by Giulio Meotti
It’s the House of God. For centuries, Jews have remembered the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem by crushing a glass at weddings or leaving unpainted a patch of wall in their homes. The Temple Mount is the magnificent edifice that has served the faithful as a symbol of God’s glory for 4,000 years. It’s Mount Moriah mentioned in the Book of Genesis. It’s the site where humanity received the gift of monotheism. It’s where God’s “shechina,” or presence, dwelt. Even the secular imagination, Jewish or not, has been shaped by the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred site of the Jewish people. It’s there that King David raised a sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant and King Solomon and Herod built the Temples. The Roman emperor Hadrian covered those ruins with a pagan temple to Jupiter; the Crusaders used it as a garbage dump to defile its Jewish significance and turned the area into a stable for their horses; the Arabs later built their own Islamic holy sites on top of those of their defeated enemy.
Many devout Jews today don’t set foot on the Temple Mount, afraid that they may be stepping on the ground covering the ruins of the Holy of Holies, allowed only to the High Priest on Yom Kippur. That is enough to keep them away. But there are those who believe they have a right to pray on the grounds where the Temple stood, particularly on Tisha be’Av, the anniversary of its destruction (Maimonides too prayed there). Though many respected rabbis forbid praying on the Mount, other very important Jewish leaders permit it. And there is a growing and brave movement, led by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel and Professor Hillel Weiss, which is trying to build awareness among the Israeli public on the Temple Mount. They are leading a historic battle for the rights of the Jews in their most holy site.
In theory, Israel currently controls the Temple Mount. In reality, since 1967, when the Israeli army seized the “holy basin” from Jordanian forces, the Jewish State gave up religious freedom for the Jews. Immediately after the liberation of Jerusalem, then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan handed over the keys of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that serves as custodian of the site, which includes four Muslim minarets.
Historically it should be noted that only under Israeli rule was the site open for everyone, Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Islamic Waqf is now attempting to deliberately destroy all evidence of Jewish claims to this site, while using terror and intimidation to impose its exclusive claim to the sacred mountain. The Waqf has proceeded on two fronts: de-Judaize the Mount by archeological destruction and to Islamize it by preventing the Jews from praying there.
Freedom of worship for all religions, including free access to the holy places of all faiths, has always been a cardinal principle of Israel. And by and large, Israel has honored this principle, even under extremely difficult circumstances. It is ironic that Judaism’s holiest site should be the only place in Israel where this principle is violated.
Nothing justifies the infringement of religious rights to the Temple Mount. That infringement undermines respect for the rule of law in Israel by making a mockery of the law that guarantees freedom for all faiths. The Islamic Waqf has removed every sign of ancient Jewish presence at the site. At the entrance, an Arab sign says: “The Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard and everything in it is Islamic property.” Today, Jews are barred from praying on the Mount and are not even allowed to carry any holy articles with them. With Muslim clerics supervising visits, Israeli police have frequently arrested Jews for various violations, such as singing or reciting a prayer even in a whisper.
A few days ago Israeli police issued new draconian instructions for non-Muslims who ascend to the Mount. Non-Muslims are now not even permitted to close their eyes while on the Mount or do anything that could be interpreted as praying. Jewish women have been arrested following claims by police and Waqf officials that they were praying on Temple Mount.
Why is it a crime for a Jew to mention God’s name on Temple Mount? And why is the State of Israel complicit in enforcing this anti-Semitic rule?Lies are obsessive: the Jews, said late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, have never been in Jerusalem and the Temple never existed. This canard has been repeated ever since. Chief Palestinian Justice Sheik Taysir Tamimi declared that the Jewish temples “never existed.” In October 1990, the mere sight of a dozen would-be Jewish worshipers (who had actually been turned away) triggered a blood-drenched Temple Mount riot. The Hebrew language dailies Yediot Aharonot and Arutz Sheva recently revealed that Israel’s “valuable remnants from the two Jewish Temples were thrown away to an improvised garbage dump by members of the Waqf.” Most of the damage was done to the underground space that the Crusaders had termed “Solomon’s Stables.” Located under the Mount’s surface, it was used by ancient Temple priests to store vestments and items. The small room is now used for Muslim prayer. Israeli authorities did not negate the Waqf’s proposal to convert the “stables” into an Islamic praying area, called a “massalam.” An underground chamber with two pillars and an arch from the Second Temple period has already been turned into a mosque, and there are rumors of plans to unify the mosques so as to cover the entire outdoor area. The Waqf also destroyed stonework done by Jewish artisans 2,000 years ago in the underground “double passageway.” The Israeli authorities bowed to the Waqf’s desire to create an emergency exit, only to find that the Islamic body had punched through the outside wall of the Temple Mount.
As early as 1970, the Waqf destroyed the eastern wall of the Herodian Temple complex. Other severe episodes of archeological destruction took place in 1999 and 2007. It was the most massive movement of earth on the Temple Mount in recent times. Remnants of the archeological record have been fished from the Kidron Valley stream bed where the Waqf dumped the earth it removed from the Mount. Instead of working its way down through the site under the close supervision of Israeli archaeologists, the Waqf sent in bulldozers and then trucks to remove the earth by the ton-load. Much of the damage cannot be reversed.
A wall from the outer courtyard of the Second Temple is believed to have been completely pulverized. According to Gabi Barkai, recipient of the Jerusalem Prize for Archaeology, the dirt in the surrounding area is filled with Jewish history from many periods: the Canaanites, the First Temple, the period of the return to Zion from Babylonia, the Second Temple, including the Hashmonaim period and King Herod, and up to now. Finds have included fragments of stone decorated with ornaments from the Second Temple Period, arrowheads from Nebuchadnezzar’s army and also from the Romans, as well as coins and decorations from many periods, jewelry made of various materials, stone and glass squares from floor and wall mosaics. Among the most exciting finds were seal rings, ostracons written in ancient Hebrew script, terra-cotta figurines and a bronze coin dating to the Great Revolt against the Romans bearing the Hebrew phrase, “Freedom of Zion.” The list of the treasures include pot shards, pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings and beads, amulets, icons and statuettes, decorated wall hangings and fragments of decorations from buildings, seals and many other items. The most striking find was a seal impression with letters in the ancient Hebrew script of the last days of the First Temple.
While the Waqf would never allow an archaeological dig on the site, its own destruction continues unabated. The intention is to turn the 36-acre Temple Mount compound into an exclusively Islamic site by erasing every remnant and memory of its Jewish past. It’s an archaeological crime which has been called “cultural Holocaust.” That’s why there is the urgent need of an international campaign aimed to protect Jerusalem’s most holy site. This is the most important battle to any cultured person, regardless of his political and religious identity. It’s the biggest crime against truth.Giulio Meotti
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