For most of us, loving something means cherishing it, protecting it. It means doing everything in our power to ensure that no harm comes to it. It means placing its welfare above other considerations and ensuring that our actions are in its best interests.
This is true for parents, lovers and friends, and with the things we hold dear. Or so it should be.
Last month, Israel was shocked and thrown into weeks of turmoil when Arab terrorists murdered two Israeli policeman on Haram Al Sharif, the Temple Mount, a site they consider holy. As a result, the police closed all Old City gates and prevented Muslims from entering for the Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque — for the first time in decades.
And the Arab world erupted. Not at the murders on holy ground, nor because weapons were smuggled and stored in Al Aqsa, but in response to Israel’s efforts to prevent future terror by placing metal detectors and cameras at the site.
Turkey said that Israel’s temporary closure of Al-Aqsa was “a crime against humanity, a crime committed against the freedom of religion.” The Waqf, the Jordan-based Muslim organisation that administers the Temple Mount, expressed rhetoric bordering on incitement. A senior official claimed that “Israel’s security forces are doing whatever they want there — defiling and destroying.” The Jordanian government said it “opposes any harm against Muslims in carrying out their religious worship in their holy places, freely and with no obstacles.”
“We reject all the measures that Israel is taking,” said Jerusalem’s chief mufti, Mohammad Hussein, “and we warn against any harm to Al-Aqsa.” The Arab League condemned Israel for the closure, saying that Israel’s “banning Palestinians from praying” will only “inflame extremism and escalate tension.”
In protest at the security measures, the Waqf and Muslim worshippers abandoned the site, praying just outside the compound instead. (They also rioted, which led to the death of five Palestinians).
Ironically, the Muslim departure from the Mount resulted in pleasant experiences for the Jews who visited there. The Mount is where our Temples stood and where we travelled three times a year, as a nation, for centuries. The holiest site in Judaism, it is where we rebuilt the House of God after being exiled, and where we yearn to build a house of prayer for all nations.
Though many religious Jews believe visiting the Temple Mount is forbidden in our current spiritual state, others maintain that going to the outside perimeter is fine, requiring mikveh-immersion first.
The hours when Jews may tour the Mount are very limited and all visits are strictly supervised by both Israeli police and the Waqf. Worse, the Jews who make this pilgrimage are often subjected to taunts, jeers, and even verbal abuse by Muslims there. The first time I went up, Arab women constantly screamed Allahu Aqbar to frighten us, taunted us and deliberately obstructed our views of the Dome of the Rock. The second time, a Waqf official accused me of praying. Jews aren’t allowed to pray on the Temple Mount — and can be arrested for doing so.
In the days following the attacks, record numbers of Jews took advantage of the quiet and ascended the Mount. Arab media reported that hundreds of Jewish “extremists… stormed” the site. In truth, the visits were calm and orderly.
The storm around the Temple Mount is a creation of the Arab leadership that drives religious violence, based on the libel that Jews seek to replace the mosque with the Third Temple — a lie that has manipulated the Arab world since the 1930s. While it is true that religious Jews believe a Temple will again stand on the Mount one day, only the most extreme believe the mosque should be taken down violently.
Yet the Arab leaders’ most recent claim that Al Aqsa was in danger led directly to the murder of three family members in Neve Tsuf (Halamish) by a Palestinian who had pledged on his Facebook page to “die for Al-Aqsa.” In Turkey, stones were hurled at synagogues. In Jordan, an Israeli embassy worker was attacked, leading to the attacker’s death and a diplomatic crisis with Jordan.
If the Muslim world would treat the site as something beloved, as a sacred space for worship and prayer, and not a political pawn to demonise Israel, then perhaps peace could truly emanate from Jerusalem, starting with protected rights for everyone to pray and live.