Tisha b’Av and the Politics of the Temple Mount

Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock

Dear Friends,

In honor of a week filled with holy days, Ir Amim Field Researcher, Aviv Tatarsky writes about their meaning and relationship to the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif.

The article was originally published in Hebrew in Sikha Mekomit.

This week holds a confluence of two important holy days for residents of Jerusalem and Jews and Muslims around the world. Tisha b’Av, the day of Jewish mourning for both the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago and a series of other tragedies that befell the Jewish people on the same date, is acknowledged through a 25-hour fast that begins Wednesday evening. Eid al-Adha, a festival honoring Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, Ishmael, for G-d also begins at the end of the week and lasts until Monday evening. On a normal year, this would lead to tens of thousands of Muslims arriving to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif prayers during the holiday.

In a better world, the convergence of these two holy days would be an opportunity to celebrate the religious wealth with which Jerusalem and this land are blessed. But in our world, things are – unfortunately – different.

Since 1967, Israel has respected Muslim holidays and has not allowed visitors – neither Jews nor tourists – to go up to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif during these days. But last year, when Tisha B’av fell exactly on the first day of Eid al-Adha, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that was reason enough to violate the decades-long arrangement and allow Jews to enter the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif on the Muslim holiday.

Netanyahu is playing a duplicitous game: on one hand, he claims that he and his government are committed to upholding the status quo on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif (whereby the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif functions as a place of worship for Muslims alone and Jordan’s custodianship of the holy place is respected by Israel) while on the other hand he is constantly chipping away the tenuous links holding the status quo together. To put it simply, if Jews arrive at the holy place as visitors and not for religious practice, then a Jewish holy day cannot serve as an excuse to allow them to enter the site on Eid al-Adha.

Fortunately, due to the movement of the Jewish and Muslim calendars – both of which are lunar but with differing lengths of months – this year the conflict was avoided; however, it is nevertheless important to understand how state authorities work together with Temple Movements to erode the status quo of the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif.

The Temple Movement activists claim that actualizing the Jewish affiliation with the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif will not come at the expense of Muslims nor of Muslim ties to the holy site, and that Muslim opposition to Jewish presence on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif is a result of fanaticism and incitement; yet to be convinced by this naïve claim one would have to  be blinded by ignorance. After all, in every location under Israeli control, from Silwan to Hebron to the Jordan Valley, the introduction of Israelis gives rise to the repression and dispossession of Palestinians in the area.

When addressing the general public, Temple activists say that, “we simply want to pray in the holiest site of the Jewish people,” – a statement with which, in other circumstances, it would be easy to sympathize. But those who listen and read what is presented within the groups themselves soon realize that the true intentions of this movement are much less amicable. Here are a few examples – all drawn from the last few days:

  • “We will continue our struggle until the presence of the Waqf [Islamic religious trust] is removed from the Temple Mount”, wrote Students for the Temple Mount in the launching a new crowdfunding campaign. They explain that they are working “to return the Temple Mount to the People of Israel.”
  • The Temple Organizations Coalition published a declaration in preparation for Tisha B’Av with the statement, “our goal is for this mourning to end. Our mourning can only end by us redeeming the site. May we merit the building of the Third Temple.”
  • This week, Jewish groups stood by the Dome of the Rock and, like almost every week, lamented the “idol placed in the Temple” (Mishna Taanit 4:6) and the need to “abolish [heathen] shrines ” (Kings II, 18:4). In other words, as explained by one of the videos published this week, the goal is to “ascend the Temple Mount and conquer it. We will not stop until the Temple is rebuilt!”

And these are statements made just within the last week.

Among every group, there is always an extremist faction that calls for a violent abolition of the opposition, except here we are talking about the rhetoric of the core of the Temple Movements, who are not at all considered extremist by the Israeli authorities. The organizers of the Temple Movements hold coordination meetings with the police and have the ear of the Knesset and government. This is how Likud MK Minister and Netanyahu confidante, Ze’ev Elkin became a speaker at a Tisha B’Av event two years ago, saying “[In order to] ‘renew our days like those of old’… we have to throng to the Temple Mount exactly as was done in the days of old. With the help of G-d, we will reach the renewal of our days like those of old and we will be able to take this rally over the same stones on which Jews climbed 2,000 years ago to ascend to the Temple Mount. This, too, will happen if we are determined.”

And thus, a year ago, we reached the situation where Netanyahu granted for Jews on Tisha b’Av a special status, in violation of his alleged commitment to respect the status quo on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif. Netanyahu ordered that the Temple activists be allowed to enter the holy site, even though the date coincided with Eid al-Adha and multitudes of Muslims had gathered at the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif for the holiday.  Thousands of Muslims stood quietly in front of the entrance to the Temple Mount, blocking it with their bodies – resistance to the contentious decision, but clearly non-violent resistance. In this case, the ones who chose to use violence were the police and special anti-riot forces sent to quell the “disturbance”.

This must be understood: the realization of the intentions of the Temple Movement will, in fact, come at the expense of Muslims as Israeli forces utilize violent tactics against Palestinians, just as we saw on Tisha b’Av last year.

This year, the calendars are in our favor and the two holy days miss one another by a day. But the roots of the problem continue to exist and grow ever deeper from year to year.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

We have to recognize and respect the longstanding arrangements of the holy sites; only then can we hold and fulfill the vision of celebrating the religious diversity with which Jerusalem and this land are blessed.

A meaningful Tisha b’Av and an Eid Mubarak,
Ir Amim Staff
This article is published in its entirety.






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