The Temple Mount Controversy

Jerusalem is sacred to Jews and has been for over 3000 years. According to the Tanach, (Hebrew Bible) King Solomon built the First Temple (aka Solomon’s Temple) there around 960 BCE according to the building specifications in the Torah. He intended it as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments. Upon completion, he invited Jews and non-Jews to pray and sacrifice there and urged God to pay particular heed to their prayers by saying:

"Thus all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built" (I Kings 8:43).

And there it stood for 500 glorious years until the Babylonians conquered the city, sent the Jews into exile and destroyed the Temple in 586 BCE. Seventy years later many Jews returned from exile and rebuilt the Temple (Second Temple).

During the first century B.C.E., Herod, the Roman appointed head of Judea, made substantial modifications to the Second Temple. He built a huge plateau (600’ x 700’) around it which necessitated the erection of enormous walls (Herodian Walls). It is to the remnant of these walls, otherwise known as the Kotel, the so-called Wailing Wall, that the Jews pray.

In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, tore down much of the walls, massacred hundreds of thousands of Jews and exiled many more.

Since then Jews have lamented the destruction every year on Tisha B’Av, repeated in their prayers, “next year in Jerusalem” and prayed three times a day for the Temple's restoration.

The 1947 UN Partition Plan denied Israel the Old City, preferring to make it a Corpus Separatum (Latin for "separated body) due to its shared religious importance.

After Israel declared its independence in 1948, Jordan and other Arab countries attacked Israel.

The Armistice Agreement signed in 1949 formalized an armistice line where the fighting stopped leaving Jordan in possession of all land east of the line including the Old City in Jerusalem. This agreement obligated Jordan to enable "free access to the holy sites and cultural institutions and use of the cemeteries on the Mount of Olives." Nevertheless, Jordan barred Israelis from entering the Old City and other holy sites. Jordan systematically destroyed the Jewish Quarter and its ancient synagogues and used gravestones from the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives to build latrines for Jordanian army barracks.

In 1950 Jordan formerly annexed these territories, but such annexation was only recognized by Britain, Pakistan and Iraq. All Arabs living there became Jordanian citizens.

But Jordan spent no money on Jerusalem and totally ignored it. And so it remained until 1967 when Israel, in a defensive war, conquered Jerusalem and all lands claimed by Jordan west of the Jordan River. These lands became known as the West Bank to some, but not to the Jews who saw them as Judea and Samaria from biblical times.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (JCPA), recently published The Israeli Relinquishment of the Temple Mount as part of a series of articles explaining the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel.

From it one learns that the legendary Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Minister of Defense who was in charge of these conquered lands at that time, announced  “We did not come to conquer the sacred sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but rather to ensure the integrity of the city and to live in it with others in fraternity.”

The Prime Minister Levi Eshkol Eshkol, for his part, announced to the chief rabbis of Israel that they would be responsible for arrangements in the vicinity of the Western Wall, and promised the religious leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities that they would continue to determine the arrangements at the places holy to them: namely, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple Mount.

“Dayan decided to leave the mount and its management in the hands of the Muslim Wakf, while at the same time insisting that Jews would be able to visit it (but not pray at it!) without restriction. Dayan thought, and years later even committed the thought to writing, that since for Muslims the mount is a “Muslim prayer mosque” while for Jews it is no more than “a historical site of commemoration of the past…one should not hinder the Arabs from behaving there as they now do.”(8) The Israeli defense minister believed that Islam must be allowed to express its religious sovereignty – as opposed to national sovereignty – over the mount; that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be kept on the territorial-national level; and that the potential for a conflict between the Jewish religion and the Muslim religion must be removed. In granting Jews the right to visit the mount, Dayan sought to placate the Jewish demands for worship and sovereignty there. In giving religious sovereignty over the mount to the Muslims, he believed he was defusing the site as a center of Palestinian nationalism.”

This arrangement became known as the Status Quo.

JCPA published an article by Nada Shragai, in Nov 2014, titled The “Status Quo” on the Temple Mount.

“The basic elements of the status quo he (Dayan) devised included:

“The Waqf, as an arm of the Jordanian Ministry of Sacred Properties, would continue to manage the site and be responsible for arrangements and for religious and civil affairs there.

“Jews would not be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, but they would be able to visit it. (This right of freedom of access to the Mount was also eventually anchored within the context of the Protection of Holy Places Law.)

“Israel, by means of its police force, would assume responsibility for security in the sacred compound, both within the site itself and regarding the wall and gates surrounding it.

“Israeli sovereignty and law would be applied to the Temple Mount as to the other parts of Jerusalem, to which Israeli law was applied after the Six-Day War. (This stipulation was approved more than once by the Israeli High Court of Justice.)”

This status quo changed over time due to Arab threats of violence. This article concludes by saying,

“The old status quo on the Temple Mount no longer exists. It has changed fundamentally in major ways that greatly strengthen the status of the Muslim side on the Mount and greatly weaken the status of the Jewish side there. At the same time, one of the main elements of the old status quo, the one that prohibits Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, has been zealously maintained.”

Now when Jordan demands that the “Status Quo” be maintained and Prime Minister Netanyahu swears to do so, they are referring to the current status quo and not the original one.

The JCPA article first referred to above continued:

“According to the Protection of Holy Places Law (1967), the religious affairs minister is indeed authorized to exercise his power and lay down regulations for Jewish and Muslim prayer on the mount; but those who have held this post have avoided doing so, conforming with the governmental decree. The Supreme Court as well, to which Jews have appealed numerous times to change this policy and allow Jews to pray at their holiest of places, has backed the government’s policy for considerations of “maintaining order and public security. The court has determined that the right to pray is not enforceable without regulations, and that implementing the right without such regulations would pose a grave danger to public peace.(10) In its ruling in the case of The Temple Mount Faithful(11) v. Tzahi Hanegbi (the internal security minister at the time),(12) the court clarified that, ‘every Jew has the right to ascend the Temple Mount, to pray on it, and to commune with his Creator. That is part of the freedom of religious worship; that is part of the freedom of expression. At the same time, this right, like other basic rights, is not an absolute right, and in a place at which the likelihood of damage to the public peace and even to human life is almost certain – this can justify limiting the freedom of religious worship and also limiting the freedom of expression’”.

But Jordan is also involved. Art 9 of the Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel signed in 1994 included:

“2. In this regard, in accordance with the Washington Declaration, Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.

“3. The Parties will act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions, with the aim of working towards religious understanding, moral commitment, freedom of religious worship, and tolerance and peace.”

In practice, freedom of religious worship on the Temple Mount is denied only to Jews. King Abdullah makes a point of screaming for the protection of Al-Aksa Mosque in order to placate the Palestinians living in Jordan and Judea and Samaria. He announced “Jordan will continue to confront, through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites, until peace is restored to the land of peace," and that he will oppose any Israeli attempt to change the "status quo" regarding holy sites in Jerusalem. Pure grandstanding. PM Netanyahu has sworn to uphold the status quo.

Israel could pass regulations with respect to praying on the Temple Mount in which event Jews could pray there. But she is loath to do so for the same reasons that Dayan turned the keys over to the Waqf; fear of making this a religious dispute rather than a territorial dispute.

But the truth of the matter is, it is a religious dispute even if Israel maintains the Status Quo.

Daniel Pipes in his article, The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem, enlarged on the attachment of Jews to Jerusalem and then asks “Where does Jerusalem fit in Islam and Muslim history? “

“It is not the place to which they pray, is not once mentioned by name in prayers, and it is connected to no mundane events in Muhammad's life. The city never served as capital of a sovereign Muslim state, and it never became a cultural or scholarly center. Little of political import by Muslims was initiated there.”

In contrast, Jerusalem or Zion appears in the Torah, 823 times and in the Koran, not once.

Pipes posits that Jerusalem now looms so large in Muslim consciences:

“Because of politics. An historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it. This pattern first emerged during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century. Since then, it has been repeated on five occasions: in the late seventh century, in the twelfth-century Counter-crusade, in the thirteenth-century Crusades, during the era of British rule (1917-48), and since Israel took the city in 1967. The consistency that emerges in such a long period provides an important perspective on the current confrontation.”

What motivates the Arabs is not their fundamental attachment to Jerusalem or the Temple Mount but their desire to prevent Jews from exercising sovereignty over both.  Similarly they are not motivated to create a 23rd Arab state, Palestine, but to destroy the one Jewish state, Israel. In order to achieve their goals, they create false narratives which they fortify with propaganda, lies and threats of violence.