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July 22, 2007
Jewish Access to holy sites during 'tolerant' Muslim rule
Ed Lasky yesterday pointed-out some of the facts overlooked by two credentialed op-ed writers in the Washington Post pushing the concept that Israel should compromise its sovereignty over Jerusalem in negotiating with the Palestinians. It is worthwhile remembering what happened to the holy sites under Muslim rule before foolishly letting go of hard-won sovereignty over them.
Contemporary observations regarding the plight of Palestinian Jews were made by the Polish Jew, Gedaliah of Siemiatyce (d. 1716), who, braving numerous perils, came to Jerusalem in 1700. These appalling conditions, recorded in his book, Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, forced him to return to Europe in order to raise funds for the Jews of Jerusalem. With regard to Jewish access to the Temple Mount, specifically, he recorded:
Gedaliah's report simply reflects the humiliating conditions imposed on Jews who were denied any access to the Temple Mount itself, and only allowed to pray at the Western Wall during 13 centuries of Muslim rule, upon payment of various "fees" to the Muslim authorities. Indeed, an August 1929 Arab Muslim pogrom-during which Arab marauders plundered neighboring villages and districts , killing 133 Jews, while injuring 339 more in Jerusalem-followed a simple Jewish request for authorization to install benches and a screen in the two meters wide narrow passage in front of the Western Wall
Jewish access to the Machpelah (Makhpela) cave (near Hebron), believed to contain the tomb of the Patriarchs (over which the conquering Muslims built a mosque), 3 under the Mamluks, and later the Ottomans, reflects prevailing anti-dhimmi, and specifically anti-Jewish attitudes during these combined periods of almost eight centuries of continuous Muslim rule. Prior to 1266, the conditions of such visits were described 4 by the 12th century chronicler Benjamin of Tudela. 5 In order to see the putative sepulchers of the Patriarchs contained within the cave, visitors were required to make a payment. Benjamin adds, 6
However, in 1266, the Mamluk Sultan Baybars, upon visting Hebron, prohibited Jews (and Christians) entrance to Machpelah. 7 This prohibition would remain in place for Jews through the end of the British Mandate period (1948); ordinary Christians, other than rare exceptions for dignitaries (such as the Prince of Wales in 1862), were also forbidden entry until 1922. Professor Eliezer Bashan summarized the history of this discriminatory prohibition during a period of over 600 years, beginning with an anecdote from 1336: 8
1. Gedaliah of Siemiatyce, Sha'alu Shelom Yerushalayim (Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem), (Hebrew), Berlin, 1716. [English translation in, Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, pp. 377-80.]
2. Bat Ye'or Islam and Dhimmitude, 2001, pp. 161-162
3. Emil G. Hirsch, M. Selighson, Solomon Schechter. "Machpelah". The Jewish Encyclopedia.com; A. A. Bonar and R. M. McCheyne, A Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839, Edinburgh, 1842, pp. 180-81, 273.
4. "Machpelah". The Jewish Encyclopedia.com
5. Richard Gottheil, Wilhelm Belcher. "Benjamin of Tudela". The Jewish Encyclopedia.com
6. "Machpelah". The Jewish Encyclopedia.com
7. Eliezer Bashan. "The Prohibition on Non-Muslims Entering Mosques in the Ottoman Empire as Reflected in European Sources." Shofar, Winter, 1997, p.63;
8. Ibid., pp. 63-66.