"A Jewish bride and her father were arrested on the Temple Mount the day before her wedding, after an Arab policeman claimed he saw the father muttering prayers and the bride nodding her head."That is the opening paragraph of an Arutz 7 report that details the arrest in more detail. (The Jerusalem Post version can be found here.) No doubt, there will be some dispute regarding the accuracy of some of the specific details in the Arutz 7 report, but the story itself is indicative of the growing tensions that I've witnessed on the Temple Mount in recent months.
Muslims claim the 34-acre Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) is their third holiest place, while Jews call it Har HaBayt (The Temple Mount) and claim that it is their holiest place. Currently, the location is under the political and military control of the Israeli government. However, it is religiously overseen by the Islamic WAQF, which keeps a close eye on all the activities in the area to make sure they are consistent with Islamic religious sensitivities. And deference to religious sensitivities - any real or perceived sensitivities - seems to be a de facto concession of control.
Since my Arabic class is in the neighborhood, I have been up on the Temple Mount several times in the last few months. I enter the only place I can, the tourist gate, and exit the gate that is only about 100 yards from my school. And during my visits, I watch to see what's going on: who's visiting, where they go, what the soldiers are doing, how the monitors monitor, etc.
This will be the first of a series of blogs - mostly a photo essay - relating what I've seen and learned during my visits.
In recent months I have had the opportunity to visit with Muslims who have an interest - personal or professional - in what is happening on the Mount. They have told me of their fears that Jews will pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque or elsewhere, that the soldiers are an unnecessary desecration of the place, and that Ariel Sharon ruined it for everybody (i.e. non-Muslims) who would like to go inside the mosques or the Dome of the Rock when he visited (i.e. desecrated) the holy place.
Here are some of the things I've seen:
The presence of Israeli soldiers on the Temple Mount - for many reasons - is offensive to Muslims, and in this photo you can see that they are eating, which multiplies the offense because it is forbidden for non-Muslims to eat in the Haram al-Sharif.
I find it interesting that non-Muslims are forbidden to eat in the Noble Sanctuary, but it is common to see Muslims having picnics and birthday parties there. Why would it be a desecration for one group to eat there, but not for the other? It's not like Jews and Christians are offering their food to idols before they partake. And one would think the trash often left behind by Muslim diners would be a desecration of their own third-holiest location. (More on this in the near future.)
It has become common for groups of Jewish men to go up on the Temple Mount to walk around, and some suggest, to pray there. My guess is that some do, some don't.
You should notice that they are being escorted (some would say monitored) by the policeman that is following them. It is also common for one of the WAQF monitors to be nearby to make sure that they don't pray.
Before ascending, these men go through the ritual bath to purify themselves. Also, they generally have been schooled in where they can and can not go (from the Jewish perspective), so that they don't accidentally enter into a holy area. Not all Jews agree that it is appropriate to ascend the Temple Mount in its current condition; and it goes without saying, that among those who believe it is permissible to go up, there isn't complete agreement as to the "go, no go" areas.
In the above photo, the guys appear to be lining themselves up with the eastern side of the Dome of the Rock, which many people believe to be built over the location of Herod's Temple. And by lining themselves up in this way, some may conclude they are intending to pray toward the Holy of Holies. While I did not witness their entire visit, I did not see them pray. But, I was drawn to this particular scene because the WAQF monitor was giving the Israeli policeman an earful for allowing them to drift too far away from him "so that they could pray."
Question: If Jews and Muslims believe in the same deity - as many Muslims and Jews claim - why should it be a problem for Jews to pray to him in the Noble Sanctuary?
I'm fully aware that there is a game of cat and mouse going on here: On occasion(s), some of the Jews who ascend the Temple Mount are trying to be provocative. At the same time, the Muslims sometimes overstate the infraction. So much so, that it has become a maxim that to determine if a Jew is praying on the Temple Mount, one only need to see if his lips are moving. According to the article mentioned above, the maxim is no longer just a colorful story told by tour guides.
I personally know people on both sides of this issue, and I expect that tensions are only going to increase.