Less than two weeks after the commander of the 55th Parachute Brigade, Lieutenant General Mordechai (Motta) Gur announced that “the Temple Mount is in our hands” at the height of the Six Day War of 1967, the Defense Minister Moshe Dayan determined that in fact, in terms of religion authority, this was not the case.
In a meeting with Muslim religious leaders at the summit of the mount on June 17 of the same year, an agreement was reached on a so-called reformulated status quo under which the Jordanian Muslim Waqf would continue to hold religious responsibility for the complex. under the overall supervision of Israel; prayer on the mountain would be reserved for Muslims only; Jews would be allowed to visit but not to pray there.
It was a strikingly radical decision. Having finally regained sovereignty in a bitter defensive war over Judaism’s holiest place, the site of the two biblical temples, here is the Minister of Defense of the resurrected Jewish state quickly renouncing the right of Jews to practice their religion there. .
Dayan sought, pragmatically, to ease post-war friction with the Muslim world, for which the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop Haram al-Sharif is the third holiest shrine. And he used the halachic ban imposed on the Jews as much as he set foot on the Temple Mount lest they inadvertently desecrate the area where the Holy of Holies of the Temple stood, his inner sanctum. The Temple Mount was in Israel’s hands, but the Jews’ holiest place of prayer would remain the Western Wall, the retaining wall of the compound, below.
Over the decades, Israel’s pragmatic tolerance has often turned against it. The fact that the Jewish state did not insist on asserting the fullest sovereignty over the Temple Mount, including emphatically including religious rights, has been grabbed by its diabolists to assert that it stands to reason that the region is not of primary importance to the Jews, and by extension that the Jews are not at all truly connected to this land. Whereas a century ago the historicity of the Biblical Temples was axiomatic in Islam – the mosques atop the mount were built precisely to demonstrate the ostensible preeminence of Islam over Judaism – today it is increasingly denied, even ridiculed, including notably by the President of the Palestinian Authority. , Mahmoud Abbas, who said that the whole Zionist project is a colonial enterprise unrelated to Judaism.
Many in Israel have bristled with growing frustration over the ban on Jewish prayer at Mount in recent years. The rabbinical opposition gradually fragmented, and Orthodox nationalist activists lobbied against the restriction. The bitterness was exacerbated by episodes of archaeological desecration on the part of the Waqf.
But Israeli governments of all political stripes have nonetheless declared their attachment to the status quo, concluding that the fragile balance of power in this region requires its maintenance. Notably, in 2015, in the midst of one of the countless outbreaks of tension surrounding the site, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specifically assured Jordan – the nation whose Old City Israel captured in 1967, and now the peace partner with which Israel shares its longest border – that Israel would not allow Jewish prayer on the mountain. “Israel will continue to follow its long-standing policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount, ”Netanyahu promised.
In recent months, however, Israeli authorities have presided over a “silent, under-the-radar revolution” in which Jewish prayer on the mountain is sometimes tolerated, a Channel 12 news report showed on Saturday evening. Whereas in the past, Jewish visitors were removed from the compound to simply whisper a few words of worship, and tour guides could be invited to leave to quote the Jewish liturgy during their explanations, a minyan (prayer quorum of 10 people) has for months held morning prayers at the top of the mountain, not far from the Golden Dome of the Rock, under the tolerant gaze of the Israeli police, the TV report revealed, and long courses of study Jewish were also allowed.
On Sunday, Tisha Be Av, the day of fasting that marks the destruction of the two Temples and a succession of other dark moments in Jewish history, some 1,700 Jewish visitors were allowed to climb the mount, in a typically tense atmosphere who witnessed early mornings the clashes between Palestinian protesters in Al-Aqsa and the police, and subsequent denunciations of all Jewish visits to the site by Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and the Arab coalition’s own member of the Israeli government, the Ra’am party.
Glad that the day’s high-voltage visits went without too much difficulty, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement on Sunday afternoon, in Hebrew and in English, thanking the security authorities “for handling the events on the Temple Mount with responsibility and consideration, while maintaining freedom of worship for the Jews on the Mountain [italics added]. Prime Minister Bennett stressed that freedom of worship on the Temple Mount will also be fully preserved for Muslims, who will soon mark the fast of the day of Arafa and Eid al-Adha.
But of course, under the status quo, there is no “freedom of worship for Jews on the mountain”.
The Times of Israel immediately requested clarification from the prime minister’s office. Coming a day after the images of the Twelfth Chain of Jewish Prayers on the Mount being tolerated by the police, Bennett, who heads the Orthodox Nationalist Yamina Party, he said the arrangement put in place by Moshe Dayan in 1967 was now finished?
The Temple Mount is arguably the most combustible real estate in the world. To give just two recent examples, Palestinian terrorists unleashed the second Intifada in 2020 using the pretext of opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the compound; the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, in May, was launched by Hamas partly capitalizing on tensions linked to Mt. Given the extreme sensitivities, one would have expected a quick clarification from the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday: Yes, the new Israeli government is changing policies. Or, no, the statement was poorly worded and will be amended and reissued.
None of these things happened. Asked what was going on, Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev appeared on TV Sunday evening to say the status quo had not changed, that Jewish prayer at the site remained illegal and that Bennett’s office had apparently “mis-worded” his statement. PMO had meant “freedom of movement” for Jews on the Temple Mount, Barlev suggested, not “freedom of worship.”
From the Prime Minister’s Office itself, however, there was silence.
On Monday morning, army radio quoted “anonymous sources” in the Prime Minister’s entourage as saying the statement had been “poorly worded”. However, contradictorily, the same report in hebrew said Bennett had “backed down from his declaration of freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount” following “criticism within the coalition.”
And, officially, from the Prime Minister’s Office, as of this writing – hours before King Abdullah of Jordan, by the way, is due at the White House for talks with US President Joe Biden – always nothing. No corrected statement was issued. The original statement, stressing “freedom of worship for Jews on the mountain,” remains unchanged on the prime minister’s official Hebrew and English Twitter accounts.
The decision taken by Moshe Dayan on June 17, 1967 can of course be legitimately examined and debated by the Israeli government. But any policy change would have far-reaching implications. Changing the status quo on the Temple Mount is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Turning a blind eye to Jewish prayer on the site, then posting statements appearing to endorse it, then going back anonymously while leaving the formal statements unchanged, is like playing with fire at a purely incendiary flashpoint. Bennett needs to clarify his position – quickly and responsibly.