Israel’s politicians promote religion and intolerance.
“I am not so concerned about security and more concerned about what happens in Israel. This issue divides us. It creates hate and chauvinism. I don’t want Israel to become hell.”
— Israel Harel, a veteran of the Israeli settler movement
THE SIGN AT the entrance is clear: “According to Torah Law entering the Temple Mount area is strictly forbidden due to the holiness of the site.” Rabbinical tradition holds that Jews may not set foot on any part of the esplanade atop Jerusalem’s holiest site. Once the location of the Jewish temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, the area has for centuries been a Muslim compound comprising the al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. Because the location of the Holy of Holies (the inner sanctum of the former temple) is unknown, say the rabbis, ritually impure Jews might accidentally enter and defile it. These days Jews mostly pray outside, at the base of the retaining wall, known as the Western Wall, or Kotel.
Nonetheless, Jewish zealots venture into the al-Aqsa compound almost every day, ostensibly as tourists. The police let them jump the queue of foreigners and form a protective cordon as they perambulate the Dome of the Rock, amid curses from Muslim worshippers. Sometimes they stand silently, gazing at it longingly. They are filmed by the police, who are supposed to ensure that they do not attempt to pray. One trick is to address God while pretending to speak on a mobile phone.
The activists maintain that their holiest place is not down below and outside, at the Western Wall, but above and within the great enclosure (see picture). They demand the right to pray there after centuries of exclusion. “The Western Wall is a refugee camp for Jews,” declares one campaigner. Besides, he says, the Holy of Holies is under the golden dome, which covers a rock where tradition says Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac (or Ishmael, according to Muslim lore). Rabbi Yehudah Glick, a Likud member of the Knesset (parliament), who was wounded by a Palestinian gunman in 2014, dismisses the prohibition on Jews entering the Temple Mount. As the campaign gathers support, he predicts, traditionalist rabbis will be forced to bow before the popular will. Had they not once opposed Zionism itself?