Monday, May 17, 2004

Temple Mount Status Quo

As an introduction to my thinking on the question of the Temple Mount, here's an op-ed I wrote a while back. I also direct you to this site for a monograph I published in 2000

Status Non Quo

What is the one concern in the vast mosaic and arabesque complexity of the Arab-Israel conflict about which there exists consensual unanimity between Israel and its enemies?

Upon what matter is there a three decades-old agreement between Israel’s governments, its Supreme Court justices, the Attorneys-General, its Prime Ministers, the Moslem Waqf, Israeli Islamic fundamentalist groups, UNESCO and a host of other dramatis personae?

Is it the need to obtain peace? Is it the denunciation of terror? Is it the necessity for confidence building measures that would facilitate coexistence and mutual understanding? No, it is none of the above. What does unite all the above disparate role players of the conflict is the denial of the right of Jews to freely enter the Temple Mount compound, the prevention of their right to practice public prayer or even individual worship practices and their obligation to preserve the antiquities therein contained.

Israel's institutions of the establishment elite, in practicing and promoting the above policy, have sought to excuse themselves by claiming that they are waging a campaign that will protect the country from a religious war. That has been the rational of a government-sponsored policy, unswervingly supported by the judicial system, both the Office of the Attorney-General and the justices of the Supreme Court, the police and, until recently, the academic archeological community. True, there does exist a ban upon entrance to the Temple Mount issued by the country’s Chief Rabbinate but if the case of the Women of the Kotel receives the support it does, it would be discriminatory not to allow Temple Mount activists the same benefits.

If an all-out religious war has been avoided, it is also true that all the skirmishes that have occurred such as the Hasmonean Tunnel riots, the Sabra and Shatilla Monument, the El-Marawani mosque, the new massive earthworks and the burial of Feisal Husseini in the Mount’s Western Wall, have been victorious Muslim gains. The Jews, and even Christians, have suffered but losses. It should be obvious that the “status quo” policy is actually a situation of “status non quo” and has been, no less, a sustained effort to subvert the law of the land.

The policy has to date succeeded due to the fact that almost everyone
involved willingly accepted it's defined purpose as "maintaining the status quo". With that euphemism entrenched blissfully in the sub-consciousness, they have blinded themselves to the fact that consistently, unerringly and inexorably, the Muslim Waqf has never agreed to in principle or carried out in practice a similar status quo position. Especially since the Oslo Process was adopted by Israel, but even before, the Waqf staff, supplemented by the Israeli Islamic fundamentalist groups and the Palestinian Authority in a classic pincher-maneuver, have destroyed Jewish historical remains or covered them up with new construction, gardens and pathways and created new facts on the ground as well as below ground.

For almost a year, I have been corresponding with Elyakim Rubinstein on matters related to the destruction of the Temple Mount antiquities. It is my opinion that those who have permitted such damage to be done, actions which he himself termed "an archeological crime" and a "kick against Jewish history", including the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Justice and Internal Security, could be charged according to the Law for the Guardianship of the Holy Places, Paragraph 2, which makes it an offense punishable by seven years incarceration to permit the desecration of a holy site as well as a five year jail term for someone acting in a deleterious manner toward the feelings of those who consider a site to be holy. Certainly, I argued, the obliteration of artifacts and remains of the First and Second Temples is just such a crime.

Rubinstein's response was, to my mind, astonishing. He wrote to me on September 6, 2000 and, again, on September 10, that "the criminal arena is not the place to deal with the problem" and that "this is not a criminal matter but a public political concern". I have no doubt that had Yigal Amir presented a line of defense based on Mr. Rubinstein's reasoning, he would have been remanded for psychiatric care rather than an ordinary jail term.

The Temple Mount belongs to no one political or governmental body. It is a national treasure and surety of the entire people of Israel. The Tisha B’Av fast and its observance are evidence and testimony to its special sensitivity for Jews. That sensitivity must be safeguarded. If the state of Israel cannot accomplish that task, salvation may well arise from another quarter. In the American Congress, Representative Eric Cantor has tabled a bill that could end Muslim crimes.

It was former Prime Minister Menachem Begin who stated that D.C. stood for David’s City. Would it not be strange that an initiative for the preservation of the Temple Mount as a Jewish holy site originate in Washington rather than Jerusalem?

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