“In our hands” could not be farther from reality when visiting the Temple Mount this week. I’ve been there a number of times in the past, but when I went on Wednesday – during a short one-hour window when it was open to Jews – it was eerily different than my previous visits.
For one, the Mount was empty. There were some tourists – one Chinese group, and another from Europe – but almost no Muslims were there. One who was there, wearing a gray jalabiya and holding an umbrella to shield himself from the sun, whizzed by on an electric wheelchair. Another Arab man, a representative of the Wakf identifiable by the walkie-talkie he held in each hand, eyed Jewish visitors suspiciously, but didn’t follow.
He couldn’t – there were too many police officers. Four walked in front, four in the back and three on each side. Two carried cameras, filming the entire visit in case they would need to arrest and charge one of the visitors for violating the long list of rules posted at the entrance. There, Jews and foreigners alike go through metal detectors and have their bags and identity cards inspected before being allowed to ascend the Mount.
One tourist, for example, had come to the Temple Mount after doing some shopping at the nearby Arab shuk. The guard found a wooden cross and a rosary in her bag. Those had to be left in a locker, since religious paraphernalia – at least those that are not Islamic – are not allowed on the compound.
The identity of the Jewish visitors is also carefully scrutinized. Identity cards are collected, names are punched into a computer, and if something suspicious comes up, the visitor is taken aside for further questioning.
While foreigners can visit the compound alone, Jewish visitors are gathered into groups that are escorted at all times by armed policemen. Observant or not makes no difference – all Jews are forced to stay together.
For the police, there is something strange when a random Israeli decides to visit the holy site. Observant Jews are expected. Tourists are expected. But a random non-observant Israeli? That is already something strange.
Police immediately get suspicious. Either the person is a journalist or a nut. “Don’t you know where you are?” was how one police officer greeted me (I was wearing a baseball cap) on Wednesday before I told him that I was a reporter.
So while the Temple Mount is the holiest site for Jews and one of the holiest sites for Muslims, it is also the scene of one of the greatest charades of the last 50 years.
Israel might officially rule the territory that encompasses the Temple Mount, but it does not have it in its hands – that only Jewish and foreign visitors were required until this week to go through metal detectors while Muslim visitors did not, is just one example.
Another is that the Temple Mount is the primary site today in Israel where religious discrimination takes place on a daily basis.
This might be necessary due to diplomatic and religious sensitivities, but the truth needs to be said: 50 years after liberating its holiest site, Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount has declined.
The charade is amplified by the Muslim campaign to erase any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. Dennis Ross, the former Middle East envoy under president Bill Clinton, told of Yasser Arafat’s position on the Temple Mount during the 2000 Camp David talks.
“The only new idea he raised at Camp David was that the temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem, it existed in Nablus,” Ross told Fox News a year after the peace negotiations broke down. “He was denying the core of the Jewish faith.”
That denial continues today. The attack last Friday when three Israeli Arabs from Umm el-Fahm killed two policemen underscores the need for all visitors to the compound to undergo security inspection.
CCTV footage of the attack, released by police, shows how the terrorists sneaked up on the policemen from within the compound.
They had already entered with weapons, and then came out and attacked the policemen who were looking in the opposite direction toward people coming in.
Gideon Ezra, the late Likud minister and deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), used to tell me that violence on the Temple Mount has the potential to spark a third world war. That is what the terrorists seemed to be trying to achieve.
In the immediate aftermath, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acted responsibly when he put in phone calls to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah. The voices of both those leaders needed to be heard condemning the attack in an effort to prevent further violence.
The installation of the metal detectors – which Israel on Thursday was under international pressure to remove – was justified.
They are needed to ensure that arms will not again be smuggled onto the Mount, and to show that all people are equal. Jews, Christians and Muslims: everybody goes through a metal detector.
Why? The answer is unfortunately simple and is part of the Temple Mount charade.
The Wakf knows about last Friday’s attack, and understands why metal detectors are needed. Privately, they even admit to police that they know it is in their own interest.
At the same time, the Wakf needs a cause to rally its troops around. It needs to be able to delegitimize Israel, and there is nothing better to set the Arab world on fire than false claims that the Jewish state is altering the status quo on the Temple Mount. It is a charade, and everyone knows it is, but it works every time.
Israel is in a perilous situation, caught between doing what is right and what is smart. What is right is allowing religious freedom on the Temple Mount, and permitting Jews to pray at their holiest site. But then there is what is smart, which in this case means maintaining the status quo and not giving justification for further violence.
Israelis remember violence the Temple Mount has set off in the past. In 1996, the opening of a new exit to the Via Dolorosa from the Western Wall Tunnel led to deadly riots; and in September 2000, Ariel Sharon went to the Temple Mount, a visit the Palestinian Authority later used as an excuse for launching the Second Intifada.
Will this situation ever change? Probably not. But it is time to unmask the Palestinians’ grand charade that perpetuates lies, historical rewrites and hatred for Israel, starting by doing what I did on Wednesday: walking through a metal detector.