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Holy Strife


IPDF: The Temple Mount continues to be a flashpoint for violence and unrest with the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world, is there a way out of the mess?

NS: There is no real way out of the Temple Mount impasse. In essence it a conflict between two religions. For Judaism this is its most holy site; for Islam this is its third most holy site [after Mecca and Medina].

Israel conceded an extraordinary compromise when it handed over de facto running of the site to the rival religion and waived its basic right – the right to pray there. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan made this gesture in 1967 to prevent the national, territorial conflict from spilling over into religious dimension.

In retrospect it is clear that it has been impossible to sweep the religious dimension under the carpet. The moment that one side – Islam – regards the Jewish presence in its holy place as defilement there is no possibility of "solving" the Temple Mount [known to Muslims as the Haram esh-Sharif] problem. The only option is to "manage" it wisely with maximum consideration for the sensitivities for all parties [including the Jews].

Over the years the right of Jews to visit, which had been part of Dayan's status quo has been badly eroded. Nowadays, not only are Jews not permitted to pray on the Mount, even visits by Jews have become almost impossible due to Muslim incitement and violence.

The modern blood libel "Al-Aqsa is in danger" has in recent years rallied numerous Palestinian terrorists to carry out murderous attacks against Jews. The intentions of extremists Jews to assault Al-Aqsa Mosque has been exploited to accuse the Israeli government of planning destroy the mosques on the Haram esh-Sharif. The opposite is true, the State of Israel has thwarted all attempts by fanatic Christian and Jews to attack Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount. It has also managed to thwart efforts by extremist Muslims to carry out terror attacks originating from within the mosques there.

The Temple Mount seen from the south with Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock; Credit: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia.

The best recipe for dealing with the complexities of the Mount is zero tolerance for threats and violence and maximum tolerance for Muslim religious requirements and safeguarding the rights of Jews to visit the Mount.

IPDF: What's Jordan's role in the crisis?

NS: In general, Jordan has had a moderating influence on the Mount. This followed the peace treaty between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom and together with a slew of common security, intelligence and economic interests, Jordan became a partner in running the Mount.

Amman sees itself as the guardian of Muslim holy sites on the Mount. Jerusalem sees Jordan is a counterbalance to extremist interests such as Hamas and the northern branch of the Israeli Islamist movement.

However, Israel has had to pay a price for the Jordanian involvement. Amman has vetoed replacing the ramshackle wooden Mughrabi Bridge above the Western Wall and the removal of debris from the Little Western Wall in the Muslin Quarter. Jordan has demanded a limit on the number of religious Jews visiting the Mount. Jordanian involvement has also meant the Israeli security response to violent Muslim disturbances on the Mount has not been as firm as it should have been.

IPDF: In the past most religious Jews would not set foot on the Mount, why has this changed?

NS: After the Six Day War the Halakhic consensus was that Jews should not set foot on the Temple Mount since no one knew the precise position of the destroyed Temple.

Over the past two decades this stance has softened in the wake of the escalation of the nationalist struggle for the Mount; continuous Muslim vandalism towards Jewish artifacts; blatant Muslim denial of Jewish linkage and affinity to the Mount, and the fear the Jewish public would disregard the Temple Mount and transfer allegiance to the Western Wall.

The Halakhic change has led to intensified Jewish visits to the Mount. However, only about 10,000 Jews visit the Mount annually compared to hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

Nadav Shragai, a senior researcher and fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a journalist with the Yisrael Hayom newspaper and the author of two books on the Temple Mount.