When I was in Israel last month, a friend and I were walking through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. I was checking my phone, trying to figure out where we were, and aimlessly started walking up a short flight of steps that started in the covered souk. Immediately, an Israeli soldier, with a big gun, moved quickly toward me and motioned for me to turn around. For a second, I had no idea why, and then I looked beyond him, to the top of the steps, which opened up onto a sun-filled plaza that contained the Dome of the Rock. I had almost walked onto the Temple Mount, and it was a Friday—the Muslim day of prayer. Due to the sensitivity of the site and the day, Jews are not permitted—by Israel—on the Temple Mount on Fridays, and they are also not permitted to pray there, ever. (Many religious Jews consider themselves forbidden from ever walking on the Temple Mount, lest they trespass upon the Holy of Holies, but that’s a different story.) In sum: The Jewish state prohibits Jews from entering a Jewish holy site in a city they control de jure (under Israel’s laws—it was annexed in 1967; Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem are voting citizens of Israel) and de facto (for all to see) in order to maintain order and out of respect for Muslims.
Which is yet another reason it’s distressing to read that the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the Jordanian-run authority that has governed the Temple Mount’s facilities uninterruptedly since the end of the Crusades, is treating with great disrespect one of the holiest sites in all of Judaism, the Foundation Stone—the Dome of the Rock’s titular rock—upon which, the tradition has it, the Binding of Isaac took place. Israel learned of planned renovations to the Dome itself last month via a UNESCO report—the secretive Waqf did not disclose its plans directly to Israel—and since then photographs have emerged of scaffolding, for renovations, situated on the Foundation Stone. The Jerusalem police has registered its complaint. Muslim authorities responded with defiance: the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage backed the Waqf, saying, “Israel and its branches has no right to interfere in the blessed al-Aqsa mosque’s matters.”
What makes this all the more ridiculous is that—if the gigantic shrine surrounding it, as well as the fact that Muslims call its city “The Holy” (al-Quds), isn’t a good hint—the Foundation Stone is holy to Islam as well, if not as holy as it is to Judaism. If it were Israel desecrating a site of similar holiness to Muslims, you can imagine the outcry.
It’s little things like this, too, that greatly damage the credibility of those who wish that an eventual Palestinian state have its capital in a divided Jerusalem. You need to compare the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites the last time they were under the sovereignty of an Arab government (Jordan, 1948 to 1967), when Jews were barred even from the Old City and the Western Wall, to now that they are under the sovereignty of the Israeli government, which allows access to members of all faiths; goes out of its way to respect Islamic sensitivities; and does not intervene even when a holy site is desecrated.