Turned Away from the Temple Mount

On his recent trip to Israel, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper was forced at the last minute to cancel a planned visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, once the location of the First and Second Jewish Temples, and currently the site of Islam’s Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The official reason given by the Prime Minister’s spokesperson for the abrupt change of itinerary was that “planning and logistics required on a trip like this can be complicated and unfortunately we weren’t able to make it work in a manner that satisfied the security organization involved.” It seems that Shin Bet [Israel’s internal security agency] could not guarantee that they would not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque if a disturbance were to break out. And why would it be a problem if Harper’s security detail were to enter the mosque? Some of his security detail were Jews.

Temple-Mount

It is unlikely that Harper and his entourage would have been turned away if Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol–and not Moshe Dayan–had had his way when Israeli forces retook the Old City during the Six Day War. On 7 June 1967, in one of the first acts by the victorious Israeli forces upon entering East Jerusalem, three Israeli paratroopers climbed to the top of the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount and unfurled the Israeli flag. Four hours later Moshe Dayan, Israel’s war-hero who had overseen the capture of East Jerusalem, inexplicably ordered the Israeli flag taken down. Without consulting the Knesset or even Israel’s prime minister, Dayan then handed the entire Temple Mount complex back to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf to administer. [The Arabic term waqf refers to ‘an Islamic endowment of property to be held in trust and used for a charitable or religious purpose’. The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf consists of a director, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and an Islamic council.] The understanding was that the Waqf would allow universal access to the site, provided the exclusivity of Muslim worship was maintained there. Why did Moshe Dayan take the action he did that day? In his biography he stated that he did this to prevent the building of a third Jewish temple on the site, the goal of a certain segment of Jewry.

The importance of this piece of land to Jews cannot be overstated. Temple Mount is believed to be synonymous with Mount Moriah, location of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, purchased by King David in order to build an altar to the LORD there (2Sa 24:18). It was on this spot that King David later decreed that the house of the LORD should be built (1Ch 22:1). David’s successor King Solomon erected the First Temple here (2Ch 3:2). The returning Babylonian exiles built the Second Temple at this location (Ezra 3:12). After the destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD 70 and throughout a two-thousand-year diaspora, Jews never gave up hope of returning one day to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Moshe Dayan’s action in handing the oversight of the Temple Mount back to the Waqf is now viewed by many for what it was: a colossal blunder. It’s regrettable that Prime Minister Eshkol didn’t have a chance to put his own plan in place. The plan he drew up saw the Temple Mount administered by a committee of equal numbers of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clerics with adherents of all three religions given the right to pray there. These days, Jews who visit the Temple Mount are increasingly restricted by the Waqf as to what they can or cannot do. They are not allowed to pray, or even look like they are praying. In fact, they are closely watched to see if their lips are moving. No prayer books are allowed. No Jewish symbols are allowed. A Jewish woman who had brought dried fruit recently was denied access, dried fruit being connected in the authority’s minds with the Jewish celebration of Tu Bishvat. Another woman was denied access because of her clothing, even though she was wearing a knee-length dress. Sometimes their way is physically barred by Muslims who don’t want them there, period. I visited the Temple Mount when I was in Jerusalem some time ago. My husband and I and a Jewish couple we were acquainted with went up to the Temple Mount together that day. I still remember how apprehensive the couple was the whole time we were there.

Another colossal blunder on an even larger scale is now in the making. It has been reported that John Kerry’s ‘peace’ plan is going to call for the city of Jerusalem to be divided again, with East Jerusalem given to the Palestinians as the capital of their state. How much access to the Temple Mount do you think Jews will have then?

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