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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

If Jews conquered Mecca and prevented Muslims from access, would you care?

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the holiest place on earthaccording to Judaism. It is where both Biblical Temples stood, whose destruction is commemorated this week with fasting and mourning on the Ninth day of the month of Av according to the religious calendar. The Western Wall is considered holy only because of its proximity to the Temple Mount. Jews everywhere in the world pray while facing the Temple Mount, and if they were to pray on the Mount itself they would face the Holy of Holies, the singularity point in between the cherubs that were positioned on top of the Temple Ark inside the Temple. While God’s presence is everywhere, according to Judaism, its most intense concentration is at that point. The Western Wall is simply the guard wall around the perimeter of the Temple Mount, and is of Herodian (Roman) origin standing upon earlier Hasmonean foundations.

The site has religious significance for Christians as well. After the destruction of the Second Temple, churches were sometimes erected there. When the Muslims conquered the area, they followed the practice of building mosques or proclaiming as sacred to Islam the religious sites of other religions. The Muslim general Umar bin al-Khattab was the second Caliph and led the armies of Islam. In his writings he expressed scorn for Jerusalem and never acknowledged its sanctity. When a temporary mosque was erected on the Temple Mount (long pre-dating the current Al-Aqsa mosque structure), it was placed in the southern edge of the Mount. A general in the armies of Umar, an ex-Jew who had converted to Islam, pointed out to Umar that placing the mosque in the northern section of the Mount would allow Muslims to pray while facing both the Holy of Holies of the Jews and Mecca. Umar insisted that it be placed on the southern margin so that Muslims would pray facing Mecca but with their backsides toward the Holy of Holies. That is where the Al-Aqsa mosque stands today.

Thus, the southern edge of the Mount, that is located above the ruins of what archeologists call Solomon’s Stables, has religious significance for Muslims. In the center of the Temple Mount is another structure known as the Dome of the Rock, famous for its golden domed roof. Some refer to it mistakenly as the “Mosque of Omar.” But the structure is not a mosque at all and has no special religious significance for Muslims. The problem is that this structure sits exactly on the spot that most (but not all) experts, archeologists and rabbis, believe is where the Holy of Holies once stood. It also contains the “Foundation Stone,” which has religious significance for Judaism.

The Israeli army conquered the Temple Mount in 1967 in the Six Day War, when Israel liberated Jerusalem from the illegal Jordanian occupation. At the time Israel should have dismantled the “Dome of the Rock” and moved it elsewhere, while leaving the Al-Aqsa mosque in peace. Muslims could then continue to control and administer everything associated with the mosque. But doing so did not require Israel to relinquish control over every inch of the Temple Mount. The Israeli government nevertheless decided to pursue tranquility through appeasement and cowardice (sound familiar?). Not only would the Muslim religious authority be granted de facto hegemony over the entire Temple Mount, they would also be granted the power to prohibit or restrict entry to it for Jews.

This has been the status quo ever since. Jews are often prevented altogether from entering the Mount. At other times, Jews are permitted some limited access, but under condition that they do not pray while on the Mount. Jews whose lips move quietly while on the Mount have been arrested and evicted, motivating a few to learn ventriloquism. Anyonedaring to prostrate themselves while on the Mount in the direction of the Holy of Holies is treated even more harshly. So here we have the spectacle of the Israeli government backing a prohibition on Jews praying in the holiest site of Judaism for fear of upsetting Muslims.