THE HEART AND SOUL OF THE CONFLICT
by Dr. Richard L. Benkin
While unfair media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to be a topic of debate, Israel’s friends have failed to score the mainstream media for ignoring the total absence of any significant coverage about the events going on at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
“Let me tell you something we Israelis have against Moses,” said Golda Meir once. “He took us forty years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.”
The former Prime Minister’s point is well taken. Why is the world so focused on that tiny scrap of land—or as Ms. Meir might have called it, that schmata of land? Certainly, the old trade routes that prompted ancient Israel’s existence no longer hold the answer to that question. It is surrounded by countries with seemingly endless reserves of oil and natural gas, while Israel has none. More than half its territory—the entire south of the country—is little more than desert. Israel’s beaches, ancient ruins, and culture recommend the place, but not in a way that obscures wonders elsewhere around the globe. So, why does this uncommonly common and tiny piece of real estate occupy the world’s attention? Why does the UN pass a never-ending series of resolutions about it while ignoring greater issues, as well as atrocities, elsewhere?
The answer is relatively simple. What is the one thing that this land has which is possessed by no other; the one attribute of this special piece of real estate that makes like nowhere else on earth? It is this: that for those who believe, as well as those who want to believe, this is the land that has been fashioned by God. There can be no doubt that the heart and soul of the Middle East conflict lies in the religious significance that the land holds for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And there can be no doubt that the heart and soul of that significance is centered in Jerusalem. Without the religious overlay, we likely would see the nations of the world concentrate their efforts elsewhere. And so it is at that Jerusalem’s Temple Mount becomes a metaphor for the entire conflict, and what is happening there allows us to see the battle for this land in the true light that animates it. That is, the conflict transcends any simplistic land for peace formulae or negotiated giveaway of any or all of the territories regained in 1967. In short, Israel’s enemies want any remnant of Jewish hegemony out of the Middle East, period.
While most people tend to follow reports of military exploits, terrorist acts, and political posturing about this conflict, they have missed a tremendous amount of activity on and about the Temple Mount: the spot where tradition places Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Jesus’ preaching, and the ascent of Mohammed into heaven. It has even been said to be the location where God began creating the world. Beyond tradition, extensive archeological and other evidence locates both ancient Jewish Temples on that same spot.
Yet, despite the Mount of evidence for the Jewish claims, and the lateness and ambiguity of the Moslem contention, we are witnessing here a new antisemitism—one perhaps even more evil and insidious than the direct attacks on our persons. For at least the past decade, it has been official Arab policy—that’s right, Arab, not Hamas, or Palestinian, or Iraqi—to deny any historical Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. At first glance, the notion sounds absurd; and it is absurd. So, what makes this more than just one more piece of Arab propaganda designed to undermine the Jewish people’s claim to the land of Israel? Over the past couple years, the Waqf (Moslem trust with authority over the Mount) has engaged in extensive and unsupervised “renovation” of the Temple Mount, destroying forever countless Jewish artifacts dating from as far back as the First Temple. The artifacts have been removed from the Temple Mount and unceremoniously dumped—often mixed with present-day garbage—in various spots around Jerusalem, most notably the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem’s eastern wall and the Mount of Olives.
Many consider Israel’s liberation of Jerusalem and Judaism’s holiest sites from Arab occupation the crowning achievement of the 1967 Six-Day War. Few of them know, however, that even before the war’s end, Moshe Dayan sat with the Waqf on the Al Aqsa prayer carpets and ceded control of the Mount to that body. Secularist Israeli leaders, like Dayan, saw the Mount as merely an “historical curiosity” for Jews. On the other hand, they recognized that it had religious significance for Moslems. Certainly, it is to our everlasting credit as a tolerant people that Israel did this. Could you even in your wildest musings imagine any Arab country paying the same homage to Jewish religious sensitivities?
Since Dayan’s abdication of the Temple Mount, successive Israeli governments have maintained a policy of non-interference with Waqf actions, while banning Jewish and Christian prayer there. At the same time, deliberate Arab efforts to destroy any vestige of a Jewish presence on the Mount (the very spot where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved Isaac, where Solomon built his Temple to G-d, and where the Ark of the Covenant rested) have proceeded almost unchecked. Far fetched? Alarmist? Hardly. In fact, this attempt to de-legitimize Judaism is nothing new.
After the Arabs drove the Jewish residents out of Jerusalem’s Old City in 1948, they embarked on a deliberate effort to remove all vestiges of the Jewish presence there. A couple years ago, I stood atop Mt. Nebo, located in the “moderate” Arab state of Jordan. Having noted the many Christian and Moslem elements there, I asked my Jordanian guide why this spot, where Moses watched the Israelites cross into Canaan before he died, had not a single sign of a Jewish presence. He replied casually, “Well, there are no Jews in Jordan.” Glimpse the future of Jewish holy sites under PA control!
If the current actions are left unchecked, the Temple Mount might fare likewise. It happened then, and it’s happening now.
In recent years, the Waqf built a new mosque under the southeast corner of the Temple Mount, in the area known as “Solomon’s Stables.” They also cut additional exits through the Temple Mount walls. While doing so, they blocked any archeological supervision of their work, and the Israeli government did nothing about it. The Moslem trust violated all accepted standards for working on an ancient site, including the use heavy equipment that exceeded their limited construction mandate. Without any oversight, they ripped physical evidence of the Temple from the Mount and secreted it in dumps around Jerusalem. The Arabs, of course, claim that it’s all a hoax and a Jewish conspiracy. In their media and from their pulpits, they say that the Jews have fabricated the entire controversy, dumping the historical treasures themselves and blaming the Waqf to undermine the Moslems’ claim to the Mount. In Orwellian fashion, official Arab and Moslem media throughout the Middle East accuse the Israelis of plotting to destroy the “Moslem” Mount. One Iranian piece quotes the Jerusalem mufti of accusing those who have protested Waqf actions as creating “a big hue and cry to justify [Israel’s] interference in [Moslem] affairs.” And he emphasized that the Mount is a sacred place “only for the Muslims, around the globe.”
But their real intentions are transparent. Recently, Waqf agents began cleaning one of the giant cisterns under the Mount. This complex of cisterns served as reservoirs for the First and Second Temples, and in fact, for the entire population of ancient Jerusalem in times of peace and of siege. Why is this significant? It turns out that this is part of an effort by Moslem religious leaders to fill the cisterns with water from Mecca’s Zamzam Spring. This would make our Temple Mount a site for Moslem pilgrims with weight equal to the Great Mosque in Mecca, Islamicize the Mount, and buttress Arab pretexts for denying all Israeli claims to the Old City of Jerusalem.
The destruction continues. The UN, of course, is silent. UNESCO, the UN body that is supposed to oversee such things, has ignored its mandate on this issue. It instead issues anti-Israeli diatribes and has expelled Israel from its ranks. That also leaves another immediate danger. Recent surveys indicate that due to the Moslem construction, the southern wall of the Temple Mount is near collapse. Although Jordanian engineers have finally prevailed upon the Waqf to allow them to effect some repairs, few authorities believe their efforts will correct the extensive damage to the Temple Mount. The potential for a collapse remains. When those walls fall, they could trap and kill thousands of Moslem worshippers in Solomon’s Stables. We know that their leaders see Jewish plots behind every corner in the Middle East. They have long claimed that one exists with regard to the Temple Mount, so that such a disaster easily could spark a holy war of Moslems against Jews. The events still unfolding at the site of our Temples threaten both our history and our future.
The Temple Mount controversy too often has been dismissed by couching it in left-right terms, and calling it an obstacle to peace. But if it is such an obstacle, it obstructs a false peace, one that would mortgage our future and our heritage for temporary gain. It is not in spite of the world’s willingness to let it happen, but because of it, that we must fight this Arab attempt to re-write the Jews out of history.