calamity. No sooner had Lt. General Mordechai Gur proudly proclaimed that “the Temple Mount is in our hands” than Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, meeting with Moslem leaders, agreed that while Jews could visit the Mount only Moslems could pray there. Astonishingly, Dayan had surrendered the holiest Jewish site: the Temple Mount had become the Mosque Mount
The Biden administration, predictably, has affirmed that capitulation. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that “disruption to the historic status quo at holy sites” could undermine the prospect of a two-state solution – which, he fails to notice, Palestinians have repeatedly rejected. Jordanian King Abdullah II warned of a conflict if Israel attempts to change the status of the Temple Mount. Other Arab states – Saudi
Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have also condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit.
Even the Israeli Supreme Court has capitulated, having ruled last year that the Temple Mount must remain a Mosque Mount, where Jews may visit but cannot pray. They are only permitted to visit the Mount during designated times and must walk on a defined route. Why, it might be asked, should the government of a Jewish state accept the exclusion of Jews from their ancient holy site to appease Palestinians who, if they had the opportunity, would expel Israelis from their Biblical homeland?
Nor is this the first time that an Israeli government has surrendered an ancient Jewish holy site. Following the horrific 1994 massacre by Dr. Baruch Goldstein of 29 Arabs at prayer in the Machpelah burial place of the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebron, Jews have been prevented from praying in the magnificent Isaac Hall where the rampage occurred, except for several days annually.
Palestinians, to be sure, are free to claim any ancient Jewish holy site they wish. It is, however, revealing of their own brief history as a self-defined people that they must embrace Jewish history in the ancient Land of Israel – especially holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron – to bolster their identity.
Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount is hardly trespassing. His claim that the Temple Mount is “the most important site in the world to the Jewish people” may be “provocative,” according to the Times. But millennia of Jewish history in Jerusalem justify his claim, no matter how offensive it may be to Israelis on the political left – and to The New York Times.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of twelve books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019