January 26, 2006

Battle of the Bulge on the Temple Mount

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:34 am by yisraelmedad

Israel is caught up in its own historic “Battle of the Bulge.” Some seven years in the making, the outer retaining walls of the Temple Mount, also the location of an Islamic holy site, have begun to bubble outwards. There is an extensive bulge in its southern wall and now another bulge has been located on its western wall, just south and to the right of the Western Wall Plaza. This battle’s resolution need not involve the military but given the determination of the Waqf religious trust institutions and the flabbiness of the thinking and reactions of Israel’s political echelons, an avoidance of further bloodshed would seem nigh impossible — even with the recent involvement of “impartial” Jordanian engineers. The oncoming Ramadan, which will see hundreds of Muslim worshippers atop the Temple Mount, may the precipatory factor.

As is usual with failures of colossal proportions, this matter really began a long time ago. A centuries-old prohibition on entrance to the Temple Mount precincts by rabbinical authorities, despite the permissive leniency of Maimonides and other great luminaries, left the Jews to wail in a small courtyard until the Jordanian conquest and illegal occupation of eastern Jerusalem in 1948. During the British Mandate days, it was through the Temple Mount gates that murderous rioters broke out, following religious incitement by the Grand Mufti. Two weeks after Israel’s retaking of the city in June 1967, Moshe Dayan, who had a reputation for archeological purloining, granted Muslims the internal administration of the site. This act doomed all Jewish remains — historical, religious or cultural — to systematic destruction, elimination or just plain being covered over by tree-plantings, parks or new floor tiles.

During 1995, Shimon Peres, then foreign minister, presumed that he had reached an understanding with Muslims — Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli — who wanted to effect changes in the Mount’s structure. Israel had scrupulously adhered to a status quo, even banning any overt expression of Jewishness at the place including prayer, lectures and Jewish fashion extremes, such as tzitzit fringes hanging outside one’s trousers. Peres mistakenly assumed that if he allowed Muslims to construct a huge underground mosque to hold 5,000 kneeling worshipers, he would be able, in a quid pro quo, to open the exit to the ancient Hasmonean Tunnel. He informed Benjamin Netanyahu of the understanding when the Likud leader was elected prime minister in 1996.

In September 1996, Netanyahu and Jerusalem’s mayor, Ehud Olmert, opened the exit-way and the Arabs promptly opened fire with rifles they were permitted to carry under the Oslo accords. Then Netanyahu allowed the construction of yet another prayer hall, to the east of the new El-Marwani.

It was in August 1999, when the Waqf broke through an exit in the southern wall, that then-prime minister Ehud Barak finally reacted forcefully and had it sealed up within a day. Yasser Arafat, convinced that he would not be able to achieve a peace agreement with Barak at Camp David if he did not reach a compromise over the Temple Mount, reacted by deciding to go to war.

Exploiting a visit by then-Knesset member Ariel Sharon to the compound, a visit coordinated with chief Palestinian Authority officials and Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, Arafat staged riots that escalated the violence already activated by the P.A. — two days earlier, an Israeli soldier was killed by a bomb in Gaza. Two years later, Israel has held almost 700 funerals.

The Temple Mount was selected by Arafat and his Grand Mufti, Sheik Ikrema Sabri, as a prime target in achieving the goal of resurgent Palestine. Working together with the extremist Islamic Movement in Israel, the Mount was raped and disemboweled, the likes of which have not been witnessed since Titus’s troops overran the courtyards 19 centuries ago. What the Taliban did in Afghanistan to two Buddha statues was worthy of news interest and international condemnation, but not the damage committed in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, Israel’s battle of the bulge is one of its own making. On the one hand, Israeli officialdom has turned a blind eye to the removal of tons of earth, which has dislodged a delicate structural balance at a place where reinforced steel cement was unknown for two millennia and more. Herod was famous and his engineers were excellent, but the bringing in of tractors to bring out soil and disturb columns that hold up the artificial floor at its southern end was an error. Israel, on the other hand, has consistently refused to acknowledge any overt Jewish or Israeli identification with the site. The Religious Affairs Ministry does not supervise, the Antiquities Authority does not oversee and the police restrict themselves to incidents of stones raining down on Jewish worshippers.

At the risk of being an amateur political psychoanalyst, I would suggest that Israel suffers from extreme identity inferiority vis a vis the Temple Mount. Dayan, in the original act of surrender, sought to avoid turning the Arab-Israel conflict into a religious war. But it always was a conflict with a strong religious underpinning. The Jews simply assumed that the Arabs would do as we do; would be as secular as we could; would act as rational as we would. And so, the Chief Rabbinate continued to ban entrance even though the Halacha permitted entrance, at least to certain sections of the Mount. The Supreme Court provided legal justification for the trampling of Jewish civil rights. The police blamed Jews for disturbances of the peace. The media labelled any Temple Mount activist a fanatic.

But the bulge, the physical one threatening to bring down a portion of the Temple Mount and the intangible one that sought to avoid complications by ignoring the site’s crucial link between past and future, will just not go away. Israel is being forced, once again by the Arabs, to confront the reality of what the Jewishness of Israel is and should be.

 

November 1, 2002

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