Monday, February 26, 2007

The Temple Mount

Buried beneath the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock lie the ruins of an earlier Mosque, beneath them a Byzantine Church, under which lie the ruins of the second and first Jewish Holy Temples. This spot being the holiest in the world to Jews, and both Christianity and Islam drawing their legitimacy from Judaism, the thirty six acre compound has sparked countless wars over the centuries. From the Islamic Conquest through the Crusades, all the way down to the “Al Aksa Intifada” of 2000 and the anti-Jewish riots throughout the Arab world last week, the question over who has authentic roots on this tiny 36 acres of land sends entire civilizations to war in every century.

Pilgrims Visiting the Temple

In 1967 the Temple Mount was conquered for the 38th time in recorded history, this time by Zionist Israel. Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defense, triumphantly marching through the city gates with army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, approached the Temple Mount. But these were New Jews, not to be confused with the old-fashioned religious ghetto-dwellers with their pious superstitions. Parading his magnamity and secularism before the world, Moshe Dayan returned control of the Temple Mount to Arab (Jordanian) sovereignty, which it remains to this day.

Dayan and Rabin in the Old City after 1967.

To this day, Jews pray at the Western Wall and listen to the violent screaming of Muslim clerics a few meters above. Last week, fabricating a story about Jewish attempts to destroy the Temple Mount, the Islamic authorities, the Wakf, swept the crowd into a murderous frenzy, and the Western Wall had to be temporarily closed.

The Temple in Ancient Times

The Temple Mount itself is considered such holy ground that, according to Judaism, only Jews in a state of high purity are allowed to ascend. Because the procedure of purification is not possible today, most Jewish rabbinic sages forbid Jews from walking on the Temple Mount. There are, however, some areas on the current Islamic-controlled Temple Mount which were not a part of the original Temple Mount, and some authorities, mostly of the more nationalist persuasion, permit Jews to walk in these specific areas. Jewish prayer itself is strictly forbidden by the Wakf, which leads to one of the most peculiar police forces in the world; the lip police. Every religious Jewish visitor is accompanied on the mount by a Wakf guard, who carefully watches his lips. If he begins to mumble prayers to himself, the guard signals and Wakf personnel pounce on the Jew, dragging him off to be turned over to the Israeli police force for arrest.

Because Arab world today has not yet achieved national consciousness as that idea is known in the West, every regime’s claim to legitimacy, and every call to arms, is based on religious rather than national arguments. Arab efforts to strengthen their claim to the Land of Israel, or “Palestine” as they have called it since 1968, have likewise focused not on liberal democracy or humanism but on waging a religious war for the Temple Mount.
Late in the previous decade, when the Muslim authorities, or Wakf, decided to build a fifth mosque on the Temple Mount, Israel, wary of violence, eager to again prove itself a secular country, raised no objections. Typically new construction in archaeologically sensitive areas triggers an immediate rescue excavation by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. But this was the Temple Mount, and things are different there. Wakf authorities blocked excavations and threatened violence. The Israeli government backed down, and the Wakf began cutting eleven meters into the ground not with brushes and toothpicks but bulldozers.

Wakf digging on the Temple Mount

Bulldozers trashing archaeological sites.

Protests notwithstanding, the Wakf destroyed thousands of years worth of priceless artifacts, part of the ongoing mission of the Palestinian Authority to destroy archaeological evidence of past Jewish life in the Holy Land.

Several priceless artifacts, many with informative inscriptions, were smashed, their only record the candid photographs taken of them. Others are today floating through the antiquities black market.

But, if every cloud has a silver lining, this has one too. While most of the material excavated was disposed of in garbage dumps and hidden locations in the middle of the night, some was dumped on Mount Scopus. Today, Elad is overseeing a salvage operation to try to rescue what can be saved from the ruins.

Stay tuned for the artifact rescue operation…

No comments: