To the dismay of Israel’s religious community, Jews were once again banned from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount last Thursday (May 16). And, sadly, no one in Israel was the least bit surprised.
Jews and Christians are frequently barred from visiting the Temple Mount Plaza
Because of the sanctity of the temple that reigned there centuries ago, the Temple Mount is the most sacred site in Judaism. Christians also hold great reverence for the area, thanks to myriad New Testament references relating to the life and ministry of Jesus in and around the temple.
Nonetheless, both Jews and Christians are frequently barred from visiting the Temple Mount Plaza. And both groups are always forbidden to read their scriptures, carry holy items, sing or pray there for fear of offending Muslim sensitivities.
On Wednesday, May 15, Jews celebrated Shavuot – one of three pilgrimage holidays on the religious calendar during which Jews historically traveled to the temple; they still gather from all around the world in Jerusalem.
This year, a visit was planned for a group of Jewish school children to mark the holiday at the Temple Mount. Muslim groups were incensed by the plan; they warned of violence if the children appeared.
Indeed, in recent weeks, there has been increasing anger in the Muslim world focusing on the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque: a flurry of rumors reported Jewish desecration of Al-Aqsa, including “storming” of the mosque, plotting to destroy it, or otherwise doing it harm. This is nothing new – such libels have long served as a trigger for protests, stone-throwing, rioting and, occasionally, massacres.
In recent years, Muslim groups have also reacted explosively to what they describe as the “Judaization” of the Temple Mount – as if Judaism having something to do with the Temple Mount were an late 20th Century innovation. In fact, several prominent Arab leaders have denied that a Jewish Temple ever existed there, introducing a real innovation – “Temple Denial” – to the discussion. The Muslim Brotherhood’s most prominent cleric, Yusuf Qaradawi, stated during a recent visit to Gaza, “Palestine was never Jewish…Palestine is Arab and Muslim and will remain Arab and Muslim, and Islam will prevail.”
Qaradawi isn’t alone in his convictions. Yasser Arafat, during the Camp David accords in 2000, denied that any Jewish Temple had ever existed on the Temple Mount. Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross described the incident in an interview with Brit Hume,
…at Camp David [in the summer of 2000] we did not put a comprehensive set of ideas on the table. We put ideas on the table that would have affected the borders and would have affected Jerusalem. Arafat could not accept any of that. In fact, during the 15 days there, he never himself raised a single idea. His negotiators did, to be fair to them, but he didn’t. The only new idea he raised at Camp David was that the Temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem, it existed in Nablus… This is the core of the Jewish faith…he was denying the core of the Jewish faith there. [Emphasis added]
In 1996, the Muslim Waqf (custodians of the site) began a huge and highly controversial reconstruction project, digging out and enlarging the al-Marwani Mosque, which lies underground, beneath the al-Aqsa. As the digging progressed, by night the Waqf clandestinely removed 400 truckloads of artifact-rich earth and dumped it in landfills.
In the years that followed, those truckloads of earth were discovered, traced, reclaimed, and continue to be sifted through by Israeli archeologist Gabriel Barkay and a team of experts and volunteers. “At least it enables us to look at the soil,” Barkay explains, “although everything comes from a very disturbed context. But we know it comes from the Temple Mount. And we have tens of thousands of finds.”
One very significant find – one that refutes Temple Denial – is that of a bulla, a lump of clay bearing a seal impression, which is about 2,600 years old and dates from the First Temple Period. It bears the name of an official, Gadaliyahu son of Immer. The Immer family is recorded in the Bible, in the 20th chapter of the book of Jeremiah, verse 1.
Meanwhile, Jewish activists have increased their protests, growing increasingly belligerent about being forbidden to worship on the Temple Mount. And at last they have been heard.
On May 8, The Times of Israel reported, “the Knesset’s Interior Committee, headed by Likud MK Miri Regev, debated the long-standing unofficial ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount….At the meeting Elhanan Glatt, the director general of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said that his ministry was examining the possibility of revising the informal ban on Jewish prayer at the site.”
Unsurprisingly, these moves have exacerbated rumors, rage and resentment in the Muslim world. False tales about alleged Jewish assaults on Al-Aqsa appear nearly every day in the Arab media. Faced with further intimidation, will Israel’s lawmakers find the courage to change the rules?
In the eyes of many, forbiddance of non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount is a scandal. This is true not only for people of faith, but also for those who find what is termed an “informal” ban on Jewish and Christian prayer – a ban quite “formally” enforced by uniformed police officers – to be outrageous. Israel has always prided itself in carefully protecting the holy sites of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
How is it that the Jewish State has somehow allowed a Saudi Arabiaesque forbiddance of religious freedom on Judaism’s holiest site?