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Jews are once again visiting the holiest site in Judaism.
Israeli police have begun to allow non-Muslims, under police escort, to enter the Temple Mount grounds in the Old City of Jerusalem, despite threats of violence by Muslim leaders.
About two weeks ago, Interior Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi announced Jews would soon be allowed on the Temple Mount, “even if
no agreement is reached with the Waqf.” The Waqf is the Muslim Religious Trust, a group of Islamic clerics appointed to administer the site by the Palestinian Authority’s Yasser Arafat.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly expressed skepticism about the plan to renew Temple visitations by non-Muslims. In the fall of 2001, Sharon visited the site, an event some cite as the catalyst for the outbreak of the intifada, or uprising. The Temple Mount was subsequently closed to Jews and Christians.
According to Haaretz, police officers didn’t wait for an agreement to be worked out with the Waqf. Instead, officers stationed at the Western Wall began, in the last few days, to escort groups of tourists on visits to the grounds of the mosques at the site. The commander of the police station at the Western Wall, Officer Yossi Ben Haim, even approached tourists in the Old City and lobbied them to join the organized visit to the sensitive site, according to the Israeli newspaper.
Although preparations for visits by non-Muslims to the Temple Mount were being made for several days, Waqf Director Adnan Husseini heard for the first time only yesterday that Israeli police were actually bringing in visitors to what has been described as the most explosive piece of real estate in the world. Husseini called the decision a grave violation of trust by Israel.
The Temple Mount is the area that served as the foundation for the First and Second Temples. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The temples were the centers of Jewish worship in ancient Israel. Tradition places Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac on this hill. For Christians, this is where Jesus walked and preached.
Oddly, since recapturing the Temple Mount in the 1967 Six-Day War, the secular government of Israel has granted administrative authority over the holy site to a group of the Waqf. Jews and non-Jews who attempt to visit the site are frequently harassed, even attacked.
The reaction to the Israeli announcement has been predictably strong.
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior political adviser to Arafat, said: “This could be the trigger for the third intifada. How else can we interpret the stupidity of Israel’s police minister …?”
The Palestinian Authority mufti in Jerusalem, Ikrimah Sabri, warned a “bloodbath” would result from such an action.
Even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned of “grave” results if Jews were simply allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.
But Israelis have far more to worry about with regard to the Temple Mount than the simple matter of visitations.
For decades, Muslims have contended, despite the historical and archaeological evidence, that there is no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. They contend the Temple never existed on this site or anywhere else in what they call “Palestine.”
When the Temple Mount was under Arab control, Jews were not even permitted to pray outside the Western Wall. But since the Israelis took over the Temple Mount, they have permitted the Muslims to administer the holiest site in Judaism.
During this period, the Waqf has presided over a little known, but nevertheless extensive, “renovation” program at the Temple Mount. A new mosque has been built under the southeast corner. Additional exits have been cut through the Temple Mount walls. All supervision of this extraordinary, unprecedented effort has been denied. The Muslims have ripped physical evidence of the Temple from the Mount and mixed it with debris and garbage in various dumps around Jerusalem, most notably the Kidron Valley.
Recently, Waqf agents began cleaning one of the giant cisterns under the Temple Mount. These cisterns served as reservoirs for both the First and Second Temples. The plan is to fill these cisterns with water from Mecca’s Zamzam Spring – instantly turning the Temple Mount into a genuine holy site for Muslim pilgrims with weight equal to the Great Mosque of Mecca.
This would be the ultimate Islamicization of the Temple Mount.
Meanwhile, recent surveys show the Muslim construction projects have left the southern wall of the Temple Mount near collapse.
Observers have dreaded what might happen if the southern wall actually did fail. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim worshippers might be killed. If such a calamity occurred, it would most assuredly, in the current environment, be blamed not on the construction, but on Israel, they fear.
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