Caution on the Temple Mount

Israel would suffer no loss of respect, sovereignty or security if the Bab al-Rahma building remained open

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray during Friday noon prayers at the Golden Gate premises in al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 1, 2019.

This morning Israel Police Jerusalem District commander Doron Yedid is expected to meet with Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, the director of the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that manages the Temple Mount, in an effort to avert an escalation regarding the Bab al-Rahma, a building on mount that is the subject of controversy. The building was closed by police order 16 years ago on the claim that it was being used by an association with links to Hamas.

The Waqf, which oversees the Temple Mount on behalf of the Jordanian government, says the association in question was dissolved years ago and all its members arrested, and that the building is part of the entire Al-Aqsa compound on the mount. Two days ago, the police sought a new court order to shut the building. In their request, the police said the building was liable to be used for terrorist activity and to expand Hamas infrastructure in the capital.

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The statements by the police to the court lack all logic. The Temple Mount has dozens of buildings that are used for a variety of purposes: mosques, schools, offices and various service centers and tens of thousands of people come to the site every week. The opening and administration of one more small building by the Waqf would have no impact for better or worse on the Israelis’ security. Furthermore, the Bab al-Rahma building is old, with foundations dating back 1,500 years, and requires urgent renovation that would take considerable time in any event, for the duration of which it would be closed to the public.

The harsh comments by right-wing Jewish Temple Mount advocates and Israeli politicians about a loss of sovereignty amount to a hollow expression of national pride. As in earlier incidents on the mount — involving the Western Wall tunnels, Ariel Sharon’s visit, the Mughrabi Gate and metal detectors at the entrance — Israel would suffer no loss of respect, sovereignty or security if the Bab al-Rahma building remained open. In all of these cases, Israel acted unilaterally on the mount out of a desire to demonstrate sovereignty, and in every case, Israel’s response led to an outbreak of violence and for the most part also to an Israeli retreat from its original stance.

A courageous Israeli leadership would have acknowledged that the Temple Mount problem is not unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A courageous leadership would admit that, despite all the slogans and declarations about sovereignty and the unity of Jerusalem, Israel is not free to act as it pleases on the mount. Past experience shows that unilateral actions put at risk not only the security of Israeli citizens but also relations with the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and the rest of the Arab world.

Since there is no courageous leadership in Israel, it would be hoped that, at the very least and despite the upcoming election, decision makers would opt to handle the crisis in a balanced way. The meeting this morning is a chance to reach a quiet understanding that the building would be opened, but for extended renovation work that would take considerable time. Any attempt to force the building’s closure would be an act of irresponsibility towards Israel’s citizens.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.