Trump’s Jerusalem Move: It’s About Time

I am one of those who applauds Pres. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It is so right for a number of reasons:  it reflects the reality ‘on the ground’; it’s a sovereign nation’s right to choose the location of its capital; it fulfills a pledge made by previous American presidents; and so on.  But it’s also right for a reason that isn’t getting much, if any, attention in the media.  Trump’s move stands in opposition to those would-be historical revisionists who have cast the Jewish state as an ‘illegal Occupier’ with no historic ties, and therefore, no legitimate claim, to the city.

The attempt by Israel’s foes to rewrite history has taken the form of temple denial.  It began with Yasser Arafat in 2000, in the closing days of the Camp David Summit,  when Arafat told a shocked Pres. Clinton that the Jewish Temple never existed in Jerusalem.  Arafat’s successor, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, continued to sow doubt as to the Temple’s existence in Jerusalem.  In a speech he gave to the Arab League in Qatar in 2012, Abbas referred to “the alleged Temple.”

In their attempts to deny any historic connection between Jerusalem and the Jews, the historical revisionists have found a willing partner in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). On 2 May of this year, Israel’s Independence Day–the very day when Israelis celebrate the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948–UNESCO passed a resolution claiming that Israel had no legal or historical rights anywhere in Jerusalem.

Two months later, on 4 July, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee passed a resolution that referred to Israel as “the Occupying Power” and deemed all legislative and administrative measures enacted by Israel’s government in Jerusalem therefore to be “null and void.” To anyone who has ever been to Jerusalem, this statement must appear truly absurd.

I was in Jerusalem on Independence Day three years ago.   I headed  over to West Jerusalem that day to where the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is located.  Since it was a national holiday,  the Knesset was closed (to my disappointment) and there was no access to the grounds.

Knesset

(This is a photo of the Knesset taken that day.)

I spent the rest of the day  in the nearby museums which were awesome.

Museum of the Scrolls

(This is a photo of the exterior of the Shrine of the Book taken by my husband that day.  The Shrine of the Book is where the renowned Dead Sea Scrolls are located.  As worthwhile as the Dead Sea Scrolls were to see,  I particularly enjoyed viewing the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence.  An absolutely captivating museum!!!)

Model Temple

(outside the Israel Museum was a model of the Jerusalem Temple.)

In a further attempt to erase all historic connection of the Jews to Jerusalem, UNESCO has issued documents which refer to the Temple Mount solely as al-Aqsa mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif and to the Western Wall as Buraq plaza (April 2016).  Most non-Muslims don’t even recognize the name ‘Buraq’.  The name al-Buraq meaning ‘lightning’ was the name given to the ‘heavenly steed’, the white donkey-like, winged creature that Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad rode when he travelled between Mecca and Jerusalem on his night journey (isra) and when he travelled up into heaven (miraj).  

I have always wondered why Christian leaders don’t take a more vocal and forceful stand against the Temple-deniers, since Palestinian revisionism not only attempts to erase any Jewish presence in Jerusalem, but also attacks the veracity of the New Testament record.  In two days time, it will be Hanukkah when the Jewish people celebrate the purification and rededication of their Temple in 165 BC after it had been defiled by the pagan Seleucid general Antiochus Epiphanes.  The celebration is known by various names:  the Feast of Dedication (hanukkah means ‘dedication’),  as well as the Festival of Lights.  On that night back in 165 BC when the Jews were rededicating the Temple, they tried to light a 7-pronged menorah, but found  that there was only enough oil  to last one day.  Nevertheless, that small amount of oil, it was reported, lasted the full eight days.

The Gospel of John records that Jesus was in Jerusalem, in the Temple area, during one Hanukkah celebration  (Jn 10:22-39).  John tells us that Jesus was walking in Solomon’s Colonnade where he engaged in conversation with some Jews.  Solomon’s Colonnade was a covered porch of cedar held up by rows of columns 27 ft (8 m) high.  Such porches were located on all four sides and faced in towards the sanctuary.  Solomon’s Colonnade, the porch on the east side, was believed to date from Solomon’s time (erroneously) and hence its name.  Porches such as these, a common feature of Greek buildings, were used as places for teaching.  The Jews clustered around Jesus in the eastern porch wanted to know if Jesus was the Christ or Messiah (v. 24). Judas Maccabeus had freed them from the tyranny of the Greek Seleucids.  Could Jesus, then, be the messiah who would deliver them from Rome? Why would John specify that Jesus was in a certain porch in the Temple area if there was no Temple there?  Clearly, Temple denial affects Christians, too.

Let’s hope that Trump’s move sends a much-needed message that the Jewish people do have a right to Jerusalem, not least of which is an historic reason.

 

 

 

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Is Lebanon Lost?

Evidence of Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon wasn’t  hard to come by as I travelled in the country a few years ago.  Visiting the world-renowned ruins of Baalbek,  for instance, meant entering Hezbollah-controlled territory in the Bekaa Valley.  On the way to the archeological site, I passed numerous yellow and green Hezbollah flags and banners, posters of Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah, as well as sundry Shia ‘martyrs’.  The women we passed along the road were all dressed in black:  a sign that we were in Shia territory.   I must confess that I was tense as we approached the checkpoint, but we were waved through without any problem.

Baalbek1

Columns of the Temple to Jupiter

The city of Baalbek had its origins in the 3rd millennium BC as a Phoenician place of worship to the god Baal.  In 47 BC Julius Caesar made Baalbek capital of his Roman colony here.  Over the next 200 years a succession of Roman emperors oversaw the construction on the site of temples in honour of Rome’s gods.  The columns in the photo above are what remains of a temple dedicated to Jupiter.   A trip to Baalbeck is a must-see for any visitor to Lebanon.

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Evidence of Hezbollah on the way to Baalbek  (I have no idea what the Arabic on the Hezbollah banners says.)

At the time I visited Lebanon, Hezbollah held sway largely in the Bekaa Valley. Today, Hezbollah, incredibly, is the most powerful member of Lebanon’s current ruling coalition.  How could this have happened?

The answer is, in one word, Iran.  The Shiite militia group hizb’allah, ‘party of Allah’, or Hezbollah, was formed in 1985, aided and abetted by the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a resistance group to counter Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.  At the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), Hezbollah was the only major militia allowed to retain its weapons, in spite of a UN Security Council resolution to the contrary.  In 1992, Hezbollah began running candidates for Lebanon’s government.  In 2000, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon,  Hezbollah claimed the credit for driving the Israelis out.  In 2005, Lebanon’s Sunni prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated by a car bomb.  More recently, Hezbollah has seen more than 1000 of its members killed  fighting on the side of Bashar Assad and Iran in the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah’s influence only keeps growing, not just in Lebanon, but in the wider region. Hezbollah is working with Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, and is allegedly  arming and training the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen as well.  Returning the favour, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is said to be building underground arms factories right in Lebanon itself.  Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon now constitutes Iran’s most valuable proxy in the Middle East.

Is it still possible, even at this late date, to wrest control of Lebanon from the clutches of Shiite Iran?  That is what Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his son Crown Prince  Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) appear to have in mind.  On 4 November, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, pressured to resign (most likely), and is now being held against his will (allegedly).  It is believed that King Salman removed PM Hariri–a Sunni Muslim and a citizen of Saudi Arabia as well as Lebanon–because he failed to adequately deal with Hezbollah. Hariri’s ‘kidnapping’ is merely the opening salvo in a tug-of-war between the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran over Lebanon’s future.   There’s more to come, for sure.

Iran is very open about its ultimate goal:  the destruction of Israel.  I mentioned earlier how I saw signs of Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon.  I also saw signs of Hezbollah’s presence on the other side of the world, in Buenos Aires, in a park.

Israeli Embassy, BsAs (2)

On 18 July 1994, a Hezbollah suicide bomber from south Lebanon detonated a car bomb in front of the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The explosion killed 85, wounded 300, and destroyed the building.  The scene of what was once a cruel terrorist attack on innocent people has been turned into a place of quiet contemplation.

Being Iran’s proxy in the region makes Lebanon extremely vulnerable in any coming confrontation with Israel.  When I was in Lebanon, I encountered people so opposed to the Shiite militia/terrorist organization that they literally spat out the name, “Hezbollah.” For their sake and Lebanon’s, I hope it’s not too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retracing the Footsteps of the Great Reformer

 

It was five hundred years ago today, 31 October 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Had it not been for the subsequent translation of these theses from Latin into German by someone unbeknownst to Luther,  the Augustinian monk’s action would likely have drawn little attention.  Instead, these 95 theses, translated into German, would prove to be the catalyst that would shake the medieval church to its very foundations.

The church of Luther’s time has been likened to one of those old buildings covered in ivy–in my view, an apt description.  We’ve all seen those ivy-covered buildings from the late nineteenth-century.  So completely covered in ivy are they that one can see nothing more than the windows and the door. It’s impossible to tell anything about the structure beneath all that ivy:  whether it’s a building constructed of red brick, or grey sandstone, or something else.  And so it was with the medieval church!  So many practices and beliefs, with no basis in Scripture, had grown up over the centuries. What Luther, and his fellow reformers did, was to ‘pull down the ivy’ that had obscurred the church’s true message;  salvation by faith alone (sola fides), by grace alone (sola gratia), and by Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus).

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending a day in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, as its now known.  The old university town is a great place for a walking tour because all  the important sites are easily accessible.  The prime site to visit, naturally, was the castle church door where Luther posted his 95 theses.  Why the door of the castle church? In Luther’s day, the castle church door functioned as the local university’s bulletin board.  In posting his list, Luther was calling for an academic disputation on the “power and efficacy of indulgences…”.

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This is the door of the castle church (schlosskirche), or All Saints’ Church, where Luther posted his 95 theses.  The 1517 door has not survived.  This is a later-installed door inscribed with his 95 theses.

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Luther’s grave is situated below the podium where he stood to preach.

One of the things I learned about Luther on this trip–something I hadn’t known previously–was that he was a talented musician who played the lute and possessed a great singing voice.  Putting his musical gifts in service of the Reformation, he composed hymns as well. After viewing the door of the castle church, I went to nearby Corpus Christi Chapel where I joined with others in singing Luther’s most well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  The Reformation was spread not only by sermon but by song as well.  So thrilling to be singing this hymn in Wittenberg!   A Lutheran pastor–from the US–led the group in singing Luther’s hymn, then gave a Bible reading and short talk to the handful of English-speaking tourists there.

Not long after my day in Wittenberg, I made it to another place famous for its Luther-connection: Wartburg Castle, located on a hill overlooking the city of Eisenach.  It was here at Wartburg Castle where Friedrich the Wise (Elector Frederick of Saxony) hid Martin Luther, disguised as a certain ‘Squire George’, between 1521-22, thus keeping the reformer out of the clutches of the pope who would surely have had him executed as a heretic.  Anyone who offered Luther protection would be punished as well.  Anyone who offered him up, on the other hand, would be rewarded with a plenary indulgence.

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Hidden away in the castle, in a stube or room provided by the Elector, Luther translated the New Testament from Greek to German.  Luther had never seen a Bible until he was 20 years old, and that was when he came across a Latin Bible in the monastery library at Erfurt.  He was amazed to find “what a small portion of the Scripture was allowed to reach the ears of the people.”  To the reforming monk, scripture alone (sola scriptura) was the basis for right belief and practice.   It was a moving experience for me to see the room where Luther did his translating.

Luther’s wife does not receive the attention she should, in my view, for her story is a remarkable one, too.  Katharina von Bora had entered a Cistercian convent at an early age and took her vows as soon as possible. Become dissatisfied with her life in the convent, and her interest piqued by the new teachings (which may have had something to do with her growing dissatisfaction),  she plotted with eleven other nuns to escape:  an act punishable by death.  Even giving shelter to an escaped nun was a crime under church law.  Katharina contacted Luther, and he helped her escape in an empty fish barrel!  Luther found homes, marriages, or employment for ten of the escaped nuns.  When only Katharina was left, he married her himself in 1525.   To many at this time, such a marriage was scandalous.  For a monk and a nun to marry was nothing short of incest.

“Dear Kate,” as Luther called her, proved to be a wonderfully resourceful mate:  she managed the household, brewed beer, leased land for gardening, bred cattle, and gave birth to six children.  In marrying the resourceful ex-nun, Luther proved to those around him  that one could be a clergyman and a happy husband and family man, all at the same time.

No account of the life of Martin Luther can be complete without mentioning his hateful rants against the Jewish people in his later years, his legacy thus forever tainted.  That said, Martin Luther, flawed human being though he was, deserves to be acknowledged, especially today, for freeing those held captive by Rome and revealing once more “the glorious liberty of the gospel.”

  Portraits of Katharina von Bora and Martin Luther

Putin’s Russia: Friend or Foe?

I was all set to cross the Kremlin and Red Square off my travel bucket list last year.  The opportunity arose when I was invited to join a choir travelling to Latvia to take part in a choral fest.  Nothing against Latvia or Latvians, but when I said “count me in,” it was the possibility of a side trip to Latvia’s neighbour, Russia, that most excited me.   But it was not to be!   After learning that NATO forces had been stationed  in Latvia to respond to potential Russian aggression,  those in charge cancelled the choir trip out of safety concerns.

So quickly has the relationship between Russia and the West–and in particular the US–deteriorated that I doubt that I will ever see the colourful onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral or view the magnificent art collections housed in the Hermitage.

NATO troops stationed in Latvia to deter Putin’s Russia:  it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Didn’t the Obama administration ‘press the reset button’ with Russia?  Who can forget the goofy red button episode in 2009, when Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with a big red button inscribed with the English word ‘reset’ and the Russian word ‘peregruzka’–which actually meant ‘overcharged’, not ‘reset’.   It had been Pres. Obama’s idea, not Clinton’s, to reset relations between the US and Russia (although the idea for a big red button probably didn’t originate with Pres. Obama).  With two new heads at the helms of their respective countries–Obama and Medvedev–this was the perfect time to inaugurate a new era of cooperation.

Evidence of this new spirit of co-operation came via a ‘hot’ microphone.  In what was meant to be a private conversation  between him and then-Pres. Medvedev prior to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Pres. Obama can be heard telling Medvedev how it is important for Putin to give him [Obama] space; how after the election, his [Obama’s] last, he will have more flexibility.   In the aftermath of that conversation, a now more-flexible POTUS dismantled the US missile defense plans for Central Europe, and made a new arms treaty with Russia which allowed it to grow its atomic arsenal.

Further evidence of this new spirit of co-operation came with the Obama administration’s approval of a deal which saw more than 1/5 of  US uranium-mining capacity sold to Russia’s state-controlled nuclear energy conglomerate, Rosatom.

Given this history of co-operation between the Obama administration and Russia, it seems just a little rich for the Democrats to accuse Trump and his associates of ‘colluding’ with the Russians to swing the 2016 election in their favour.  The word ‘collude’ has negative connotations, of course.  It means ‘to come to an understanding or conspire together, especially for a fraudulent purpose’.  The word ‘co-operate’ on the other hand means simply ‘to work or act together’.  Was the Obama administration ‘colluding’ or merely ‘co-operating’ with Putin’s Russia?  The word one chooses has a lot to do with one’s political affiliation.

Pres. Trump and his associates are currently being investigated by the FBI to determine whether they colluded with the Russians to swing the 2016 presidential election in their favour.  Trump denies any collusion.  Putin–former head of the Soviet Union’s spy agency, the KGB–denies any meddling. Would he say otherwise?  Whatever the outcome of the FBI investigation, the relationship between Putin’s Russia and the US has been ‘reset’ to a low point not seen since the Cold War.  A trip to Putin’s Russia now?  Not very likely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for Figs

Hanging FruitOne of my thrills as a gardener this past year (I use the term ‘gardener’ loosely) has been to watch a fig tree grow and produce fruit for the very first time.  My fig tree produced its first crop of figs in late August.  There were four figs in all. I wasn’t sure what a ripe fig should look like, and so sampled the first one too early. Which explains why it was pink inside and not as sweet-tasting as I had anticipated.

Hanging Fruit 2

I subsequently learned that a ripe fig is soft and squishy–gooey almost–and brown, like the one in the photo.

Watching my fig tree flourish and produce fruit these past months has brought to mind a number of biblical passages in which a fig tree features prominently.  I’m told that there are some 50 references  to figs and fig trees in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament.  (I don’t intend to comment on all 50!) In two earlier blogs,  I describe how our primeval parents Adam and Eve used fig leaves in an attempt to cover their nakedness  (9 June 2017 blog); and how Jesus, in what was a prophetic sign-act,  pronounced judgment on a fruitless fig tree (28 June 2017 blog).

Jesus also told a parable about a fig tree (Luke 13:6-9).

A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?” “Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down” (NIV).

The characters in this parable are usually identified thus:  the owner of the fig tree is God, the caretaker is Jesus, and the fig tree is Israel.  Jesus’ ministry, begun in approximately AD 28-29, lasted for three years.  In that time there has been little response from his own people, the Jews.   Jesus, not willing to see the fig tree destroyed,  intercedes on its behalf. He calls for a reprieve for the fig tree,  another chance, one more year.   During that time, he himself will do all he can for the tree. If, at the end of one year there is no fruit, then the owner of the tree can uproot it.

Jesus intervenes to save the fig tree, recalling Moses’ earlier intercession on behalf of his people.  The Israelites had Aaron build a golden calf to worship when Moses was overly late in descending from the mountain.  God was ready to annihilate the “stiff-necked” people, but  Moses implored God to  “turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (Ex 32:12).  Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened (v. 14). 

In the parable, the caretaker asks for a delay, not a total reprieve, on behalf of the tree, knowing that the owner is within his rights to remove a fruitless tree taking up valuable space in his vineyard.  The parable of the fruitless fig tree raises a somber note: While God may delay judgment for a time, a day of reckoning will inevitably come.

Fall FruitMy first crop of figs–the so-called ‘early’ figs–ripened in late August.  A second crop of figs is growing now–the so-called ‘late’ figs–even as the tree’s leaves change from green to yellow.  I’m not sure what will happen to the developing figs as the weather grows colder.  In Israel in Jesus’ time, the first crop was eaten fresh, and the later figs were dried for the winter.  Are there any biblical passages that refer to these ‘late’ figs?  Yes there are–I feel another blog coming on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Viewed the August 21 Solar Eclipse

Today was the much-anticipated day of the ‘American Eclipse of 2017’.  Once we learned that glasses were no longer available, my husband and I decided to try the ‘two sheets of paper and pin hole’ method.   And it worked!!  My husband cut three different sizes of holes, and wonder of wonders, it was the tiniest hole, the pin hole, that produced the best image.

Eclipse2We taped the sheet to the outside window of our back patio and waited, peering at the image on the bottom sheet every ten minutes or so as the shadows began to lengthen and it started to get cold.  That is what I will remember most about today’s solar eclipse:  the dramatic plunge in the temperature.

Eclipse3The solar eclipse was not total in our area; this is the closest we came: 90%.

Eclipse4 (2)They say that birds stop chirping during an eclipse, but the sea gulls that are so noisy this time of year in our neighbourhood never did stop their raucous cacophony.  Maybe it takes a total eclipse to silence them.

I’m glad I got to experience the solar eclipse today. It’s so easy to get caught up in our everyday activities that we forget that we are part of an immeasurably vast and awesome cosmos.   When I experience a celestial event like that of today, I am reminded of the words of the psalmist:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4 NIV).

We who live in this part of the world got to ‘consider the heavens’ today.

The majority of those who watched the solar eclipse probably regarded it as a fascinating scientific phenomenon, and nothing more.  Christians no doubt viewed it, not only a scientific phenomenon but a demonstration of God’s awesome creative activity.

Fascinating as it was, could the American Eclipse of 2017 have been more than a scientific phenomenon or demonstration of God’s handiwork? Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of US evangelist Billy Graham, believes it could be, issuing an urgent warning of impending disaster and destruction.  The last solar eclipse to cross the continental US occurred in June of 1918.  What followed was the Spanish flu pandemic when 675,000 Americans–20 – 50 million people worldwide–died.

The trajectory of today’s solar eclipse crossed the US mainland from northwest to southeast, passing over three important seismic zones:  Cascadia, Yellowstone, and New Madrid.  Another solar eclipse will occur in eight years time, on April 24 in 2024.  At that time, the path of the solar eclipse will proceed from northeast to southwest.  The zone where the two trajectories cross on April 8 is the New Madrid seismic zone:  a significant location, for sure! This was the location of the largest earthquake ever to occur in the US.  On 16 December 1811, a 7.5 – 7.9 earthquake occurred in the region that was felt as far way as New York City, Boston, Montreal, and Washington DC.  In the early 1800s, human life lost was minimal because it occurred in an unpopulated area.  If another earthquake were to occur there, loss of human life would be catastrophic.

Today’s solar eclipse could be the harbinger of something even more devastating than a world pandemic or massive earthquake, and hence, Anne Graham Lotz’ urgent warning.  Could today’s celestial event be a sign of the approaching ‘Day of the LORD’, that time of apocalyptic judgment predicted to occur at the end of history?  According to the prophet Joel, cosmic convulsions are a signal that the Day of the LORD is imminent.

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD (Joel 2:31). 

Anne Graham Lotz may be right.  However, the thing about such claims:  it’s only with the passage of time that we learn whether or not some event was indeed a sign of impending catastrophe.

There was an earlier solar eclipse on 21 August,  in 1914,  just weeks after the start of World War I.  Its trajectory followed a path through Eastern Europe.  It’s now known as the World War I solar eclipse.  Did those who observed it see it as an omen of some sort?  Of those who did, no one, I’m sure, could have even begun to imagine what lay ahead, not only for Europe, but for the entire world.

I enjoyed watching the solar eclipse today.  Was it an omen of impending disaster? Who can say?  One thing I do know:  Christians are exhorted to be watchful, not fearful!

 

 

 

 

Terror on Temple Mount

Today is Tisha B’Av, the saddest day for the Jewish people in their entire lunar calendar.  This is a day of fasting and reflection as Jews recall the great calamities that befell their people on Tisha  B’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av.  Tradition has it that both Jerusalem Temples were destroyed on this day:  Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and Herod’s Temple in AD 70.  Also on this same day, the last Jewish fortress to hold out against the Romans during the Bar Kochba Revolt fell in AD 135. A  year later, the Temple area was ploughed under by the Romans, again on TishaB’Av.

I can’t help but think that recent events on the Temple Mount must add to the Jewish sense of mourning today. A little over two weeks ago, Arab Israelis smuggled guns onto the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif to Muslims).  Three of the gun smugglers then trained their guns on policemen standing guard just outside the site, killing two Israeli Druze police officers, before being themselves killed.  As a way to prevent further attacks of this nature, Israel installed metal detectors at two of the gates opening onto the Temple Mount and closed the others.  We all know how well that went over with certain members of the Muslim population.  Not content merely to boycott the Temple Mount or riot, one ‘aggrieved’ Arab Israeli, wanting to avenge what he saw as an ‘assault on the al-Aqsa mosque’, slaughtered three members of a Jewish family as they were sitting down for their Shabbat meal.

Mounting metal detectors seems like a reasonable response to the attack, yet it was highly objectionable to many Muslims.  What Israel had done by installing metal detectors was to “change the status quo.” (I would have thought that a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount had already changed the status quo, but that was not what the Muslim objection was all about.)

What is the ‘status quo’ on the Temple Mount?  Although the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is sacred to both Jews and Muslims,  Jews are not allowed to pray there.  Before Jews are allowed to enter the compound, their belongings are meticulously checked for prayer shawls and phylacteries.  On the esplanade itself, patrolling police carefully scrutinize Jewish faces for moving lips, a telltale ‘giveaway’ that the Jewish visitor just might be praying.  Two weeks ago, the police were checking for moving lips, but missed terrorists moving guns onto the Temple Mount.

The idea that it is illegal for a Jew to pray on the former site of the Jewish Temple–to even be seen moving his or her lips–should be abhorrent to anyone who cares about religious freedom and human rights.  Hard to believe, but it was a fellow Jew,  the Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan, who bears the responsibility for the current status quo.

Up until 1917, the Temple Mount had been controlled by the Ottoman Empire.  In 1948, when Jordan seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Jordan transferred responsibility for the Temple Mount compound to itself.  Jews were not allowed to visit the Temple Mount while Jordan exercised control from 1948 to 1967.  With the retaking of the Temple Mount during the Six Day War in June 1967, Jews finally had control of the site of their two temples–for the first time in two thousand years.

But then Dayan, Israel’s defense minister at the time, in a stunning decision, relinquished control of the Temple Mount back to Jordan, reasoning thus:  for Muslims, the mount was a “Muslim prayer mosque” while for the Jews, the Temple Mount was no more than an “historical site of commemoration of the past…one should not hinder the Arabs from behaving there as they now do.”

Dayan’s first act on the Temple Mount was to have the flag removed that Israeli paratroopers had raised there.  Next, he cleared out the paratroop company that was supposed to remain permanently stationed on the northern part of the Temple Mount. Then,  he forbade Jewish prayer and worship on the compound (although he insisted that Jews could visit the site).  He left the Mount and its management in the hands  of the Islamic Religious Endowments Authority, or Waqf.  (The Waqf is entirely controlled and funded by the Jordanian government.) Jordan would continue to have control over what happened on the Temple Mount, while Israel would be responsible for security around the perimeter of the esplanade. Dayan believed that, by relinquishing control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf,  he would avoid a larger conflagration with the Muslim world.

For Israel to put metal detectors on the Temple Mount was a sign,  in the eyes of many Muslims, that Israel had wrested control of the Temple Mount from the Muslim Waqf–an unlawful act.

Dayan’s magnanimous concession to the Muslim world in 1967–continued control over the Temple Mount–did not win the Jewish state any friends in the neighbourhood in the ensuing years.  Given the obvious lack of control by the waqf overseer two weeks ago, leaving the Temple Mount in the hands of a dubious ‘peace partner’ is likely to lead to a larger conflagration, just the opposite of what Moshe Dayan intended.  The status quo is no longer tenable.

 

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(This is the most volatile piece of real estate on the planet:  Temple Mount /Haram al-Sharif). This picture of the Temple Mount with its prominent Dome of the Rock was taken on my recent visit to Israel.  As I had been up on Temple Mount on a previous trip, I decided to stay down below at the Western Wall.)