A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
8 Elul 5760
September 8, 2000
Issue number 289
As I was away this week, this issue had to be prepared in advance and, accordingly, contains no current news but rather two special reports on the vital issue of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Next week's issue will catch up the news of this week. My apologies. - Ed.]
The Jerusalem issue was at the core of the Camp David Summit negotiations. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as a part of the occupied territories falling under UN Security Council Resolution 242, and therefore demand full Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines. For Israel, East Jerusalem is an indivisible part of its territory after being annexed by Israel in 1967.
However, it is the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem that place the question of Jerusalem in the center of the negotiations. On July 23, the United States submitted a proposal - based on an Israeli proposal - to grant the Palestinians full sovereignty in the Muslim and Christian quarters [including Christian holy sites] while leaving the Jewish and Armenian quarters under Israeli sovereignty.
In response to this proposal, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat told US President Clinton, "I will not agree to any Israeli sovereign presence in Jerusalem, neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, neither on the Via Dolarosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem [from them]." (1)
Palestinians Claim Holy Sites
Palestinian claims to sovereignty over Temple Mount are based primarily on its holiness in Islam. They stated repeatedly that the Muslim holy places have the status of an Islamic Waqf [religious endowment].
Arafat stated again and again that he represents all Muslims, reminding President Clinton that he serves as the permanent deputy chairman of the 'Islamic Conference' organization, (2) and that: "The Arab leader who would give up Jerusalem has not yet been born." (3)(I)
Regarding himself as the heir to the legacy of the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem (in 638), Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab who protected Jerusalem's Christians, Arafat also demanded recognition as the defender and custodian of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. "Arafat told us," said PA negotiator Saib Ereiqat, "that the Christian quarter is more important to him than the Muslim quarter because of his wish to uphold the terms of the 'Omar Pact' [regarding the status of non-Muslim monotheist religions according to Muslim tradition]." (4)
Israeli Claims and the Palestinian Reactions
Israel too presented its demand for sovereignty over the Temple Mount on the basis of its holiness in Judaism, as the site of the first and second temples. On this basis, it raised - for the first time - a demand for a Jewish prayer site on the edge of the mountain.
The Palestinians rejected both demands, regarding them as an attempt to foil any chance for an agreement. The Islamic Awqaf [Islamic endowments] Council in Jerusalem explained this position: "The Al-Aqsa Mosque belongs to the Muslims alone, according to a divine decision, and is part of the Muslim faith. Prayer in it by non-Muslims is forbidden by [religious] law. Any attempt to harm its holiness or the site itself, or to desecrate it would injure Muslims all over the world." (5) (II)
The PA Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri explained that the buildings surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque are also holy and therefore establishing a synagogue there would be impossible: "All the buildings surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque are an Islamic waqf. These buildings have direct openings, doors and windows, to the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque, and therefore their status is similar to that of Al-Aqsa in terms of blessing and holiness. Therefore, according to Islamic law, it is impossible to plunder any of these buildings and turn it into a synagogue for the Jews." (6)
The Palestinian rejection of Israel's demands to sovereignty and prayer sites on Temple Mount is based on a complete denial of any Jewish affiliation with Temple Mount. According to the Palestinians, the "so-called temple" that Israel recalls, has never been there, and there is no evidence to suggest its existence. This position was voiced by Arafat as well as many high-ranking Palestinians, such as PA Minister of International Planning and Cooperation Nabil Sha'ath (7), Saib Ereiqat, (III) and PA Legislative Council Chairman Abu 'Alaa. Arafat told Clinton in this regard: "I am a religious man, and I will not allow it to be written of me [in history] that I. confirmed the existence of the so-called temple underneath the mountain." (8)
Abu 'Alaa claimed that the Israeli demand is nothing but a plot: once it is accepted that the temple existed beneath the mosques, and Israel gains sovereignty over the land under the mosques - "It will mean that within a few years they will destroy the mosques." (9) This was a reference to the September 1996 Western Wall Tunnel riots, in which the Palestinians claimed that the tunnel was dug with the aim of destabilizing the foundations of the mosques, to ultimately destroy them.
Abu 'Alaa also claimed that "at Camp David the Israelis offered Palestinian sovereignty over the ground and Israeli sovereignty under the ground. Who would agree to this? They offered Palestinian sovereignty, and Israeli super-sovereignty. There is no precedent such a thing. They also offered Palestinian control under Israeli sovereignty, in a sort of diplomatic representation, similar the status of an embassy that has sovereignty in Israeli land. Whoever agrees to such offers betrays faith." (10)
A classified report by the Palestinian leadership on the Camp David summit refers to this Israeli offer: "The Israelis offered to divide the sovereignty .so that the Palestinians would have vertical sovereignty from the sky to the ground, and the Israelis would have sovereignty from the surface to the center of the earth. What they intended by this offer was the right to dig for the remains of the so-called temple, which [archeological] digs have failed to find for the last seventy years." (11)
PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen too denied the right of the Jews to a prayer site on Temple Mount. He raised a practical argument: the Palestinian experience with Jews in joint Jewish-Muslim prayer sites. He
stated: "We have learned the lessons of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. The Jews asked to visit them, then it became the basis for [further] demands. In the Hebron mosques, they asked to pray at the site, and today anyone who visits the Tomb is beaten [by them]. For these reasons, as a matter of principle we will allow neither [Jewish] sovereignty nor prayer in, around, or above the mosques. (12)
Akram Haniya, editor of Al-Ayyam and an Arafat advisor who participated in Camp David, criticized the Israeli demands, and furthermore their acceptance by the US: "The secular [Israeli] negotiators began speaking the language of extremist religious Jews. Suddenly, the Jewish access to the [Muslim] holy sites and Israeli sovereignty over the mountain became a basic Israeli demand. But the dangerous thing about it was that the Americans endorsed these demands without hesitation or any thought about the implications." (13)
Palestinian claims to the Western Wall
The Palestinians state that the Western Wall is also a holy Islamic site and an Islamic Waqf. Its holiness derives, according to The Koran and Muslim tradition, from its being the site where the Prophet Muhammad landed in his divine nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. The Western Wall is where he tied his horse called 'Al-Buraq,' and it is known in Islam as 'The Al-Buraq Wall.'
At Camp David, Arafat also based his claim to the site on an "assertion by the British mandatory government in 1929 that the Western Wall is the Wall of Al-Buraq, and that it is regarded as an Islamic Waqf and an historic Islamic right." (14)
The PA mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri explained that the Western Wall is part of the Al-Aqsa Wall, and therefore is an Islamic Waqf. On the other hand, he asserted: "no stone of the Al-Buraq Wall has any relation to Judaism. The Jews began praying at this wall only in the nineteenth century, when they began to develop [national] aspirations, as Yossi Beilin has said." (15)
Nevertheless, the Palestinians are ready to acknowledge the right of Jews to pray at the Western Wall out of "respect to Judaism," but only on the condition that the sovereignty over it will be Palestinian.
PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Feisal Al-Husseiny explained that: "The PA is ready to discuss all the arrangements relating to free access, worship and Jews visiting Jerusalem, on the condition that the sovereignty over the city be fully Palestinian." (16) However, as Abu 'Alaa asserted: "there is no point in discussing the details of these arrangements, before Israel has recognized Palestinian sovereignty over [East] Jerusalem." (17)
Abu Mazen recognized the fact that "Jerusalem is holy for all [religions]" and explained that even though the Jews would be granted the right to pray at the wall - the wall will remain an Islamic Waqf: "All parties have a right to their religious worship on the mountain. The Jews have the right to visit the Western Wall and pray there, despite the fact that the British Commission asserted in 1929 that the wall is an Islamic Waqf. Arafat has always said that he will allow them to pray at the site." (18)
Arafat expressed this idea in an interview with the Japanese news agency NHK during his last visit to Tokyo. While rejecting Israel's claim to sovereignty on Temple Mount, he added: "However, I offered them [the Jews] freedom of prayer at the Western Wall. They are praying there, and I offered that they would be able to continue with their prayers, because I respect Judaism." Arafat reiterated this statement repeatedly during the interview. In an answer to the interviewer's question about the holiness of the Wall to the Jews too, he said: "I have offered them free access to pray at the Western Wall .they will have an open corridor to reach the Western Wall." (19)
PA Mufti Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri, dismissed the concern that the prohibitions that kept Jews from reaching the "Al-Buraq Wall" from 1948 and 1967, may be repeated if a Palestinian State is granted sovereignty over the Western Wall. "Circumstances have changed," he said, "[now] there is international recognition [of the right to religious worship] - and the Jews are able to reach the Wall. Arafat can tell them: 'Give me sovereignty over Jerusalem, and I will make it possible for you to reach the 'Al-Buraq Wall' and pray there. I promise you freedom of worship.' [However] granting free access to the wall does not mean that the Wall will belong to them. The Wall is ours." (20)
(I) The secretary-general of the Arab League, Dr. 'Ismat Abd Al-Maguid, also, stated that "no Arab leader is allowed to relinquish Jerusalem." Saut Al-Haqq Wa Al-Hurriyya, August 18, 2000.
(II) Arafat recalled that even Moshe Dayan himself prohibited Jews from praying on the Temple Mount after 1967: " [So] why do they want to do it now? The [Israeli] proposals are like mines that will ignite fires in the region and throughout the world. Beware not to repeat these proposals [because] they are dangerous and destructive." Al-Ayyam. August 6, 2000.
(III) According to the reports, Ereiqat made this denial at a Camp David meeting in the presence of President Clinton, who noted that the Christian Minister at Camp David believes Israel's version. Ha'aretz (Israel), July 27, 2000.
(1) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), August 10, 2000.
(2) Al-Ayyam (PA), August 10, 2000.
(3) Al-Quds (Jerusalem), July 20, 2000.
(4) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, August 8, 2000.
(5) Al-Quds, August 15, 2000.
(6) Saut Al-Haqq Wa Al-Hurriyya (Israeli Arab weekly), August 25, 2000.
(7) Al-Ayyam, July 27, 2000.
(8) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, August 12, 2000.
(9) Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000.
(10) Al-Ayyam, August 12, 2000.
(11) Al-Quds, August 18, 2000.
(12) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, August 19, 2000.
(13) Al-Ayyam, August 3, 2000.
(14) Al-Hayat (London-Beriut), July 27, 2000.
(15) Kul Al-Arab (Israeli Arab weekly), August 18, 2000.
(16) Al-Ayyam, August 22, 2000.
(17) Al-Ayyam, July 30, 2000 and Al-Quds, July 25, 20000.
(18) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, August 19, 2000.
(19) Japanese News Agency NHK, August 15, 2000. Asked by the interviewer
about the possibility of sharing responsibility in the holy sites for all three religions, Arafat reacted decisively: "Sharing of responsibilities? No! .I cannot agree to that. I am not allowed to accept any [foreign] sovereignty on places holy to Christianity and Islam."
(20) Kul Al-Arab, August 16, 2000. (MEMRI/IMRA Aug 28)
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization providing translations of the Arab media and original analysis and research on developments in the Middle East.
Time and again throughout Jewish history, says Gershon Salomon, foreign powers have occupied Jerusalem and taken over the Temple Mount, desecrating the Jewish people's holiest site.
First the Babylonians occupied the city, destroying the First Temple and exiling the inhabitants of Judea. Some 400 years later the Greeks took control of the rebuilt Jewish temple, desecrating it with pigs and pagan idols, and sparking the Maccabean revolt that briefly reasserted Jewish sovereignty in the land.
A few hundred years after that, Roman legions overran Jerusalem, sacking the city and razing the Second Temple to the ground. Again, the destruction was a prelude to Jewish exile, this time lasting 2,000 years. In the interim, first Christians and then Moslems built places of worship above the Holy of Holies -, in Jewish tradition, the seat of God's presence on earth.
Even in his worst nightmares, Salomon, leader of the Temple Mount Faithful, never imagined that a sovereign Jewish leadership would contemplate turning over control of the holy plateau to foreign control.
Yet that is exactly what Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a small coterie of secular, left-wing aides proposed at Camp David, Salomon and other Temple Mount activists say, even if the initiative was disguised by convoluted proposals and sweetened with an insistence that any final agreement include the right of Jews to pray on the mount.
Quoting Scripture, Salomon says that God promised to protect the Jews so long as they upheld the sanctity of His holy mountain. The implication, of course, is that by relinquishing sovereignty over the Temple Mount Israel also would be forfeiting God's protection. The Palestinians know this, he claims, which is why they insist on controlling the mount.
By discussing arrangements for Palestinian control of the Temple Mount, Salomon asserts, Barak is inviting the third exile of the Jews - and Salomon and his followers are not about to let it happen.
"I don't believe that Jewish life can continue to exist without the Temple Mount," he says. "The moment such an agreement is signed, I am sure that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Jews from around the world will go to the Temple Mount. We will force our way in to pray, and we will refuse to move, we will stop the agreement with our bodies. If necessary, we will give our lives not to allow [the Temple Mount] to be given to foreigners, not to see this terrible moment."
As negotiations with the Palestinian Authority approach their endgame, and as control of Jerusalem, and especially of the Temple Mount emerge as the final barriers to a comprehensive agreement, right-wing activists are stepping up their struggle to prevent concessions on the mount.
"Everything will stand or fall on this issue," says Moshe Feiglin, leader of Zo Artzenu and one of the driving forces behind the demonstrations held each afternoon outside the Old City's Lions' Gate. "If you give up the Temple Mount of your own free will you give up your identity - you commit spiritual suicide. There's a large majority behind us on this issue that doesn't want to disconnect from the dream of generations. Unfortunately, that majority is being overcome by a small minority that don't want to be Jews."
Seven activist groups - all but the Temple Mount Faithful, in fact - recently merged in an umbrella organization called The United Association of Movements for the Holy Temple, under the direction of Bar-Ilan University literature professor Hillel Weiss. Trying to reverse the traditional halachic prohibition on Jews going up to the Temple Mount - issued to prevent "unclean" Jews from accidentally stepping into the area of the Holy of Holies - Weiss and others are collecting signatures of prominent rabbis who say that Jewish prayer indeed is allowed, and should be encouraged, on most areas of the Temple Mount.
Activist Yisrael Medad, founder of El Har Hashem - To the Mountain of the Lord - hopes to organize marches around the walls of the Old City and prayer gatherings at the Old City's gates. Other groups, such as the Old City's Temple Institute, have been building replicas of temple utensils from specifications in the Bible, and publish a newsletter to alert Jews around the world to what they call the desecration of the Temple Mount by unsupervised Wakf construction.
According to reports from last month's Camp David summit, Barak either suggested or accepted American proposals that would offer the Palestinians unprecedented concessions in Jerusalem, including control over Arab neighborhoods of the city, unfettered access to al-Aksa Mosque, and the freedom to fly a Palestinian flag from the Dome of the Rock.
Other suggestions reportedly included a plan for shared control that would give the Palestinians sovereignty above ground - that is, for everything that happens on the Temple Mount - while preserving Israeli sovereignty below ground, where the ruins of the ancient temples ostensibly are located.
If such ideas are accepted, Weiss says, it will lead to a crisis of faith among right-wing and religious Jews.
"It will be like Judas Iscariot all over again," he says. In such a case, "I believe that many Jews, even hundreds of thousands, will return their identity cards to the state. I won't feel that I belong to this state anymore, psychologically and even legally."
Rabbi Chaim Richman, public-affairs director of the Temple Institute, says concessions on the Temple Mount are likely to lead to bloodshed.
"Giving sovereignty of the holiest place in the Jewish world to the expressed enemies of the Jewish people, I imagine there would be a lot of people who wouldn't be able to live with themselves," he says - though he personally opposes violence, as the prophets said the Third Temple would come about by peaceful means. "To see the Palestinian flag flying there would probably lead to violence in Jewish circles."
Many activists are not bothered by the prospect that their opposition could scuttle an agreement, possibly leading Israel into another war.
Some, indeed, seem to welcome the possibility, believing that from the ensuing chaos will emerge a new Israeli leadership not afraid to take bold steps to assert Jewish control over the Temple Mount - and, perhaps, even build the prophesied Third Temple, the construction of which is expected in some circles to usher in the Messianic Age.
Not everyone accepts the activists' apocalyptic vision. In addition to many left-wing and secular Israelis who couldn't care less about dividing Jerusalem or giving up the Temple Mount, there is the steadfast opposition of the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount - or Haram a-Sharif, as the area is known to Moslems - is "a closed file," Wakf spokesman Adnan Husseini says. "The issue has been settled by God, and there will be no negotiations.
"Moslems can't discuss it and can't make any compromise. This is the stance that every Palestinian and Arab and Moslem will adopt, forever.
"If [the Jews] want to dream of something that was here 3,000 years ago, then we will dream about the situation before 1948, when there was no State of Israel."
Citing the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks, however, Salomon says that the prospect of war is little reason for this generation of Jews to shirk its divine duty.
"In the moment of crisis, the great revolution will begin," he says in a telephone interview from Canada, where he is on a speaking tour. "We are very close to destruction. The dark clouds of war are coming close.
"Especially if we bring [the Palestinians] into Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, we shall be attacked, and this time from within the very heart of our land."
At issue, perhaps, is the very purpose of the Zionist enterprise: whether the State of Israel exists so that Jews can live in safety and prosperity like any other nation, or whether it is a vehicle for accomplishing the Jews' biblical destiny of spreading God's message to the world and hastening the coming of the Messiah.
"I don't believe that the great redemptional step the God of Israel started 52 years ago was intended to be just a short episode in history," Salomon says. "It is the fulfillment of prophecy, part of the great dream of the God of Israel Himself, to see His nation redeemed."
The roots of the current standoff, it would appear, lie in decisions made by defense minister Moshe Dayan immediately after the Six Day War. A few days after the message "the Temple Mount is in our hands" crackled through his earpiece, Dayan met with Moslem leaders at al-Aksa and promised, to the astonishment of the defeated Arabs, not to interfere in their administration of the site.
Dayan's motives appear to have been twofold: to demonstrate the Jews' respect for freedom of religion, and to avoid provoking the immense Moslem world, thereby immortalizing a conflict that many Jews believed would end shortly after Israel's decisive victory on the battlefield.
Yet Dayan set two conditions. Rabble-rousing sermons against the Jews would be forbidden, he wrote in his autobiography, or "we would of course take appropriate action."
In addition, Dayan wrote, "the one thing we would introduce was freedom of Jewish access without limitation or payment. This compound, as my hosts well knew, was our Temple Mount. Here stood our Temple during ancient times, and it would be inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to visit this holy place now that Jerusalem was under our rule."
Both of these conditions were quickly abandoned by Israeli authorities.
Later that summer, after IDF chaplain Rabbi Shlomo Goren led prayers on the mount during Tisha Be'av, authorities backtracked and reinstated the previous ban on Jewish worship on the mount.
"It was evident that if we did not prevent Jews from praying in what was now a mosque compound, matters would get out of hand and lead to a religious clash," Dayan wrote.
What ensued was a tenuous modus vivendi that lasted for most of the next three decades. The Wakf was allowed to continue running affairs on top of the Temple Mount in coordination, to one extent or another, with Israeli police, while Jews prayed only at the Western Wall at the mount's base. Jews were allowed to enter the mount like any other tourists, but "suspicious" individuals - known activists or anyone who looked like an Orthodox Jew - could enter only under Wakf and police guard, and were evicted if they appeared to be moving their lips in prayer.
That arrangement began to unravel with the Palestinian Authority's quiet takeover of the Wakf from Jordan after the 1994 Oslo Agreements, and especially after the riots that followed the opening of a new exit to a Western Wall tourist tunnel in September 1996.
The deterioration has accelerated in the past year, as the Wakf, aided by Israeli Arab activists from the Islamic Movement, has flouted Israel's antiquities law and removed tons of artifact-laden dirt while building a third, subterranean mosque on the mount. Recent newspaper reports have cited plans to build a fourth, above-ground, mosque as well.
Fearing a confrontation, the government has refused to stop the earthworks, but Temple Mount activists see the development as the logical consequence of decades of timid Israeli policy.
"The Moslems see that they're able to strike at what is supposed to be the holiest site to us and we don't react," Richman says. "It's like we put a sign saying 'Shoot Me' on our foreheads. If we show that we have no self-respect, what do we expect from them?"
It was precisely that loss of "self-respect" that led Salomon and a group of 15 friends to form the Temple Mount Faithful at the same time as Dayan was making his historic concessions.
"At that very moment, we felt our nation starting the march back to exile," Salomon says. "We were living in a moment of redemption but our leadership missed the opportunities, one after another. Since the Six Day War, Israel has been led by leadership that is too small to understand the importance of the times we are living in."
Such rhetoric is commonplace among Temple Mount activists, and offers clues as to their worldview. Leaders like Barak have misunderstood the true import of the struggle for the Temple Mount by approaching it from the standpoint of realpolitik, Feiglin says.
In fact, he says, it is a religious struggle between Islam - aided by Christianity, which for years has called for the Old City to be internationalized and lately has called for sovereignty on the Temple Mount to be left "to God," that is to say, undecided - and Judaism.
And what of al-Aksa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, that currently occupies the mount? Most Temple Mount activists ridicule the notion that a rebuilt temple will miraculously descend from the sky in a ball of fire. Yet they accept the equally fatalistic idea that Christian and Moslem leaders - either recognizing the Jews' astonishing spiritual purity or their unbendable will - will beg the Jews to build a Third Temple and put the mount to its intended use.
Salomon, in fact, says that after the coming cataclysm a revitalized Israeli leadership will dismantle al-Aksa and the Dome of the Rock and rebuild them brick by brick "in their rightful place" - Mecca - and that the Moslem world will accept this. The rebuilt Temple, in this view, will be accepted by the entire world, fulfilling biblical prophecies that it will be a place of worship not just for the Jews but for all mankind.
In the meantime, many activists say they will accept a small synagogue on the periphery of the mount, an idea raised earlier this month by Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen. The nation's top Rabbinical Council postponed discussion of the proposal last week.
Richman sees the idea of a small synagogue as something of an insult.
"It's the old ghetto mentality: Give us this little corner and we won't get in your way, thank you very much," he says. "There's no way-station on the road to building the Temple. Even a 50 percent desecration of God's name is still a desecration of God's name."
Though they question his motives, many activists compliment Barak for insisting on Jewish access to the Temple Mount in a final peace agreement. Others, however, say it is cold comfort, like having someone steal your wife and then allowing you to visit her from time to time, in Feiglin's words.
Medad does not believe that Arafat will sign an agreement that allows Jews to pray on the Temple Mount - or, citing the behavior of the Jordanians when they controlled the Jewish Quarter between 1948 and 1967, that Arafat would honor such clauses even if he did agree.
Still, he says, accepting the synagogue idea is a smart tactical move - because the expected Palestinian opposition would show the world that Islam, unlike Judaism, is opposed to sharing holy sites.
"Even [a small synagogue] would be problematic for the Arabs," Medadsays
. "But I want to make a statement that we're not out to destroy [Moslem holy sites]; we want to share. By showing that they're not willing to do even that, we can show their true face and the nature of their partnership. It would make my job as a Temple Mount activist easier to gain more empathy and support."
Before gaining international support, however, Temple Mount activists will have to shore up their base inside Israel. Even though Arafat rejected Barak's suggested compromises - Richman compares it to the biblical story of God hardening Pharaoh's heart - many analysts here have noted that the government's willingness to discuss a practical division of Jerusalem sparked little domestic unrest.
Medad, who advocates stressing the national, as opposed to the religious, import of the site, doesn't find this surprising.
"There has been no mainstream Temple Mount activist group that has succeeded in talking to the majority of the people, because they have refused to adopt legitimate messages that could be understood by the majority of the population," he says. "When they hear people talking about mikva'ot [ritual baths] and ritual purity, it sounds like mumbo-jumbo."
Already, Richman says, there has been a dramatic rise in consciousness about the significance of the Temple Mount over the last decade, especially since the Wakf's destruction of archaeological remains over the last year. And Feiglin says the pressure for a final peace agreement, which may result in a second summit next month, will also help force the Temple Mount issue onto the national agenda.
Salomon, too, doesn't think that raising support in the hour of need will be a problem. Though the majority's silence over the Camp David proposals is a mark of the low spiritual state to which the nation has sunk, he says, Jews have a tradition of rising to the occasion.
"This nation at least has one wonderful characteristic," he says. "When it feels that the knife is lying on its throat, then it awakes." (Jerusalem Post Aug 23)
As the Organization of the Islamic Conference's Jerusalem Committee meets today in Morocco, ostensibly to back Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's hard-line stance on the city, it's time for Israel to set the record straight in terms comprehensible to the international community. Israel needs to let the world know in no uncertain terms that the Jewish claim to Jerusalem is simply of a different quality than the Moslem or Christian one.
Unfortunately, Israel's bumbling public relations machine constantly drums up the mantra of Jerusalem as our "eternal and indivisible" capital. Instead, Israel needs to frame the debate more bluntly, with little concern for political correctness: Jerusalem is the heart and soul of Judaism, just as Mecca is the heart and soul of Islam.
Drawing this parallel would clarify the debate for the international community. Just as Moslems could never imagine sharing the birthplace and cornerstone of their faith, Israel hardly can be expected to share its Mecca with those for whom Jerusalem has played a decidedly secondary role in their political and religious history.
Such an argument would put the Arab-Israeli conflict back into its proper perspective: caused not by a colonialist Jewish attack on peace-loving natives, but by the selfishness of the enormous Arab world that has refused all compromise on even a tiny corner of its immense land mass. What's ours is ours, the Arab world has in effect been saying, and what's yours must be ours, as well.
This point was driven home during the protests that accompanied the Netanyahu government's March 1998 decision to press ahead with building on Har Homa. The international press dutifully trudged to the protest tent Palestinian notables had set up next to Har Homa, where they harangued their awestruck listeners about the centrality of Jerusalem to the Palestinian people and the Arab world. No sooner had they finished their speeches than they exited the tent for afternoon prayers, turning their backs on Jerusalem to bow toward Mecca. Few gestures could demonstrate more clearly why the claim of the Jews, whose hopes and prayers are focused exclusively on Jerusalem, trumps that of the Palestinians, and the one billion Moslems that Yasser Arafat purports to represent.
In fact, Arafat's argument contains the seed of its own rebuttal: It is precisely the Moslem world's enormousness that gives Arafat room to compromise. The Moslem world contains many cities of major spiritual and historic importance, centers of faith and empire that led to the flowering of Islamic civilization - Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad, and Istanbul, to name just a few. The Jews have Jerusalem, and only Jerusalem. No other city has ever served as the spiritual or political capital of the Jewish people. Israel is expected to make concessions in the peace process because, as the stronger party, it has more to give; by the same token, one billion Moslems can afford to compromise on Jerusalem much more than can five million Israeli Jews.
Of course, Israel has no desire to curtail the rights of Arabs here, and we need to make this crystal-clear to the international community. Arabs will continue to be able to live and love, raise families, build homes, move about, run businesses, and pray freely in Jerusalem - everything, in fact, except rule the city. This is obvious to anyone familiar with the openness and freedom that have reigned in united Jerusalem during the 33 years of Israeli rule, in sharp contrast to the previous 19 years of Jordanian control. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to reiterate the obvious in the face of Arafat's deceitful warnings of Jerusalem's "Judaization."
A further peril lies in Arafat's efforts to pose as the protector of the city's Christian holy sites. Some Christian denominations have already expressed their dismay at the possibility of coming under Arafat's patronage in the Holy City. The time has come for Israel to remind the world that the Christian interest in Jerusalem is at base a Jewish one, stemming from the actions and struggles of Jews here 2,000 years ago.
There is some room for compromise in the Israeli position, especially with regard to outlying Arab neighborhoods that have no historical or spiritual significance for the Jewish people. On the Temple Mount, however, Prime Minister Ehud Barak must resist all pressure to give up Israeli claims.
Israel's decision in 1967 to leave its holiest site in the hands of its enemies was an act of magnanimity unparalleled in the annals of conquest, but like all of Israel's goodwill gestures in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it earned us no goodwill.
If the Arab world insists on shared control of Jerusalem, it must be willing to concede shared control of the Temple Mount, and allow Jewish prayer and ritual alongside the Moslem ones. This would be the clearest sign that the Arab world has internalized the meaning and price of peace - if, indeed, it really has. (Jerusalem Post Aug 28)