Who controls the Temple Mount?

During the 19-year Jordanian occupation, Jews were not allowed to visit Judaism’s holy places in the West Bank and, in particular, in East Jerusalem.

Since the Palestinian Authority (PA) insists that East Jerusalem and especially the area of the Temple Mount must become part of ‘Palestine’ if there is a peace agreement, there is naturally some concern that an agreement would bring a return of these restrictions. Given that the PA insists that while Arabs may reside in Israel, all Jews must be evacuated from the Palestinian state, it’s not wholly paranoia to worry about this.

More evidence is that even today the Islamic Waqf, which controls the Temple Mount despite the fact that it is theoretically under Israeli sovereignty, attempts to control access by Jews (at least those from political parties that it dislikes):

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Tuesday made a rare visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, drawing condemnations from the Islamic Waqf, who charged that the tour was a “provocation.”

Waqf Director Azzam el-Ahmed told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the visit had not been coordinated in advance and that he did not know the reason for the tour.

The visit is “a dangerous, pathetic provocation,” said MK Taleb A-Sanaa (United Arab List). “Aharonovitch is unwelcome at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and his purpose was to incense the Muslims and try to show them who’s in charge.”

A-Sanaa asserted that the tour was only intended to “inflame the area” and warned that the minister would “suffer the consequences of the visit.” — Jerusalem Post

A spokesperson for Aharonovitch said the visit had been coordinated and was for the purpose of discussing security arrangements with police officials that accompanied him. Aharonovitch belongs to Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party and has been accused of using a defamatory term for Arabs.

Without getting into a discussion of whether Aharonovitch respects Arabs or of Israel Beitenu’s policies, it seems that the issue was raised exactly for the reason given by MK A-Sanaa, although from the opposite point of view: the Waqf wished to show Israel “who was in charge”.

In 1967 the decision was made that although Israel would keep political sovereignty over the Temple Mount area, day-to-day control would be given to Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf.  Many commentators, including myself,  think that the decision was a bad one. At the time, it was  argued that it was necessary to allay Arab fears that Israel would raze the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Temple, etc. It was expected that this would gain Israel the respect and appreciation of Muslims — and forestall violent Arab reactions.

It turns out that it had quite the opposite effect. Arabs do not grant respect in return for concessions. Arab propaganda continued (and continues today) to accuse Israel of planning to destroy the mosque. Possibly if the area were under direct Israeli control and Arabs were nevertheless allowed to visit, it would be more — rather than less — evident to them that this is not Israel’s intention. As far as violent reactions are concerned, this was much less likely in 1967 when Arab armies had  just been soundly defeated than it is today.

Since 1967, the Waqf has done its best to wipe out evidence of Jewish history on the Temple Mount, and Israel — in fear of Arab violence — has done little to prevent it.

It’s very hard to believe that a ‘peace’ agreement that removes the last vestige of Israeli sovereignty from the Temple Mount will improve the situation, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a return to the conditions of the Jordanian occupation there.

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One Response to “Who controls the Temple Mount?”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    It is impossible for any sane or logical person to understand the actions of Israel after taking the ‘Temple Mount’ in 1967. The late Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren attempted to begin a prayer service on the Mount. He did this in part to establish a permanent Jewish presence there. He was stopped from doing this.
    The arrangements put in place gave the Muslims complete control of the Temple Mount for religious purposes( One might ask what other real purposes are there for it?). But it saddled Israel with the onus for security on the Mount , meaning whenever anything went wrong there (The next Muslim riot) it would be blamed.
    It must be added that the Israeli Government probably would not have taken such a self- defeating and self- complicating position had it not been for the historical religious prohibitions in regarding Jewish prayer on the Mount. These restrictions were favored by a certain majority of the Haredi world if not necessarily the Jewish religious world as a whole.
    Rabbi Goren sought to circumvent this by outlining carefully the area even the most religious Jews could step on on the Mount. But his rulings were far from universally accepted.
    The frequent claim that the Holy Site of the Muslims is on the Mount (El-Aqsa) while the most holy Jewish site is the Western Wall below is simply erroneous. For Jews too the area above where the Temples stood is far more holy.
    What is the answer then? I don’t know. The Muslims have made great propaganda out of our soldiers presence on the Mount. The Northern movement of Israeli Arab or rather Palestinian Arab Muslims stirred much hatred with false claims about Jewish ‘taking over’ of the Mount. The Muslims above have built illegally, destroyed archeological artifacts. Israel has hesitated to take action against illegal work for fear of inciting the Islamic world as a whole.
    We need an entirely different approach, and one which keeps the promise of making Israel a protector of the holy places of all religions. The Temple Mount is holy to the Jews (Despite radical Islamic claims that we were never here). Perhaps the best temporary answer would be one which allowed freedom of worship for all the major monotheistic faiths on the Mount.

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