The findings of the Levy Committee, with regard to Israel’s right to build in Judea and Samaria, made news here in Israel today. See my post on this at:
The focus was on the fact that this report was turned over to the Ministerial Committee on Settlements yesterday and has been made public in its entirety.
In due course, the significance of the finding of the Levy Committee — which was composed of former High Court Justice Edmund Levy; former Foreign Ministry legal advisor Alan Baker; and former deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court Tchia Shapira — may be considerable.
This was a report done with utmost seriousness and with regard for multiple legal precedents. As Baker said, “Our work was based in international, Jordanian, Israeli and even Ottoman laws and touched upon all issues relevant to land and territories.”
While there is precious little building done today, there is the possibility of considerable construction to be done past the Green Line if these legal recommendations are taken seriously. Perhaps even more significantly at the moment, there should be the legalization of several communities currently in limbo, and at risk of being taken down.
But until the Ministerial Committee on Settlement or the government has reviewed the 89 page report and/or made recommendations based upon it, we are still in a holding pattern. Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised not to sit on the results.
What I would like to focus on today is a related and highly pertinent issue. I wrote, in my post on the Levy Committee, that:”…As a nation, we must be firm in our sense of our rights…
“…It is time for our government…to give ambiguous-free messages regarding our rights in the land. And to set in place policies that firmly reflect that message.”
And there is one place where the government — this government and previous governments — has fallen down so badly with regard to our rights that it can only be called shameful.
I refer to our rights on Har Habayit — the Temple Mount.
Credit: Jewish Virtual Library
The Mount is the single holiest place in Judaism. It is not only where the two Temples stood, it is considered by tradition to be Mount Moriah, the site of the Akeida, the binding of Isaac. (The original Moriah was extended with retaining walls by King Herod, with his expansion of the Second Temple over 2,000 years ago.)
After the War of Independence, eastern Jerusalem and with it the Temple Mount and the Kotel (the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the Mount) were in Jordanian hands, forbidden to Jews for 19 years. With the Six Day War in 1967, Israel liberated eastern Jerusalem. There was great celebration that the Mount was now in Jewish hands. Blowing of shofars. Prayers of gratitude. Dancing.
And then we blew it…
Predominant on the Mount in 1967, as is the case now, was the Dome of the Rock (left), which is a shrine and not a mosque, and the Al Aqsa Mosque:
Credit: witcombe Credit: IsraelJerusalem.com
From a Jewish perspective, the Dome of the Rock is more significant, as it was built over the site where the Temple had stood. This is not an accident.
For many centuries the area was controlled by a succession of Muslim regimes. These two structures were built on the Mount at the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century of the Common Era by the Umayyads — some 700 years after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple.
Within days of the Israeli liberation of the Temple Mount, Moshe Dayan, who was then Defense Minister, visited Muslim authorities, and turned over to the Muslims administration of their holy places on the Mount. He wrote in his memoirs (see http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=4154) :
“…we would not interfere in the private affairs of the Muslims responsible for their own sanctuaries.
These were two Moslem places of worship, and they had the right to operate them themselves.”
Two matters he insisted upon:
“The Israeli authorities were responsible for overall security,” and “we would introduce…freedom of Jewish access to the compound…without limitation or payment. This compound…was our Temple Mount. Here stood our Temple during ancient times, and it would be inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to visit this holy place now that Jerusalem was under our rule.” (Emphasis added)
But there was yet something else:
After Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief IDF chaplain, brought a group to pray on the Mount on Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the Temples:
“The matter came up for consideration by the government. Although, understandably, no minister wished to take a formal position stating baldly that Jews were forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount, it was decided to ‘maintain the current policy,’ which in fact banned them from doing so. It was evident that if we did not prevent Jews from praying in what was now a mosque compound, matters would get out of hand and lead to a religious clash.” (Emphasis added)
How painful it is to write this. The precedent, which exists to this day, was set. A Jewish government preventing Jews from praying on the site of the holiest place to Jews so that Muslims would not riot. The High Court of Israel has said that Jews have a right to pray on the Mount, but Israeli security personnel forbid this to avoid “a religious clash.”
I believe that Dayan was shockingly naive. He wrote:
“I was convinced that precisely because control was now in our hands it was up to us to show broad tolerance.”
Broad tolerance my foot. We caved with regard to asserting our own rights. Perhaps he thought “tolerance” would beget good will and moderation on the part of the Muslims, sort of a cooperative spirit. But it doesn’t work that way — give them an inch and they grab for a mile.
I have written the above as a necessary historical background. I cannot here give all the details of happenings with regard to the Mount in the years since 1967. The Muslim Wakf (trust) that manages the Mount has been under different authorities, Jordanian and Palestinian Arab, at different times, for example.
What we need to know is that the situation is growing worse. It is certainly not the case that Jews are able to visit freely on the Mount today: there are multiple restrictions.
There is greater religious emphasis placed on the Al Aqsa Mosque by Muslims today. Jerusalem, the holiest of cities for Jews, is, after all, the third holiest city for Muslims after Mecca and Medina. I have written about this before: that greater emphasis is political, not truly religious.
There was a time when Muslims readily conceded that once a Jewish Temple stood where their shrine now stands. Today they deny this — deny that there is any evidence that there was a Temple.
And with this we get to the heart of the matter: The Muslims are working to destroy evidence of Jewish presence on the Mount.
In 1996, the Muslim authorities did extensive excavation in the corner of the Mount known as Solomon’s Stables, in order to build a huge new mosque. They carelessly (or deliberately) excavated enormous quantities of priceless archeological artifacts, tossing them all into the garbage.
This was able to happen because there was insufficient Israeli attention paid to what the Muslims were doing. Or let me put it another way: the Israeli government may have known and chosen to turn a blind eye so as to avoid a fight with the Muslims.
The entire argument about rebuilding the Mughrabi Bridge, which runs adjacent to the women’s section of the Kotel and is the only entry way to the Mount for non-Muslims, is also about control. The Wakf is claiming that Israel has no jurisdiction to rebuild, and Jordan, whose cooperation on the matter was sought by Israel, has turned belligerent. And the Netanyahu government caved, declining to build the new permanent bridge that was supposed to replace the temporary one put up when the previous one collapsed after an earthquake.
All about control. And this isn’t even on the Mount, it is clearly and unambiguously on Israeli territory in a place where no Muslim Wakf authority exists.
In February, YNet ran a piece by Amir Shoan, entitled, “Is Israel losing the Temple Mount war?”
He describes the ongoing desecration of Jewish archeological material on the Mount and the way in which Muslims have ignored Israeli Antiquities Authority guidelines regarding no use of heavy equipment, no depth to be dug greater than 60 centimeters, etc.
In 2007, Ira Pasternack was sent as an inspector on behalf of the Antiquities Authority to supervise excavations. What he saw — including work deliberately carried on in secret at night — scandalized him. The Authority’s stipulations were ignored; he issued a report.
Archeology expert Dr. Gabai Barkai, a world-renowned expert on Temple era excavations, called what was going on “First rate barbarity.”
Mideastern affairs expert Dr. Mordechai Kedar described what was taking place as part of an Arab practice known as “erasing the signs” — eliminating the remnants of any civilization that preceded Islam.
In 2008, the State Comptroller’s office launched an investigation of what was happening on the Mount and then issued its own report. But a gag order was placed on the report “for security reasons” by the Knesset State Control Committee.
Intelligence officials cited in this article maintain that there is no security issue. A senior Shin Bet (security service) official is quoted as saying, “I’m ashamed. This is akin to cheapening national security to the lowest point possible.”
According to Shoan:
“Conversations and interviews held with dozens of officials involved in drafting the State Comptroller’s secret report indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among the senior officials interested in shelving the document. Attorney Yisrael Caspi, who represents a group fighting the destruction on Temple Mount, says the PM is unequivocally responsible for the ongoing failure.
“‘One cannot underestimate the prime minister’s responsibility for the state of affairs on Temple Mount; one can only refer to it as absolute responsibility,” [Caspi] said.”
The Prime Minister’s office responded to the charges by Caspi, saying that it was the Knesset committee and not the government that was responsible. And that there were relevant reasons for keeping the report under taps.
But Shoan says:
“After the opening of the Western Wall Tunnels in 1996 and the subsequent riots at the site, then-PM Netanyahu (this was his first term) agreed to unilateral Wakf steps in the area. The Wakf almost immediately embarked on excavation work…”
Better keep the Muslims happy, it would seem, than risk more riots. A very very bad policy.
I will not quibble here regarding which official is responsible for precisely what — although the “prime” minister’s office is where the buck does stop and committees of the Knesset do take instruction from him. All I know is that someone had better take a stand on Jewish rights, and quickly. For we may have hit bottom now:
It was recently revealed that the Wakf has erected scaffolding on the Foundation Stone that is inside the Dome of Rock in order to do renovation work. This stone — Even HaShtiah — is believed to be the place where the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. It is the very core, the very heart of traditional Jewish sanctity. And apparently the Muslims, in doing the renovation, chose deliberately to place the scaffold on the Stone.
Credit: Makor Rishon
A group of activists, represented by attorney Aviad Visoly, issued an “urgent plea” over the weekend to Israeli Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino to stop what was going on. According to Visoly, photos in Makor Rishon showed the Stone covered by “building material, rubble, and tools.” This, he said, constituted desecration of a holy place, specifically forbidden in the Protection of Holy Places Law.
“To the best of my knowledge, the Jerusalem District Police commander and his officers…know about this, and are doing nothing to stop the crime.”
He alluded to “indifference, contempt, and even hostility” on the part of the police with regard to the Jewish holy status of the Temple Mount.
No one, it seems, wants to rock the Muslim boat.
Just yesterday, the Temple Mount Faithful appealed to the High Court to call a halt to this work.
You don’t have to be a religious Jew who mourns the destruction of the First and Second Temples and longs for a Third Temple to be constructed on the Mount to get it. You don’t have to be Jewish at all to get it:
The Temple Mount was the site of the two Temples that were at the very center of Jewish peoplehood. This site represents the most sacred part of ancient Jewish heritage in the land. Muslim attempts to erase archeological evidence of Jewish presence on the Mount are part and parcel of the attempt to delegitimize Israel and to claim that the Palestinian Arabs are the true indigenous people of the land.
Any Jew in a position of leadership here in Israel who treats the desecration of Judaism and Jewish artifacts on the Temple Mount as if it is an inconsequential matter — or not worth risking Arab violence for — is squandering our heritage and weakening our claims to this land.
How do we demand the right to build in Judea and Samaria (which is where I began this posting) if our rights on the Mount are blithely surrendered?
And don’t imagine that the Muslims don’t understand this.
We must not permit this situation to sustain itself. Voices must be raised. So-called leaders must be held accountable. And Jews in large numbers, both Israelis and visitors, must visit the Mount.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.