While the rising conflict at the Temple Mount may be half a world away for Western civilization, the conflict prevails to be more relatable than it appears. The Temple Mount remains a holy site for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Although all three groups want access to the holy site for religious worship, the Waqf—the Muslim religious trust that oversees the site—only allows Muslims to pray at the compound.
This prayer discrimination, known as the “status quo,” originates from antisemitic ideologies. Because of recent escalations that call to reform the status quo, this prayer restriction may be changing in the near future for Jews, Christians, and people of all faiths, all over the world.
For Jews, the Temple Mount was the site of both the ancient, holy Jewish temples. These ancient temples make the Temple Mount site most holy site on Earth for Jews. For Muslims, the Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Islam. Furthermore, the Temple Mount also holds great significance for Christians historically and prophetically.
Because all three religions claim religious importance, the Temple Mount is bound to create religious controversy, which inevitably carries over to the political discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tensions rise between Israel and the Waqf as Palestinians riot over the Golden Gate site, also known as the Bab al-Rahma building or the Gate of Mercy, on the Temple Mount. While the Waqf holds custodianship over the Temple Mount compound, Israel claims political sovereignty of the entire site.
With this political sovereignty, Israeli authorities closed the Golden Gate site in 2003, because the site was operated by an association affiliated with terrorist groups, Hamas and the Islamic Movement. The closure order expired in August, and ever since its re-opening, Israeli police have tried to keep the building closed to keep out violent protesters and potential outbreaks of violence.
In late February 2019, when the Muslim Waqf broke into the area for prayer, violent Palestinian protesters followed the Waqf’s example a week later, and attempted to break into the building. Because political sovereignty of the entire Temple Mount compound remains with Israel, the Waqf does not have the authority to re-open the Golden Gate Building.
Police arrested 17 Palestinians protesters on suspicion of rioting and disturbing police. In a more recent escalation, Israeli police also arrested two 15-year old boys, who were suspected of throwing a firebomb towards a police post.
Jordan officials suggest a possible solution of closing the Golden Gate site for indefinite time while it undergoes renovations. The Wafq does hold the authority to do this renovation, because it holds custodianship of the site.
When addressing this option, Israel notes the possible security threat of appearing to relinquish political sovereignty over the disputed area, which may appear if the Waqf calls for renovation closure. Thus, Israel agrees to the solution, only if the building is briefly closed first under Israeli orders. This brief closure before reconstruction will allow Israel to assert its political sovereignty on the Mount.
In response to the violent events in late February 2019, Fatah official Abdel Khader explains that Muslim masses are driven to expand control on the Temple Mount, because of the frequent visits by “settlers” (Jewish Israeli visitors) who “defile” the el-Aqsa mosque (the Temple Mount site). Khader uses the term “defile” with an antisemitic connotation that is not new to the Temple Mount conflict.
In 2015, President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, stated that the Palestinians “won’t allow Jews with their filthy feet to defile our Al-Aqsa Mosque.” These antisemitic statements argue that Jewish prayers will “defile” the holy site for Muslims. Statements such as Khader’s and Abbas’s are deeply rooted in antisemitism, and can have devastating, violent results.
For example, shortly following Abbas’s antisemitic statements in 2015, Palestinians began the “stabbing Intifada.” During this Intifada, Palestinians attacked Jewish “defilers” with knives and cars as a way to “protect” the Temple Mount from Jews. As a way to ensure Jews do not pray on the Temple Mount, the Waqf upholds the “status quo” that forbids Jews to pray at the Temple Mount.
The conflict at the Temple Mount could impact the future of people of all faiths who wish to pray at the holy site. Jews and Christians are forbidden to pray at the Temple Mount, because of the established religious “status quo.” The status quo essentially appeases the antisemitic notion that Jews desecrate the Islamic religious site.
In 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed his commitment to the status quo by confirming that “Muslims will pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims will visit it,” because a religious conflict could still happen at the disputed site. Despite these restrictions, many Jews and Christians attempt to sneak in bibles, only to have them confiscated before entering by Israeli soldiers and police.
Now, Israeli activists are not only calling for Jewish prayer to be allowed, but also for the establishment of a synagogue on the Temple Mount. Christians can also be expected to support greater religious freedom on the holy site because of the site’s religious ties to Christianity.
These activists argue that the Temple Mount has strong religious significance for Muslims, Jews, and Christians, but Muslims have four mosques on the mount, while Jews and Christians will be arrested for praying on the site. If the Golden Gate site re-opens, Muslims will have another yet another mosque, which breaks the established status-quo.
Spokesman Asaf Fried argues that “if the status quo is broken anyway, then Israel needs to break it, too.” Fried explains the activists are not attempting to take over authority from the Waqf, but are asking to work together, and allow a Jewish synagogue on the mount. In a way, activists would like the Temple Mount divided between the two religions, similar to how the Cave of the Patriarchs was divided into a synagogue and mosque in 1967.
In mid-March 2019, the activists planned a Jewish trip to the Temple Mount where hundreds of Jews visited the holy site and prayed in their hearts. Shortly after, in late March, activists also planned a protest rally from City Hall to the Golden Gate site.
The future of the Temple Mount remains ambiguous. The Golden Gate site is only one point of controversy in a sea of problems. While the solution to the Golden Gate site maybe to simply close it for renovations, this is a band-aid solution to the real controversy of who controls, prays, and visits the Temple Mount.
While Jewish activists call for Jews to be able to pray on the holy Temple Mount, the status quo, rooted in antisemitism, continues to prevail as the policy today. While these activists push for Jewish prayer, Palestinians continue to protest over building closures.
There are many challenges both sides must face, and compromise in order to establish peace on the holy site. This compromise may allow future Israeli Jews, and Jews and Christians from all over the world to pray on the Temple Mount alongside their Muslim counterparts.
Contributed by 2018-2019 California Polytechnic State University CAMERA Fellow Nina Krishel.