Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Ongoing Battle Over Jerusalem's Temple Mount

On the list of history's top ten colossally stupid failures of international diplomacy has to be the 2000 Camp David Summit between Palestinian leaders and Israel, brokered by then US president Bill Clinton. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the incredible concession to divide Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as long as Jews would still be allowed to continue visiting the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. PA leader Yasser Arafat had the ultimate victory over Israel in the palm of his hand. And he turned it down. Because, you see, the Palestinians' position is that Solomon's Temple, and the later Temple rebuilt by Herod, never existed. At least, they never existed on the Temple Mount.

The Crusaders who came to Jerusalem and found the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, both standing on the Temple Mount, assumed that what they were seeing was actually the King Solomon’s Palace and the Solomon’s Temple described in the Bible, and not more recent buildings constructed by the Muslims. Whether the Templars believed this or not, no one can say.
The place called Solomon’s Stables is actually below the upper level of the Mount itself, and is a large area made up of arched passageways that acted as sort of a supporting sub-basement for the area of the Temple above, probably constructed when King Herod rebuilt the Temple. The Mount itself is a wild combination of natural rock, monumental stonework and clever engineering, and the “stables” were part of an extensive attempt to make the top of the plateau level. During the period of the Crusades, they were actually used as stables, with room, it was said, for 2,000 horses, or 1,500 camels. Humps take up more space.

Today there is little visible evidence of the Templars’ presence on the Mount – and Muslims today deny that the Temple of Solomon was ever on the Mount to begin with. Such is the battle between politics and archeology. If they admit the Temple existed here before the arrival of Islam, then it would mean that Jews could claim “first dibs” on the Mount, yank down the mosques, rebuild the Temple and trigger Armageddon, as prophesized in Revelation 16. And, politically, whoever controls the top of the Mount has psychological and spiritual control over Jerusalem, regardless of what the U.N. may say. It’s sort of an ecclesiastical game of “king of the hill,” and they take it very seriously.

The Islamic authorities that have control of the Mount, called the Waqf, absolutely forbid any messing about in the foundation of the site, while engaging in a feverish building program themselves up top (Nuances aside, Waqf, in Arabic, literally means hold, confinement or prohibition). In 1996, Israeli archeologists opened a subterranean tunnel’s entrance, which erupted into riots by enraged Muslims. Eighty-five Palestinians and 16 Israelis were killed, and more than 1,200 Palestinians and 87 Israelis were wounded. The Palestinian press frequently reports that the Israelis are attempting to weaken the structure of the Mount, in order to cause the collapse of the mosques and the Dome of the Rock, and therefore, start a new war.

As for Solomon’s Stables, they were converted into a mosque in 1996, capable of holding 7,000 people. Hamfisted excavation was carried out hastily by the Waqf, and many critics say that much archeological material was destroyed by the Arabs, further obscuring evidence of the original Temple. Others day that the Waqf has done a credible job, only removing material that was in the area after the Crusader period.

The latest salvo in this rewriting of history happened this past week, as the Palestinians once again alleged that the Mount is not the previous location of Solomon's Temple. Or Herod's Temple. Or that it was ever even Jewish. Really.

It's sort of the archeological version of "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

From a Reuters article, Israel angered by Palestinian report on Western Wall:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinian leadership on Thursday to renounce an official Palestinian report asserting the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, is not Jewish.

Al-Mutawakil Taha, deputy information minister in the Palestinian Authority, published a five-page study on Wednesday disputing Jews' reverence of the shrine as a retaining wall of the compound of Biblical Jewish Temples destroyed centuries ago.

The wall is adjacent to a politically sensitive holy complex in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The area, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

"Denial of the connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information is baseless and scandalous," Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the prime minister's office.

"The Israeli government expects the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to renounce the document and condemn it, and to stop twisting historical facts," he said.

In the report, Taha wrote the Western wall is a "Muslim wall and an integral part of al-Aqsa mosque and Haram al-Sharif," a position echoing past statements by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Taha issued the document after Israel approved on Sunday a five-year renovation plan for the Western Wall area.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, where the Western Wall is located, after the 1967 conflict and claimed all of Jerusalem as its capital in a move that has not won international recognition.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they want to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

U.S.-brokered peace talks are supposed to address the issue of Jerusalem, but the negotiations were put on hold by the Palestinians shortly after they began in September when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial building freeze in West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu said the Palestinian position paper on the Western Wall "raises a very serious question" as to whether the Palestinian Authority truly intends to reach a peace agreement with Israel "based on co-existence and mutual recognition."

From Israel Today Magazine:

On Monday, the Palestinian Ministry of Information in Ramallah published a “study” claiming that the Western Wall is an integral part of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (the Islamic term for the Temple Mount).

According to the study, what the Jews call the Western Wall of the Temple compound originally built King Solomon and expanded by King Herod is a wholly Islamic site with no connection to the Jews whatsoever.

“This wall was never part of the so-called Temple Mount, but Muslim tolerance allowed the Jews to stand in front of it and weep over its destruction,” wrote the study’s author, Al-Mutawakel Taha. “During the British mandate in Palestine, the number of Jews who visited the wall increased to a point where the Muslims felt threatened.”

Taha ignored the mountains of archeological and written evidence that affirm ancient Jewish life and temple worship in Jerusalem, and insisted that the Jews have utterly failed to prove their connection to the holy site.

The study concludes that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Western Wall, signaling once again that peace between Israel and the current Palestinian leadership will be impossible without the Jews surrendering not only their land, but their faith and identity.

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