The Temple Mount is a difficult issue because there is a total imbalance between the rights of Muslims and the rights of Jews. And even those who feel Jews should not ascend the mount for halakhic reasons are appalled by that injustice.
For the Jewish People, the center of our individual and national being, the very heart of our Peoplehood, is the Temple Mount. Ironically however, there are those – and they span the political, social and religious spectra – who would deny Jewish civil and religious rights on the Temple Mount for the sake of so-called “peace!”
Their thinking says that we should leave the “tinderbox” of the Temple Mount as the last issue of this seemingly endless conflict to be resolved, focusing on “easier” issues first.
Maybe, just maybe, they have it backwards.
The recently formed civil rights organization, LIBAH (Initiative for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount) firmly believes that the prevailing thinking does in fact have it backwards. LIBAH believes that the daily violation of Jewish civil and religious rights on the Temple Mount actually undercuts any prospects for peaceful co-existence in Jerusalem and in Israel! LIBAH believes that only by addressing the hardest issues first can groundwork be laid for true co-existence.
The Temple Mount is a difficult issue because there is a total imbalance between the rights of Muslims and the rights of Jews. Today Muslims have complete civil and religious rights on the Temple Mount, while the Jews have nothing approaching that. While Muslims are praying, playing soccer, socializing, picnicking, entering freely, Jews are constricted, humiliated, denigrated and arrested for engaging in prayer, reflection or any expression of their Jewishness.
The fearful Jewish appeasers would deny the expression of Jewish civil and religious rights, won at great price through courage and sacrifice, in order to curry favor with anti-Israel elites and to assuage an ever- ululating mob from becoming even more threatening and violent.
What the Muslims fear is that the “tables will be turned” such that they will be shut out, the same way the Jews are now. Ironically, this shows the Muslims’ clear-eyed understanding of how bad the situation is for the Jews. What they never seem to admit is that the Jews don’t deprive others of their civil and religious rights in the cavalier manner that they do – unless they do it to other Jews!
How can this inhumane treatment to Jews be possible in sovereign Israeli territory? How can those who would roar their disapproval over the denial of rights to other groups, not, in the name of moral and intellectual integrity, decry the deprivation of those same rights to Jews?
How can we expect to have any kind of peaceful co-existence if there is not the minimal mutual respect that would allow Muslims and Jews to share sacred space that is of vital concern to each?
This complete imbalance and the humiliation of Jews on the Temple Mount prompted LIBAH’s formation. It is composed of a breathtakingly diverse group of Jewish Israelis – secular, national religious, hareidi, men and women, no kippot, knitted kippot, black kippot, invisible kippot, young and old – all united in the belief that preventing Jews from freely ascending the Mount for prayer, meditation or song represents an indefensible violation of Jewish civil and religious rights.
LIBAH points to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron as an example of an equally coveted site by both Jews and Muslims, where there has been a workable arrangement of shared sacred space.
LIBAH is not seeking to supplant or restrict any group from worship or access to the Temple Mount. But LIBAH also knows that we are obligated to assure our own Jewish civil and religious rights, as we are duty bound to safeguard the civil and religious rights of minorities. We are also obligated to demand behavior, from EVERYONE, that encourages peaceful coexistence, not as a slogan but as a real step towards broader, deeper understanding.
If that can begin, and it is right that it begins there, in the place of greatest significance to all. Who knows, it might become contagious thereafter.
True peace begins on the Temple Mount!
Aharon Pulver and Douglas Altabef
The writers are directors of the Israel Independence Fund.