How We Lost the Western Wall Too

Through a lack of vision and assertiveness, Israel's governments have relinquished the Temple Mount and the Western Wall and weakened the state's claim to other parts of the Jewish homeland.

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Several weeks ago, a few aging ex-paratroopers asked the police for a permit allowing them to retrace, before it’s too late, the steps they took in their battle for Jerusalem, for the benefit of their families. The permit was denied, because the intended path passes through the Gate of Tribes, which only Muslims can use, and the Temple Mount. In their search for justice, the paratroopers appealed to the Supreme Court.

Where is the justice in this? It was acceptable for us to be willing to sacrifice our lives to liberate the Temple Mount, but now it is unacceptable for us to show it to our grandchildren? What did the High Court of Justice in the Jewish state decide? It informed the plaintiffs that a review of their case would be conducted at a date that fell later than the one they requested for the event, on the night of Jerusalem Day. The High Court, in the most generous interpretation, evaded the issue, as have all of Israel’s governments since 1967.

On the 28th day of Iyar, 5727 on the Jewish calendar, June 6, 1967, comrades of the denied appellants raised the Israeli flag over the Temple Mount. Shortly thereafter, on his way to the Western Wall (which in the Jewish consciousness had long been the focus of yearnings, rather than the mount itself), Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave instructions to remove the Israeli flag. Within a few hours of the flag being folded, the Israeli government folded again, granting full control of the Temple Mount to the heads of Waqf (the Islamic trust responsible for managing Muslim holy sites).

From Lions' Gate, the fighters broke through to the Gate of Tribes and, after a short battle, liberated the Temple Mount. Following a short pause of amazement at the site, they rushed in unstoppable yearning toward the Western Wall. There they let loose an uncontrollable flood of tears. At the wall, not on the mount. They were soon followed, also through Lions' Gate and the Gate of Tribes, by national leaders and commanders from the 1948 War of Independence. They too did not stop on the mount. Even Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi, blew the shofar at the wall and not on the mount, a historic blast that has reverberated since.

In these moments, the attitude was set regarding Gen. Motta Gur's famous words, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Israel's government at the time and those that have followed it, have turned his words into a fiction. The poet Uri Zvi Greenberg referenced this legacy, saying, “You have betrayed your mountain, the highest in the world/your support in this world/without which Israel is not Israel.”

The transferring of control of the mount to the Waqf and the folding of the flag symbolize a lack of vision as well as the confusion that accompanied the shock of that victory. The result has been the missing of myriad opportunities to establish irreversible facts on the ground.

At the time, the world was feeling guilty yet again for not coming to the assistance of the Jewish people, cheering Israel for saving itself. Had there been a determined government then, with a strategic and historic perspective, most of the political and military struggles of the ensuing 46 years would have been avoided, particularly the struggle for complete sovereignty over Jerusalem. An Israel that granted Muslims complete freedom of worship on the mount while retaining confident and full control over it would have consolidated its sovereignty in other locations, far from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Instead, Jewish hesitancy, Jewish diffidence and Jewish ambiguity were picked up by Arab seismographs, as well as by other opponents of Jewish rule over our capital and other parts of our homeland.

But not only is the Temple Mount no longer in our hands; its substitute, the Western Wall, has also been conceded by Israel’s governments. A group of extremists headed by the "Western Wall rabbi" (who is authorized to grant such a title? what power does it entail?) is excluding groups representing the majority of the Jewish people – of which the Women of the Wall is but one – made up of people who wish to express themselves in their own ways. Thus, instead of a national site intended to be inclusive and cohesive, tolerant and monumental, the Wall has become a focus of dispute.

IDF soldiers after liberating the Western Wall.

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