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The Fight for Prayer at the Temple Mount Intensifies

Israeli lawmakers push for access to the holy site

Romy Zipken
June 28, 2013

The compound in Jerusalem known as Temple Mount to Jews, and as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, has long been an area of serious and violent contention. The site is considered holy for both religions. For Jews wishing to visit Temple Mount, police must accompany them to the site, and there’s always riot-ready gear nearby. Some persist in claiming that tensions there sparked the Second Intifada. For 46 years, there has been a ban on Jewish prayer at the site, and now, more and more Israelis are intent on praying there again.

Israeli police have barred further visits by another Likud lawmaker, Moshe Feiglin, an ultra-rightist who has been arrested in the past for what police said were attempts to worship on the plaza. Officials said they feared Feiglin’s presence could stir violent Palestinian protests.

Most of those campaigning for Jewish prayer in the compound represent a far-right minority, but many Muslims “see a provocation, and blame the (Israeli) government, so we have a big problem”, said Israeli political scientist Yitzhak Reiter.

Conditions in the area have recently become more volatile. On June 19, four Jewish men were arrested for praying at Temple Mount, reports the Times of Israel.

On June 20, a far-right Jewish man and two Muslim men were arrested on the site after getting into a fight, reports the Jerusalem post. It was alleged that the Jewish man attacked the Muslim men, an official, and provoked a group of female Muslims. But those on the far-right said the Jewish man was the one attacked.

According to police, the Jewish man attacked the approaching official, causing light injuries. Afterward, two other Waqf officials rushed to the scene. It was then that police said a shoving match ensued.

Two opinion pieces on the Daily Beast debate whether Jews should be allowed to pray at Temple Mount. The first, by Zack Parker, offers a solution that would put the contested area under international control:

Ironically, the best solution is one that the most extreme Temple Mount activists would likely despise: for Israel to transfer sovereignty of the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif to an international body that could objectively govern the site and ensure religious access to all faiths. International control might not completely eliminate the possibility of violence, but it would ameliorate the perception of bias that fuels outrage on both sides. If the Temple Mount movement were to accept it, it would go a long way toward verifying their intentions as benign. It would reassure us that extremists are not at its helm.

In the second, Edward S. Goldstein asserts that allowing Jews complete access to the Temple Mount would lead to a regional disaster with international effects.

There may soon be regular Jewish visits to the Mount and some visitors will organize worship services. After a while, it will seem natural to erect a canopy to shield the worshipers from the elements. Finally, we will see a push to build a synagogue in the midst of Islam’s third holiest site. This last step will ignite a Muslim conflagration—religious, political, even military—that will make reactions to cartoons of Mohammed look like a walk in a tot park. Pressure on the West to sanction or abandon Israel might become unprecedented in severity.

For now, the situation remains both complicated and unresolved.

Romy Zipken is a writer and editor at Jewcy. Her Twitter feed is @RomyZipken.