Last week three armed assailants launched an attack on the Temple Mount to ignite a religious war. They killed two policemen. Nevertheless, the State of Israel needs to carefully consider its response. The wrong response could engulf the entire region.
For generations, Jews prayed at the Western Wall and avoided ascending to the Temple Mount. On June 10, 1967, just three days after General Motta Gur had famously declared, “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi said that Halakha (traditional religious law) forbade Jews to visit the site. Two weeks later, the leading Sephardi authority, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, stated that even flying over the site was forbidden. The then Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, a member of the National Religious Party, noted that, “It makes me happy” [that Halakha forbids us from visiting the Mount] “because we can avoid a conflict with the Muslim religion.”
Since the Oslo Accord, the Israeli far Right has been pushing to change the status quo and thus provoke the Muslim world. Why? Because manifesting Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount has become more important than traditional Halakha. For example, in recent years the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount has grown by 250%. In a survey asking “Why are you going up to the Temple Mount?,” 96.8 percent replied that visiting the site would constitute “a contribution to strengthening Israeli sovereignty over the holy place.”
A few facts:
- The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is one of the most sacred places for both Judaism and Islam. As a result, it is also one of the most volatile places in the world.
- In 1967 the Israeli government allowed the Muslim Waqf to continue managing the Temple Mount. This is the status quo. The Waqf is responsible for allowing Muslims to pray and Jews to visit the site.
- The decision to install metal detectors at the entrance isn’t really about security. It is a continuation of the religious zealots’ attempt to assert Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Do you need proof? Both the IDF and the Shin Bet [Israel’s security service] oppose it. The metal detectors wouldn’t have prevented last week’s attack, because it was done outside the gates.
- Worse yet, the decision was taken unilaterally without consulting the Waqf. Rather than provide security, these metal detectors are already escalating the situation.
Israel is in a political conflict with the Palestinians; not a religious one with the Muslim world. Zealots on both sides want otherwise. They are eager to bring a religious war to end all wars to the Middle East. We must do everything in our power to prevent them.
The last thing Israelis – or Palestinians – need is a religious war on the Temple Mount. The decades-long political one between them is bad enough. For both sides.