Embracing the Temple Mount

If Israel would dare to grant Jews equal rights at the Temple Mount, then, after time, it will become the new norm.

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem's Old City.
Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem's Old City.Credit: Moshe Gilad
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

I was privileged to be among the forces that fought their way to the Temple Mount in 1967. Hearing Motta Gur’s declaration that “The Temple Mount is in our hands” sends chills down my spine to this day. When the battles ended, a brigade formation was held on the Mount during which Gur read the following proclamation: “For some 2,000 years the Temple Mount was forbidden to Jews, until you, the paratroopers, came and returned it to the bosom of the nation.” Those words are forever etched on the memories of those who stood there in long rows, sorely missing the 98 soldiers who fell and the hundreds who were wounded.

But it quickly became clear that the government of the Jewish nation didn’t want to embrace the historic, unparalleled gift that the paratroopers had bestowed upon it.

In their iniquity, successive Israeli governments, the Chief Rabbinate and all those others responsible for blocking a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount have led to the Jewish people’s loss of sovereignty over the site. Those that succeed in ascending feel like unwanted strangers at the Jewish people’s holiest place. For this reason, and so that I won’t experience the extreme dissonance between those lofty moments in 1967 and today’s humiliating reality, in which hostile Waqf men follow every skullcap-wearing Jew who ascends, I have not stepped on the Temple Mount for several decades.

In 1967, officials of the State of Israel, including its clergy, were struck with a spiritual blindness. They didn’t understand the enormous national significance of returning to the Temple Mount, just as they only partially understood the significance of the liberation of Judea and Samaria. Because of this blindness − and since we know that these types of conflicts abhor a vacuum − the Arabs persistently block a correction of this distortion by causing constant and volatile agitation over the Temple Mount that can extend hundreds of kilometers away from it.

The recent Arab rioting on the Temple Mount − just another link in the chain of innumerable previous disturbances − is the rotten fruit of the refusal to assert Israeli sovereignty, due to a congenital Jewish fear that “it will set the entire region aflame.” Even today this fear is baseless; how much more so was that the case in 1967.

At that time, the “entire region” was defeated and shell-shocked. It would have been easy to establish facts on the Temple Mount, including giving religious rights to Jews without depriving Muslims of their status, and to immediately annex Judea and Samaria. “The world,” before which Israeli leaders trembled with fear, was beset with guilt over not having come to the aid of the little Jewish state, which on the eve of the war itself believed that it was facing annihilation.

“The world” would have accepted the annexation − there were plenty of signs that was the case. What’s more, the Palestinian peoplehood had yet to be invented, and everyone agreed that ever since the Jews had been exiled from their land those areas had never been under the recognized sovereignty of any people or any state. (It should be recalled that Jordan’s annexation of the territories in 1948 was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan.)

An amazing convergence of powers prevents this wrong from being righted − Israeli governments, the Waqf, the rabbinical establishment (including the religious-Zionist rabbinical establishment), the United Nations, the Arab League and, of course, human rights groups. The latter fight ferociously for Arab freedom of worship anywhere, but object with equal vehemence to the right of Jews to pray at their holiest site, and the Supreme Court of the Jewish state supports them, automatically rejecting with the same responses petition after petition in which Jews seek the right to freely worship there.

So long as the Arabs feel that this government coalition is essentially backing them on this, the Temple Mount will continue to erupt and the destructive lava will continue to flow. But if the state would dare to declare equal rights for Jews there, if only the right to pray, and enforce that right with all the means at its disposal, then a new status quo will emerge. It will be tense at first, but over time, perhaps a long time, it will become the new norm. And eventually, the frequent intermingling may well create a dynamic of closeness.

Anyone who opposes this opposes an historic reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel and the possibility of fostering true peace.

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