This week we have learned that Adam Everett Livvix, a 30-year-old from Texas, was arrested in Israel for allegedly plotting to attack the Dome of the Rock with explosives. Thanks to the collaboration between Israeli security agencies and the FBI, an incident of colossal implications was prevented.
The Palestinians, however, believe that danger to Haram al Sharif (Temple Mount) comes from Jews. According to a recent survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), 56 percent believe that Israel intends to destroy al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and replace them with a Jewish temple.
These fears stem from the recent rise in Jewish activities around the Holy Sites, including the growing calls to allow Jews to visit Temple Mount and pray there. I can fully sympathize with these calls.
A few weeks after the guns of the Six-Day War in 1967 fell silent, I joined my comrades from the Israeli Air Force in a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. For years, from the rooftop of Notre Dame Monastery we had been watching the Arab side of the city, which was under Jordanian control, as if we were peering at the other side of the moon. Now we roamed the alleys with excitement, until we came to a spot where we saw the site most sacred to Jews: Temple Mount.
You don’t necessarily have to be a religious Jew to get goose bumps when you see for the first time, from such close range, the place where the temples of your people once towered over this eternal city. “The greater the gloom and adversity of Jewish life,” wrote Abba Eban in his book Heritage, “the more intense became the recollection of ancestral pride.” No wonder that suddenly, out of that group of secular young officers, there erupted the call, which swept us all: Let’s go there!
To our dismay, the Army officer who escorted us said that then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had issued a strict order that prohibiting Jews from entering the Temple Mount. Dayan left the control of the holy site in the hands of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that has been controlling and managing the Islamic edifices there, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Many Israelis thought then, and still think so now, that Dayan made a grave mistake. If Israel liberated Jerusalem in 1967, they reasoned, and every Israeli leader has been vowing that the city will never be divided again, then Israel should have imposed its sovereignty on all parts of Jerusalem, including Temple Mount. By leaving the control in the hands of the Waqf there developed a bizarre situation where, in the Jewish state, Muslims were allowed to go and pray at their holiest site while Jews were denied that same privilege.
This was a bitter pill to swallow, especially when Jerusalem is the holiest place for Jews, while for Muslims it is ranked only third, after Mecca and Medina. While Jerusalem is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, and its archaeology clearly manifests its Jewish past, its sanctity to Muslims is based on an interpretation of one verse only in the Quran, describing Prophet Muhammad’s nocturnal journey presumably made from Mecca to Jerusalem on the back of his horse al-Buraq: “from the sacred mosque to the farthest mosque” (The Quran, Sura 17:1).
Nevertheless, the reality that Dayan had imposed on Temple Mount prevailed, and for almost five decades Muslims have been enjoying full religious freedom to pray at the “farthest mosque,” better known as al-Aqsa, while Jews settled for vowing “next year in Jerusalem,” without actually being able to exercise the right to climb up to Temple Mount.
In September 2000, Ariel Sharon, later to become prime minister, decided to break that tradition and paid a highly publicized visit to the site. The Second Intifada, also known as the “al-Aqsa Intifada,” which broke out immediately thereafter, caused the death of some 3,200 Palestinians and 800 Israelis.
Today, al-Aqsa Mosque is in the eye of the storm, threatening to spark bloodshed again. And as if the feud between Israelis and Palestinians wasn’t complicated enough, Jordan, which still maintains its title as the Protector of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, summoned its ambassador in Jerusalem temporarily, in light of the clashes on Temple Mount.
This is dangerous, because once a political conflict escalates — or deteriorates — into a holy war, there is no room for compromise. If that happens, then Israel will not be facing Palestinian stone throwers, but rather a billion angry Muslims.
Luckily for us, the leaders in this region have been showing responsibility. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew recently to Amman to discuss with King Abdullah ways to calm the situation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Amman at the same time, is expected to play his part as well. He should stop inciting against Israel and exert his influence on the Palestinian rioters in Jerusalem.
As for Israelis like myself, 47 years since my tour in the Old City, we can borrow the phrase from the cut-throat driving culture in Israel: “On the road, don’t be right; be smart.” We can defer the right to visit Temple Mount until better times, so that Jerusalem will remain what its name in Hebrew implies: Ir Shalom, a city of peace.
(Uri Dromi is executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club. He was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments of Israel, 1992-96.)