Passover, the Temple Mount, and Jewish Sovereignty

Now that the current U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are in trouble, Israelis can expect violent disturbances on the Temple Mount, initiated by angry Palestinians who are not willing to wait for peace with Israel. Palestinian leaders are already re-engaging in a diplomatic war against Israel due to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to apply for the inclusion of “Palestine” in 15 international organizations and treaties. But, those tactics are nothing compared to what may soon happen in Jerusalem.

Jews are preparing for Passover, which begins on the eve of April 14. Last year, Member of the Knesset (MK) Moshe Feiglin was refused access to the Temple Mount on Passover. In previous years, religious Jews wishing to ascend the Mount were also refused access during this holiday. To the dismay of many who want to visit the Mount, Jews are subject to discrimination and humiliation by the Israeli police.

If the Palestinians decide to take out their aggressions this Passover, the Israeli police are guaranteed to remove Jews from the area. When compared with Muslim incitement on the Mount, the Jews are the path of least resistance. The Israeli government wants to keep the status quo, which means quiet at all costs.

Jeff Daube, Israeli Office Director of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) believes that “unfettered access and freedom to pray at a holy site is a basic, universally recognized right, which certainly should be accorded to Jews in the Jewish State of Israel.” Daube sees this as guaranteed under Israeli law. “We have to assert our rights wherever they are threatened. The Temple Mount is the last place on Earth where Jews should tolerate this type of discrimination.”

In February 2014, for the first time in Israel’s history, more than 30 MK’s met to discuss the loss of Israeli sovereignty on the Mount. It stirred up the Arab world. Soon after, there were violent disturbances which Daube believes were provoked and directed by the Palestinian Authority. He says this behavior is “animated and exacerbated by more than four decades of Israel’s refusal to assert its own sovereignty and rights there.”

Israeli citizens have been educated to yearn for engagement with God in prayer at the Western Wall rather than on the Temple Mount. During the week of Passover, thousands of Jews participate in the Birkat Kohanim ceremony at the Wall. The traditional Aaronic Benediction is said and the House of Israel is blessed. Israelis seem satisfied conducting the ceremony at the Wall and not on the Mount.

According to Daube, “There’s a question about exactly where the Jewish Temple’s Holy of Holies had been situated. That is hallowed ground which only the High Priest on Yom Kippur could walk on. Any Jew walking there is in violation, even if unknowingly, and many believe that carries a heavenly death penalty. While the ultra-Orthodox have taken the position that Jews may enter the Temple Mount area only once the Messiah comes, more and more religious nationalist rabbis have suggested Jews are permitted to walk everywhere on the Mount except where the Dome of the Rock stands – which they think is the Holy of Holies site. These rabbis encourage Jews to visit the Temple Mount often.”

Yet, they are not allowed to pray there. They are not even allowed to move their lips in prayer without being ousted by Muslim authorities.

This Passover, Jews, along with Christians, can expect the Israeli police to keep them off the Mount rather than deal with another round of Muslim disturbances.

Several MK’s recently visited the Mount, to the dismay of Palestinians and Jordanians who claimed it was an Israeli effort to take over. But, Daube explains this is a Muslim excuse for violence, as in the case of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Mount in 2000.

“The rocks, already on the Temple Mount, had been made ready for us. Faisal Husseini, among others, had already planned the ‘outbreak’. The same thing is happening now. As there is growing talk in pro-religious rights circles of finding a modus vivendi for joint prayer, and as the negotiations wind down, the PA is looking for another pretext to blame the Israelis.”

In 1967, Jewish soldiers liberated the Temple Mount from the Jordanians, and Jerusalem was united again. Under Israeli control, the soldiers said the Hallel (Prayer of Praise) because the Mount and East Jerusalem were, miraculously, given into their hands. Under international pressure, and fearing it would ignite a major Middle East war, Israeli leader Moshe Dayan gave the keys of control back to the WAQF.  To date, the WAQF, also known as the Jordanian Religious Trust, does not allow anyone but Muslims to pray on the Mount.

Legally, access to holy places is a right guaranteed by Israeli law, but the law isn’t being implemented. The ZOA explains that after the Six Day War, the Israeli Knesset passed an amendment to the Law and Administration Ordinance, extending Israeli sovereignty to Jerusalem’s eastern sector, including the Old City and the Temple Mount. Furthermore, the Knesset passed the Safeguarding of the Holy Places Law meant to protect freedom of access to the Mount by members of religious denominations.

Today, the WAQF identifies visitors and singles out Jews for biased treatment. Muslims are treated with respect and with no discrimination. The ZOA says the Israeli government is more willing to meet the extremist demands of the WAQF, than consider the legal rights of all its citizens.

The Temple Mount has always been the holiest site in Jewish history. In contrast, for Muslims it is Islam’s third holiest site, not its first. Israeli MK’s are frustrated with the status quo. They want the government to stop abdicating its authority. They refuse to accept that Jews are banned from the most intimate place of prayer before God.

Since the 1980s, Muslims on the Mount have persisted in getting rid of Jewish artifacts in an effort to delegitimize Jewish ties to the holy site and East Jerusalem. Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported in March 2014, inflammatory remarks by the PA Minister of Religious Affairs. He claimed Israel was planning to remove the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Temple Mount. The PMW also reported that Palestinian religious leaders want more limitations to Jewish prayers, claiming only Palestinians have the right to access the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings, and Jews should no longer pray at the Western Wall.  In 2012, Abbas suggested Israel’s actions in Jerusalem were to take over Muslim and Christian holy sites. This Palestinian libel has been actively promoted since the 1990s.

Daube insists, “The PA never has prepared the Palestinian street or the Arab world to respect the facts of Jewish history, or the sanctity of Jewish holy places, because that would mean having to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People. What is new is that Israel now has been forced to confront its revisionist adversary on the world stage, where the Palestinians have been offered a bully pulpit to promote their historically absurd narrative.”

What could change the current scenario is an order from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding the police crackdown on Muslim violence, while at the same time, allowing Jews up on the Mount during holy days. Netanyahu could take further action permitting Jews and Christians to pray on the Mount without fear of Muslim reprisals.

Holding to the status quo, the Israeli government is undermining one of the greatest outcomes of the Six Day War -- the Old City and the Temple Mount once again under Jewish sovereignty. That sovereignty, along with Israel’s sovereignty over other parts of the homeland, is under scrutiny. If Israeli leaders would exercise Israel’s rights to its biblical sites, perhaps, there would be greater respect in the global community for Israel’s historical claim of being the nation state of the Jewish People.