It's time to seize opportunities at the Temple Mount
Op-ed: Friday’s terror attack should have served as an opportunity to change the chaos at the site and put things in order. Israel could have enlisted the international community, the US and Jordan for a direct debate on the operation of the world’s most important religious and archaeological site.
Jerusalem is built on decision makers and on seizing opportunities. They were all created and made by humans, from King David to Moshe Dayan. God had no part in what happened, even if people hasometimes spoke on his behalf.
The best example is the Western Wall plaza, where people pray today. The Western Wall, with its ceremonies and quarrels, only exists thanks to the occupation and the necessary expulsion of Arabs. Fifteen contractors and bulldozers razed the Mughrabi neighborhood 50 years ago in an instant, as soon as the Six-Day War ended. The idea was raised by Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, and the Israeli government gave the approval. Since then, there is a Western Wall.
Had this decision not be made, the 650 residents of that poor neighborhood would have turned into thousands, the thousands would have turned into tens of thousands, and the Western Wall would have turned into another Arab neighborhood with a holy site Israelis are afraid to enter and the government avoids investing in.
A similar, yet opposite, decision was made about the Temple Mount—the “Jewish Vatican” that Moshe Dayan didn’t want. For a short period of time, the Temple Mount was in our hands, before being handed over to the Muslim Waqf at the Israeli government’s order. Israel evacuated the Mughrabi neighborhood’s residents and brought in the Waqf people. it divided the heritage and the sanctity, and the gap between the ideal and reality has been growing ever since.
The right thing for the Temple Mount would be a preservation of the site by the Israeli government. Focusing on antiquities and archaeology, turning the place into an international visitors’ center, offering freedom of ritual for members of the different religions, a small museum, a kiosk for tourists, modernization and maximum security, as befitting a site that draws curious and crazy people—the basic rules for holy sites with an archaeological interest around the world, from Peru to Italy.
The reality, though, is completely different: the government has no control over what goes on there. A foreign organization is responsible for the site’s operation on behalf of the Jordanian government. The archeology on site continues to be damaged, once every so many years. There are no alluring tour guides and no brochures for tourists, the freedom of ritual is only for Muslims, and security depends on the feeling of rage on the Arab street. Due to the lack of control, the site closes and opens according to what happens with the Palestinians.
The right thing for the Temple Mount has not been implemented in the past 50 years and isn’t going to be implemented, either. There has never been a government that spoke so much about sovereignty and strength. There has never been a government with so many ministers who have sworn allegiance to the Temple Mount, drawing on dresses and making promises.
In theory, the right thing to do would have been to seize opportunities. An attack committed by Muslims at the Temple Mount as an opportunity to change the governmental chaos at the site. To put things in order. To stop treating that important place as if we were a third-world country. It’s such a right thing to do, that everyone in the Right tweeted it and said it out loud.
In reality, this won’t happen. Why? Because the government doesn’t want to do it. The Temple Mount is referred to as “a powder keg,” and no one wants to deal with it. Whether it’s a right-wing government or a left-wing government, everyone is doing the same thing, wanting to get home safely.
Metal detectors on the mountain are not a change but a necessary security measure. The war on the Islamic Movement’s northern branch and on its inciters, or on Palestinian organizations operating on the mountain, is not a change either, but a necessity to reduce risks. So is the firm hand against the rioters on the mountain. Today and always. The powder keg remains a powder keg until the explosive is removed from it—the Israeli lack of control over what goes on there.
Friday’s terror attack is painful and distressing, but it should have also served as an opportunity for a new debate—an international one. Israel could have enlisted the international community, the Americans and the Jordanians for a direct discussion of the Temple Mount. The first Temple Mount convention. The goal would have been to create an international standard for the operation of the world’s most important religious and archaeological site. What the French, the Americans and the Saudis are allowing themselves to do would be adopted by the Israelis and the Jordanians’ emissaries (who were created by us at the site).
Renovations that have been required for years and are not being done for fear of riots, law enforcement against destroyers of archaeology, freedom of ritual and security checks—in a theoretical word, we don’t need anyone’s approval to make a decision on all of this. We are the sovereign power. In the real world, we decide nothing. We toss the words “status quo” into the air and keep our heads down until the next chaos. And it will arrive, unless we seize the opportunity.