JERUSALEM — A grass-roots Jewish organization plans to bring 10,000 Jews to the heavily restricted Temple Mount to spark Israeli dialogue about reclaiming the holy site from its Muslim custodians.
“The Temple Mount is the single holiest place in the world for Jews. It’s about time the Israeli government restores it to the Jewish people, where it belongs,” David Ha’ivri, chairman of Revava, the group orchestrating the gathering, told WND.
The visit, scheduled for April 10, would be the largest Jewish presence at the Temple Mount since the ancient Temple period, said Ha’ivri.
The Mount is the 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.
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.”
Although not mentioned by name in the Quran, the Temple Mount also is commonly identified by Muslims as the “furthermost sanctuary,” the site from which Muhammad, accompanied by the angel Gabriel, made the Night Journey to the Throne of God.
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 Waqf, the Muslim custodians of the Temple Mount.
During “open” days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the 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 Waqf permission. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.
“The current situation is just miserable,” said Ha’ivri, whose group’s stated mission is to “restore self-esteem to the state of Israel by restoring national pride and values.”
“The Temple Mount is the only holy place in the world, aside from Mecca, where Jews are explicitly forbidden to pray … and here the restrictions are coming from a Jewish government.”
Ha’ivri says the Sharon administration “is entirely secular. They don’t have any regard for religious values. … Our trip to the Mount will change the talk and drive home to the government that they need to reopen the area and allow Jews to pray there. … Hopefully the trip will spark more Jews to come on a daily basis.”
Yisrel Meir Cohen, Revava executive director, said the group is working with the Israeli police, who control access to the Temple Mount, to keep the site accessible to Jews for longer hours on the day of the gathering, and open an additional gate to the area to accommodate the expected large rally attendance. Currently, Jews and Christians are allowed only into the Temple Mount through a small gate adjacent to the Western Wall.
Cohen said he doesn’t anticipate any violence at his gathering. “We are very aware of the sensitivities of the Temple Mount. This protest is completely peaceful.”
Shmulik Benruby, a spokesman for Jerusalem police, told WND, “We are still looking into the details of the event. We haven’t made any decisions yet.”
Several rabbinic authorities have issued orders barring Jews from entering certain parts of the Temple Mount, saying the areas are considered too holy to visit until the third Temple is rebuilt upon the arrival of the Jewish messiah. Some have restricted the entire Mount area.
Ha’ivri stressed his visit will be “spiritually pure. We will not be going to the specific areas that most agree are religiously forbidden. We are also telling all participants they have to go to a mikveh (Jewish ritual cleansing bath) the morning of our gathering.”
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.
Rabbi Yosef Elbaum, a rabbinic consultant to Revava, said “The Israeli government should immediately return the Temple Mount to the way it was. Jews must be allowed to go there and pray.”