The apparent assassination attempt of prominent Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick on Wednesday has brought tensions in Jerusalem to a boil. If the motive of the attack was to weaken Jewish demands for access to the holy site, it is likely to achieve the opposite effect, galvanizing those pressing for an end to the prohibition on Jewish prayers there.
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Arab MK Taleb Abu Arar has exclaimed that the Temple Mount “should be closed to Jews all the time because they have no business there.” Unfortunately, this message has been consistent with mainstream Arab rhetoric calling Jewish visits to the Temple Mount “provocations” and inciting a religious conflict. Yet, despite the aggressive language and the threat of confrontation, Jews should be entitled to freely worship at their holy sites in Jerusalem. This is a basic human right and not a provocation.
Opponents argue that Jewish visits to the Temple Mount exploit this holy site for political purposes. Yet, on Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah ascended to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and declared “there will not be a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capital.” It is hard to find a more political statement than Hamdallah’s at this sacred site, yet no Palestinians condemned Hamdallah for exploiting Al-Aqsa.
Accompanying Hamdallah on Monday, Palestinian Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj toured the Nobel Sanctuary. It is certainly within their right to pray at one of Islam’s sacred mosques; but, can one imagine the global outcry if the Israeli Mossad head publicly prayed at the Temple Mount? The fact that Faraj and Hamdallah’s visit passed quietly in the Jewish community accentuates the double standard that exists for Jewish visits at the holy site.
Writing this week in Al-Monitor, Daoud Kuttab described a group of women at Al-Aqsa Mosque who “keep an eye on Jewish extremists attempting to pray.” Kuttab titles his article “Al-Aqsa’s Women Resist.” Yet, since when do liberals from any religion rejoice at one group preventing the other from praying? Why is stopping Jews from praying at the site of their revered Temples considered “resistance?”
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is deemed Judaism’s holiest spot, the place where, according to tradition, the two ancient once stood. The same location also contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and is considered Islam’s third most sacred shrine.
The tensions around Jewish visits to the Temple Mount have reached the highest levels of the Palestinian leadership. In a fiery speech this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exclaimed, “It is not enough to say the settlers came, but they must be barred from entering the compound by any means. This is our Aqsa, and they have no right to enter it and desecrate it.” Abbas’ call to prevent Jewish entry “by any means” is an assertion that, in the Israeli-Palestinian context, naturally includes the use of violence. Abbas also assumes that Jews who are visiting the Temple Mount must be settlers, and not Israelis from Beit Shemesh (pre-1967 Israel) or American Jews. Does Abbas have any proof that all Jews interested in connecting with the Temple Mount are settlers or is this simply an additional way to slander this group?
When describing the Al-Aqsa/Temple Mount controversy, Reuters Jerusalem Bureau Chief Luke Baker wrote definitively that Jewish visits to the Temple Mount are “forbidden by the Torah.” Reuters’ absolutist stance on a contentious issue of Jewish law was sure to have surprised many. Although some Rabbis oppose Jewish visits, others note that the great Jewish sage Maimonides himself visited the Temple Mount nearly 900 years ago and respected Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that Jews are permitted to ascent to this holy spot. Just as Muslims justifiably find it offensive when Jews lecture them on Jerusalem’s lesser status compared to Mecca and Medina, many Jews are resentful when non-Jews attempt to dictate to them religious law, especially on a complex dispute.
One key element in a final peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians is freedom of worship for all. The 2001 Clinton Parameters state that in Jerusalem, “what is holy to both requires a special care to meet the needs of all” with “mutual respect for the religious beliefs and holy shrines for Jews, Muslims, and Christians.”
Israeli security officials have long pushed to limit Jewish visits to the Temple Mount. This may be a wise decision in order to reduce tensions at a challenging period. Instead of the international community consistently attacking Israel for its Temple Mount policy, diplomats should appreciate that Israel continues to prevent its Jewish citizens from praying at their holiest site. This is quite a concession to make for the sake of maintaining calm.
Some Palestinians have been prone to labeling Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount as “extremists.” The Israeli government, for its part, has further poisoned the atmosphere with the Palestini sides with frequent settlement announcements in the last month. With increased tensions in the region, there is no reason to artificially create an additional crisis over Jewish prayer when none should exist.
Aaron Magid is a graduate student at Harvard University specializing in Middle Eastern Studies. He has written articles on Middle Eastern politics for The New Republic, Al-Monitor and Haaretz. He tweets at @AaronMagid.