Temple Mount in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – The Israeli government is currently banning all non-Muslims from ascending the Temple Mount, considered the holiest site in Judaism.
"It seems freedom of religion in Israel is only for Muslims and not for Christians and Jews," Danny Danon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, told WND, referring to the new restrictions.
Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby confirmed to WND that Jews and Christians are restricted from entering the Temple Mount due to safety concerns over the main access gate for non-Muslims, known as the Mughrabi Bridge.
Yesterday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat officially ordered the bridge to be indefinitely closed due to petitions from the city's Antiquities Authority citing fears the weakened wooden structure may collapse or catch fire.
There are 15 gates leading into the Temple Mount compound, 10 of which are in use, but for Muslims only.
The Mughrabi Gate, located at the Western Wall plaza, is the only access for non-Muslims to enter the site, meaning its closure now prevents Jews, Christians and any tourists from visiting until a replacement structure is built.
Ben Ruby said there are no immediate plans for any of the 10 entrances to the Mount to be opened for non-Muslims, citing security concerns.
A replacement bridge could take several months to build. Arab countries are already warning any construction in the sensitive area could lead to violence, claiming the Jewish state is using the bridge renovation to threaten the al-Aqsa Mosque, located on the mount.
"This is a serious step that shows the Zionist scheme of aggression again the Al Aqsa mosque," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told Agence France-Presse.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the Israeli government received warning messages over the bridge reconstruction from the Egyptian and Jordanian governments.
"The Muslim Brotherhood is exerting pressure on them," he said of Egypt.
Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, similarly weighed in, telling the Arabic-language Al-Rai network, "Jordan rejects any Israeli attempt to influence the holy sites in Jerusalem and the character and heritage of the city."
The Mughrabi Bridge is in serious need of repair. It was scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a sturdier structure, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Jerusalem municipality two weeks ago to postpone the demolition due to the sensitivity of the issue and warnings from Egypt and Jordan.
Danon, from Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, told WND he spoke with the prime minister yesterday about finding a solution to accommodate Jewish and Christian visits.
"I believe we will see in the near future non-Muslims will be allowed to go back on the Temple Mount," he said.
Meanwhile, nationalist politicians and Temple Mount activist groups here are strongly protesting the new restrictions.
Knesset Member Uri Ariel said, "The closing of the Mughrabi Bridge cannot be an excuse for why Jews going to the Temple Mount will be delayed for even one minute.
"However, there is a vital need to build a replacement bridge," he added.
Yehuda Glick, chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, told WND of the new restrictions: "The Israeli government doesn't know how to assert its own independence. When it comes to the Temple Mount, they are afraid of their own shadow."
Rabbi Chaim Richman, the international director of the Temple Institute, told WND, "This is another indication of the political, moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the Israeli government. The issue is not simply a bridge. It's about what direction we are going in as a people. Do we care about our heritage?"
Richman also blasted the international news media for "only reporting about the Hamas threats over the bridge. The big story is the barring of the non-Muslims by a Jewish government."
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, the location where Abraham fulfilled God's test to see if he would be willing 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" and from a rock there ascended to heaven. The farthest mosque became associated with Jerusalem about 120 years ago.
According to research by Israeli author Shmuel Berkovits, Islam historically disregarded 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 the unity of God.
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 the Mount 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.'"
No prayer zone
The Temple Mount was opened to the general 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 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. Until the closure this week, the Mount was open to non-Muslims 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 Mount's Islamic custodians.
During "open" days, Jews and Christians 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.