I am leaving for Israel on October 17th as a delegate from ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) to the World Zionist Congress. The Congress is taking place in Jerusalem, where there has been a surge of violence over the past few weeks. “Do you really have to go,” family and friends have asked me. No, of course I don’t have to go, but, frankly, I wouldn’t consider not going. I certainly will be careful to avoid trouble where I can, but I am not about to allow extremists to prevent me from visiting a place that is spiritually very important to me.
Many people do not understand what the controversy surrounding the Temple Mount is all about. The Temple Mount is the place in Genesis 22 when, at God’s command, Abraham comes very close to sacrificing his son Isaac. It is for that reason that Jews chose to build both the First Temple and the Second Temple at that site, since that was where God spoke to Abraham. The earthly home for the divine presence, the Holy of Holies, was housed at this site.
For the Muslims, the Temple Mount site, or the Haram al-Sharif, is where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It houses the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque.
For Christians the Temple Mount is important as the place where Jesus visited and celebrated the Jewish festivals. It is also the place where Jesus challenged the corrupt practices taking place in the Temple and predicted that ultimately, the Temple would be destroyed.
In 1948, shortly after the founding of the State, Israel’s Arab neighbors declared war and Jordan captured the Old City of Jerusalem, which is where the Temple Mount and the Western Wall are located. At that time, Jordan destroyed many of the old synagogues and did not allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount.
In the 1967 war, Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem. Israeli leaders at that time decided to allow the Islamic Waqf trust that had been running the site to continue to do so – that included the Al-Aqsa mosque. At the present time, while Israel controls the entrances to the site, the Waqf still runs the Temple Mount. When tension is high, Israel can limit visitors allowed into the site.
There has been renewed violence over the past few weeks at the Temple Mount. Prime Minister Netanyahu blames Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, for causing the current unrest. President Abbas recently declared that Jews must be barred from visiting the Temple Mount using “any means” necessary, which Israelis interpreted as his instigating another war. President Abbas has accused Israel of causing the violence and has accused Israel of allowing Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount to become contaminated. He wants Jewish settlers to be prohibited from going near the Al-Aqsa mosque and Muslim Holy places, which, of course, would prevent the settlers from visiting their own Holy ground.
At the present time, Muslims are free to pray at the site. However, recently Israel has limited who can enter based on age. Men over 35 are free to enter; younger men can be prevented from entering. Israel says this is being done to try and limit violence at the site. Jews who enter are forbidden from visibly praying at the site. For Jewish worshipers there is no group worship, no visible or audible blessings. These restrictions remain in place in order to avoid protests from Muslims over Jewish prayer at the site.
Although the Temple Mount is deemed as a holy place by three major religions, Muslims on the Mount have been filmed throwing rocks at Israeli police from inside the Al-Aqsa mosque. This behavior obviously does not lend itself to peace negotiations.
Earlier this month the PLO issued an advisory to the world media asking that the site no longer be referred to as “the Temple Mount.” In the future the PLO would like the media to refer to the site as the “Al-Aqsa mosque compound.” They seem not to know that the mosque was built several hundred years after the Jewish Temple.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently demanded that Paestinian leaders stop inciting to violence, which is an indication that he agrees with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment of the current situation.
I don’t know if there will be peace in Israel in my lifetime. I had hoped and continue to hope and pray that that will happen. My crystal ball is very cloudy and I have no idea of what the future holds in this regard. My hope is that I have instilled in my children and grandchildren a sense of pride in the birth of the Jewish homeland, and strong desire to continue working towards peace in Israel.
The following article is from The Jerusalem Post - 10/11/15:
The problem of intimidation of Jews at the holiest site to Jews has reached a critical stage in the last several years, Yisrael Medad, secretary of the Temple Mount Group, said on Wednesday.
“Over the past two to three years, we saw men first sitting in circles studying the Koran, and then, sooner than later, they sat on pathways designated for Jewish visitors, so they couldn’t walk,” he said.
“Then the women got up and followed us around, screaming and yelling ‘Allahu akbar!’ The police will not push and shove them like they will the men, which is why women frequently lead the mobs.”
The Jordanian government pays between 300 and 500 Muslim women and unemployed men to harass Jews, Medad claimed.
The Islamic Movement’s northern branch, based in Umm el-Fahm, compensates 150 additional provocateurs, he said.
While Medad acknowledged that several Muslims with long histories of stirring trouble on the Mount have been barred from entering it for up to three months, he said that harassment of Jews there has continued to grow.
“What happens now is that when we exit the Chain Gate, they follow us out, screaming and yelling,” he said.
“Last Thursday’s yelling at the woman who was later arrested for saying ‘Muhammad is a pig’ was not on the Temple Mount, but in the Muslim Quarter. So, not only are they on the Temple Mount, but they are following Jews outside to the Muslim Quarter as well,” he said.
Medad said the most practical solution, an idea he raised nine months ago at a meeting with the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, is for police to enforce a policy that restricts Muslim mobs from coming within 20 meters of Jewish visitors to the Mount.
“You want to protest against Jews?” he asked. “Fine, [but] do so at a safe distance.”
The central problem, Medad asserted, is that while Jews are told by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu that there is a status quo – and that it cannot be altered – facts on the ground tell a different story.
“The Arabs are altering that status quo from month to month, and year to year,” he said. “More and more, Jewish visitation is being limited during Ramadan, as well as additional closings due to security threats.”
Medad said that wait times for Jews to ascend via Mugrabi Gate have grown exponentially, while non-Jewish visitors enjoy speedy service.
“The best solution is to give them [non- Jews] 90 percent of the place for visits. I’d be satisfied with 90 minutes to two hours a day in a far corner to pray and be a Jew,” he said.
“You cannot be a Jew at Judaism’s holiest site. You must be an unidentified tourist,” he said.
Although Medad acknowledged that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has cracked down on the extremists who fund those who harass Jews on the Temple Mount, he said much more needs to be done.
According to Jerusalem City Councilman Dr. Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio in the municipality, the root of the violence and harassment is far more deep-seated than provocateurs on an extremist organization’s payroll.
“The question whether these people are paid is irrelevant,” he said on Wednesday.
“It’s not just another small group of Palestinians who hate Israelis. No. This is the main feeling of Palestinians in east Jerusalem, and especially religious ones. They are convinced that the Israelis want to expel Palestinians from the Mount, that they want to destroy al-Aksa Mosque.”
“Of course they hate Israelis,” he continued.
“If [Jews] were in the position the Palestinians are in, we’d have exactly the same feeling. When it comes to religious issues, Muslims, Christians and Jews, all of them, they don’t know what the meaning of compromise is. They are absolute. So, there are people they hate when they think the people are trying to expel them,” he said.
Margalit said that there is no imminent solution to the decades-long conflict.
“In the near future, there is no possibility of coexistence on the Temple Mount,” he said, adding that only the establishment of a Palestinian state and withdrawal of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories will effectively address the issues there.
“Once we come to a compromise with the PLO on the future of the occupied territories, then we will come to a compromise on the Temple Mount,” he said.
“Under these [present] conditions, there is no chance of a compromise.”
Margalit asserted that Muslims at the holy site do not object to Jewish visitors, but rather to right-wing Jews, “who come up with a political agenda.
“When I was there, I was treated respectfully,” the Jewish councilman said of his numerous visits at the invitation of the Wakf Islamic religious trust, which oversees the compound for the Jordanian government. “They gave me coffee and sweets.”
The problem the Muslim extremists have, he said, is not with Israelis or Jews in general, but with Jews who go up to make “provocations” and “political statements.”
Asked why three Jews have been arrested for slandering Muhammad while there have been no Muslim arrests for slandering Judaism and chanting “Death to Jews” at Jewish visitors, police spokeswoman Luba Samri claimed that the law is enforced equally.
“Police operate under transparent and clear procedures, which include the obligation to respect the law and rights of others unilaterally, wherever they are, and will continue to take action against religious offenders who violate the public space,” she said. “Such enforcement is impartial.”