JERUSALEM – A delegation of visiting congressmen claimed they were harassed and stalked by a group of Muslims Tuesday on the Temple Mount.
The offenders included men wearing shirts that bore the official logo of the Waqf, the Islamic custodians of the holy site, the congressmen said.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., co-chairman of the Israel Allies Foundation’s congressional caucus, told the Jerusalem Post the incident constitutes “an effort to completely suppress not only any expression of religious conviction, but any articulation of historical reality.”
Franks charged the harassment “shows the fundamental dynamics of the greater contention throughout the Middle East.”
Franks ascended the site with Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and his wife, Elizabeth Jenkins, as part of a tour arranged by the Israel Allies Foundation. The foundation is an umbrella organization supporting 33 parliamentary caucuses around the world to lobby for support of Israel based on Judeo-Christian values.
Rothfus recounted the small tour was followed by Muslim men from the start.
When an Israeli tour guide took out a map of Israel, a member of the Waqf peppered the guide with questions and demanded to inspect the map to see if it contained any reference to the Temple.
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A video captured the Waqf official, speaking in Hebrew, explaining no materials are allowed on the site that use the term “Temple Mount,” saying only “Dome of the Rock” is acceptable.
“We walked up there,” Rothfus told the Jerusalem Post, “and were almost immediately approached by several men who started shouting. We were tracked the entire time we were there and found these individuals surprisingly intolerant and belligerent.”
Muslim men repeatedly tried to grab material from the guide’s hand and interrupted the tour several times, the congressmen said.
Rep. Jenkins said that after the incident with the map, 15 to 20 Muslim men harassed the group with more shouting, prompting the police to step in to “exercise their authority and let us proceed comfortably.”
Muslims at the Temple Mount routinely harass non-Muslim tours in full view of the Jerusalem police stationed at the site.
Holiest Jewish site
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims now claim it is their third holiest site, although their stake changed several times throughout history.
The First Temple was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. Each temple stood for a period of about four centuries.
According to the Talmud, the world was created from the foundation stone of the Temple Mount. It’s believed to be the biblical Mount Moriah, where Abraham fulfilled God’s test of his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.
The Temple Mount has remained a focal point for Jewish services for thousands of years. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple have been uttered by Jews since the Second Temple was destroyed, according to Jewish tradition.
The al-Aqsa Mosque was constructed in about A.D. 709 to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph. Al-Aqsa was meant to mark what Muslims came to believe was the place at which Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven to receive revelations from Allah.
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible 656 times.
Islamic tradition states Muhammad took a journey in a single night on a horse from “a sacred mosque” – believed to be in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia – to “the farthest mosque.” From a rock there, according to the tradition, he ascended to heaven. The farthest mosque became associated with Jerusalem about 120 years ago.
According to research by Israeli author Shmuel Berkovits, Islam historically rejected Jerusalem as being holy. Berkovits points out in his book “How Dreadful Is This Place!” that Muhammad was said to loathe Jerusalem and what it stood for. He wrote Muhammad made a point of eliminating pagan sites of worship and sanctifying only one place – the Kaaba in Mecca – to signify there is only one deity.
As late as the 14th century, Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, whose writings influenced the Wahhabi movement in Arabia, ruled that sacred Islamic sites are to be found only in the Arabian Peninsula and that “in Jerusalem, there is not a place one calls sacred, and the same holds true for the tombs of Hebron.”
A guide to the Temple Mount by the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem published in 1925 listed it as Jewish and as the site of Solomon’s temple. The Temple Institute acquired a copy of the official 1925 “Guide Book to Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” which states on page 4: “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David ‘built there an altar unto the Lord.’”
The Temple Mount was opened to the public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their Intifada, or “uprising,” 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 Temple 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’s been open to non-Muslims only during certain hours and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf.
During “open” days, Jews and Christians are allowed to ascend the Temple Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which include 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 violation of their guidelines.