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Judaism considers it the holiest place on earth. Muslims say it’s the third holiest. Christianity reveres the spot as being of great historic importance. But if someone prays there, if he or she is not Muslim, the worshiper will be immediately arrested. Welcome to the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is the large area directly behind the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It is the site of Judaism’s first and second Temples, the primary area of worship for the Jewish faith and the location in which Gods “shekhina,” or presence, is thought by Jews to reside. The area is about the size of 15 football stadiums.
King Solomon built the First Temple at the Mount almost 3,000 years ago, but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and 70 years later rebuilt by the Israelites returning from exile. It was later refashioned by King Herod at the same site.
Although is not mentioned by name in the Quran, the Temple Mount is also commonly identified by Muslims as the “furthermost sanctuary,” the site from which the Prophet Muhammad, accompanied by the Angel Gabriel, made the Night Journey to the Throne of God.
In addition, Christianity considers the area historically important. The book of Luke records that Jesus, raised a devout Jew, was dedicated in the Second Temple in accordance with the Laws of Moses, and describes Jesus’ boyhood visit to the Temple, which, it is written in John, he cleansed at Passover and during the last week of his life. Jesus once referred to the Temple as His “Father’s house.”
Sign at Mount entrance forbidding holy items (Photo: WorldNetDaily).
The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the area.
Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. It is still open but only Sundays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Wafq, the Muslim custodians of the Temple Mount.
During “open” days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the Temple Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Wafq permission.
Rules are enforced by Wafq agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.
WorldNetDaily was given a tour of the Temple Mount Tuesday along with several Christian archeologists. The small group was warned in advance not to bring Bibles and once on the Mount, not to whisper or make bowing movements for fear the Wafq might think a non-Muslim is praying in the area.
The tour guide, Nachman Kupietsky, an Orthodox Jew who covers his head with a baseball cap while in the area and not his usual yarmulke, for fear of being arrested, said, “These rules are very serious. They were made by the Waqf and agreed to by the Sharon government, which is not very religious and just doesn’t want any more clashes on the Temple Mount.”
Kupietsky told WND of instances in the past few months in which members of his tour group were arrested for breaking various rules.
He said a Jewish woman was detained last summer for putting her head down while sitting on a bench:
“It was a hot day and she just wanted to rest for a few minutes. The Wafq started screaming and the police arrested her. She told me she was held for six hours and had to sign documents stating she would never again return to the Temple Mount.
“You also can’t bring anything with Hebrew letters, even secular Hebrew books. The Wafq confiscated many of my tour books. One time I brought a guy who pulled out the Hebrew edition of the [Jerusalem] Post, and they took that from him.”
Kupietsky said Orthodox guests who decide to wear yarmulkes are routinely delayed by Israeli police at the entrance to the Temple Mount for up to 30 minutes while they are interrogated about the purpose of their visit.
Area atop Western Wall used by Palestinians to throw rocks at worshipers below (Photo: WorldNetDaily).
Kupietsky began the tour by showing the area directly behind the Western Wall, the section used by Palestinians in 2000 to start their intifada against Israel. The expanse is protected by large pillars and arches, which indicates the Palestinians at the start of the violence threw rocks over the area unable to see their targets below.
Visitors were then brought to the steps of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Christians on the tour tried to enter the mosque, but rejoined the group minutes later saying a Palestinian in worship garb slammed the doors and told them to go away.
Kupietsky took out a picture book to show the disappointed Christians images of the interior sections of the mosque, but a Palestinian cleric who had been watching the tour demanded Israeli police confiscate the book, assuming it contained prayers. A scuffle ensued between the police, the cleric and Kupietsky, but it was finally determined the book contained no Hebrew lettering.
The group was brought further to Solomon’s Stables. The Wafq recently excavated the area, and sections were made into a large, new mosque. The excavation and accompanying construction caused major damage to the eastern and southern sections of the Western Wall, which many experts say are now unstable and in need of repair.
Jewish and Christian archeologists charge the Wafq during the excavation disposed truckloads of dirt containing Jewish artifacts from the Temple period. After the media reported this, Israeli authorities froze the construction permit given to the Wafq. The remainder of the dirt now sits in a small garden outside the Al Aqsa Mosque.
The Temple Mount area is very well-maintained and the grounds expertly landscaped, with the exception of the garden housing the dirt that may contain Jewish artifacts – that area is littered with garbage.
Dirt with possible Jewish artifacts, covered in garbage (Photo: WorldNetDaily).
Next the tour was brought to the Dome of the Chain, a stone building with a large gray dome, and an area to the north now occupied by Muslim schools that was once thought to house the Sanhedrin, a group of 70 Jewish lawmakers that composed the highest court of the post-Temple Jewish nation.
Visitors were finally taken to a second entrance area to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and were brought through a Muslim quarter back to the Western Wall, where all prayer is legal.
The restrictions surrounding travel to the Temple Mount have many in Israel’s religious and nationalistic camps upset.
Likud minister and leader of Israel’s Manhigut Yehudit Party Moshe Feiglin told WorldNetDaily: “We gave away our sovereignty to the holiest place of the Jewish people. I can pray in Manhattan, Damascus, Cairo, but I cannot pray in my holiest place because of an Israeli decision. … I think it’s a disgrace that represents more than anything the deepest conflict that Israel deals with – not peace, not security or the Palestinians. It’s the conflict between the Jews and themselves over what is going to be their national identity for the coming generations. This identity is represented more than anything else by the Temple Mount.”
Yehuda Etzion, head of the Eternally Alive movement for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, told reporters, “The worst thing is that there is coordination between the Waqf and the Israeli government.”
The decision in 2003 to re-open the Temple Mount, even under heavy restrictions, fueled a wave of anti-Israeli incitement in the Palestinian press and a campaign by the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat to have the area closed. Arafat at the time sent letters to Arab leaders threatening “grave consequences” for the “invasion of extremists disguised as tourists, under the auspices of the Israeli police.”
Abu Mazen, now Palestinian president, called the tours “provocative” and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the Christian and Jewish visits were “an insult to Muslims everywhere.”
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