by: Nathan Williams, BFP Staff Writer
“Be favorable Lord our God toward Your people Israel and their prayer, and restore the service to the Holy of Holies of Your Temple.” Every day for thousands of years the Jewish people have prayed these words. Millions upon millions of prayers have gone up to the heavens directed toward one place, the Temple Mount where the Holy of Holies once stood. In dedicating the First Temple, King Solomon entreated the God of Israel to incline His ear even to the cry of the foreigner who directed his prayers towards this place (2 Chron. 6:32–33). But today, people of Christian or Jewish faith, Israelis and foreigners alike, have been denied the ability to practice this vital tenet of their faith on the Temple Mount where Solomon uttered these words.
The recent terrorist attack on the Temple Mount was the spark that ignited the latest international furor about its status. On July 14, three Muslim terrorists initiated a shootout with Israel’s border police at an entrance leading up to the compound. During this murderous rampage the terrorists killed two Israeli Druze police officers, continuing their shootout on the plaza in front of the Dome of the Rock. The perpetrators tried to avoid capture by hiding in the Islamic structures but were soon neutralized by Israeli forces.
Under instruction from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israel police completed a systematic raid upon the buildings on the Temple Mount searching for weapons and other insidious devices. Israel Police Commissioner Insp. Gen. Roni Alsheich spoke to the Jerusalem Post on the implications of this attack: “We are talking here about live fire being shot at policemen inside the Temple Mount after weapons were smuggled inside,” said Alsheich. “This is an unprecedented and unusual incident. We must ensure that there are no more weapons on the Temple Mount.”
In order to protect both civilians and security forces, the Israeli authorities installed security cameras and metal detectors at the entrances from the Muslim Quarter onto the Temple Mount complex. It is important to note that these security measures were already in place for non-Muslims who enter the complex and are commonplace in the life of every Israeli citizen—even shopping malls in Israel have metal detectors. Muslim worshipers, however, refused to return to their mosques while these security measures were in place. In a maneuver of pure manipulation, the Jordanian Islamic Waqf and Muslim worshipers boycotted their own holy site, as accusations of altering the status quo on the Temple Mount were leveled against Israel.
What is now dubbed as the “status quo” of the Temple Mount refers to Moshe Dayan, the Israeli defense minister during the Six Day War of 1967, and his infamous agreement with the Waqf (a religious trust). After the liberation of Jerusalem, Dayan agreed that the Waqf would maintain control within the Temple Mount complex with Israel taking overall security responsibility for the compound. The right of Jewish people to visit the mount was put into place with the stipulation that they would not be permitted to use the Temple Mount as a place of worship, relegating them to the Western Wall for that purpose. Now half a century later these decisions, made at the time to safeguard Israel from an all-out religious war with Islam, remain a proverbial thorn in the side for many religious Jewish people. “All that is going around in the media is that the ‘status quo’ should not be disturbed” says Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel, “but the question for many Jews is ‘What if there was something fundamentally wrong with the status quo?’”
Rabbi Gimpel, founder and radio host on the Land of Israel Network, is an avid supporter of the right for Jewish worship on the Temple Mount. After hearing of the boycott by Muslim worshipers he decided to lead a ground and ascend the Mount with the hope to pray openly for the first time. Although having visited the Temple Mount compound on many occasions, it would be his first without the jeering intimidation of the Waqf. “Usually the Waqf are shouting Islamic slogans,” says Rabbi Gimpel. “You see Muslim children playing soccer and throwing trash on our holiest site. Your heart breaks. You feel the exile so powerfully.”
After first apologizing to a police officer who was escorting the group, Gimpel fell prostrate in prayer. “My heart just opened up and as I bowed I felt as if a spiritual explosion was let forth from my heart.” Regrettably, Gimpel was summarily arrested and carried from the Temple Mount. Contrary to international sentiment the fact of the matter is, even in the absence of the Islamic Waqf, Israeli authorities upheld the so-called status quo. By denying Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, even at a detriment to their own people, the Israelis still honored their agreement. Although it was scary and forbidden, Rabbi Gimpel admits that it was the highlight of his life, as he stood up for his firm belief that the Jewish people should have full rights to pray in the land of Israel.
There is a controversy brewing in Jerusalem about injustice, rights and freedom. Why can Jews not pray on their holiest site? What if there is something fundamentally wrong with the status quo on the Temple Mount? In an era of equality and morality these questions burn in the hearts of many Jewish people. Israel is renowned for being a bastion of democracy in the Middle East and is light-years ahead of its neighbors on matters of human rights and religious freedom. In all but one place, and that is the Temple Mount.
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