I can just hear the tourists now: “Come dear, let’s visit the Muslim holy site called The Western Wall, where the Prophet Muhammad tied his winged horse!” In my latest film (The ARK Report – Sequel) there’s an exclusive interview with Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was one of the candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Although I interviewed many politicians and ambassadors for the film, one particular remark keeps coming up with viewers. Huckabee mentions something that happens every time he comes to Israel, year after year, and this point has apparently made a lasting impression on many people.
At the beginning of the video he states: “Every time I take a big group to Israel, one of the things I love to do is get one of the Palestinian maps that I can get in the Old City. I unfold it and ask one of the people that are with me: ‘Where’s Israel on the map?’ They’ll look, and they’ll look... and I’ll say: ‘Can you find Israel on the map?’ The answer is no, they can’t find it. I ask them why, and they say, ‘I don’t know!’ I say, because the people that built this map, they don’t believe there is such a thing as Israel.”
Last October, UNESCO was forced to drop the Palestinian Authority’s bid to declare the whole Western Wall Plaza an official Muslim holy site, amid widespread criticism from many Western sources. If you think about it for a moment, to even try to pull off that kind of publicity stunt in a convincing way, one needs two things: some serious chutzpah, and some serious (what we call in Hebrew) protexia, or connections. The unbelievable thing is, the PA used both and it just about worked for them.
As most of us know, this past April 15 the executive council of UNESCO adopted a new resolution that specifically calls the Western Wall only by a Muslim name (ignoring any Jewish ties to the holy site). In fact, when the text mentions the Western Wall Plaza, it’s actually placed in quotation marks, only after using the Arabic “Al-Buraq Plaza” as its official name. Further in the resolution, only the Arabic term for the Temple Mount, i.e., al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif, is used.
The reason, of course, is that the name “Temple Mount” obviously infers that at some point in history there was a Temple on that mountain. The fear of the PA (and the UN) could be that there may actually be another, third Jewish Temple coming at some point in the future, and therefore any Jewish ties must be somehow delegitimatized now, before any facts on the ground (as it were) can be established.
If that isn’t sufficient, the resolution continues to include other holy sites in Israel proper: “[The Executive Board] reaffirms that the two concerned sites located in Al-Khalil/ Hebron and in Bethlehem are an integral part of Palestine,” in reference to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, respectively. (Interesting to note here that the resolution had actually been pre-approved by France, Russia, Spain and Sweden!) Indeed, looks like Huckabee has a good point.
It’s simple: take away the Jewish holy sites and it becomes that much easier to take away Israel altogether, from the inside out.
So where is the outcry? Where are the religious leaders of the world – the pope, for instance? Israel must issue a firm response to such land-grab attempts and blatant falsifications of history, or it will certainly continue, only worse.
Here’s an unconventional response that might eventually provide a solution for all parties concerned – and it has been done before. There’s an historical precedent. Not once, not twice, but believe it or not a whopping six times since the destruction of the Second Temple people have built some kind of “place of worship” on the Temple Mount. In this case, a place suitable for all faiths, and for all peoples. Sounds more like a dream than something that really happened. But it did.
What follows is some (rather dry) history.
Approximately 50 years after the destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, Emperor Hadrian (76-138) granted the Jews permission to start building a structure on the Mount, being eager to gain the cooperation of Jerusalem’s Jewish community. This didn’t last too long, however, and the project stopped shortly afterwards. Later, Constantine’s nephew Julian, who later became emperor in 361 CE, turned his back on Christianity and issued an edict of universal religious tolerance for all, a novel idea at the time. Two years later he promised to build an edifice on the Temple Mount, taking the incredible step of ordering the imperial treasury to make available large sums of money and materials toward this effort. Unfortunately, this project too was halted, perhaps due to Julian’s death, or an earthquake.
Then, after the invasion of Jerusalem by King Khosru II of Persia (613), who succeeded in wresting control of the city, the appointed governor wasted no time in re-establishing a place of worship on the Mount, as was witnessed by the renowned rabbi and poet Elazar Kalir. About the restoration, he wrote: “When Assyria [Persia] came to the city... and pitched his tents there / he permitted the re-establishment of a Temple / and they built there the holy altar....”
Furthermore, even in the early years of Muslim rule, when Jerusalem was conquered by strictly Arab forces in May 638 Caliph Umar declared the right of Jews (and others) to continue praying on the Temple Mount, without interference, in return for assistance in the taking of the city.
Even at that point in history, note that the gradual evolution of the Mount into Islam’s third holiest site didn’t result in a total exclusion of Jews from the location. In fact, soon after the Muslim conquest, Jews actually received permission to build a small wooden structure on the Mount.
According to Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon (London 1856), that place remained active during most of the early Muslim period, and then again from approximately 1100 CE up until the conquest of the Crusaders. Even today, one can still see Hebrew writings found on the internal walls of the eastern Golden Gate written by Jewish pilgrims about 1,000 years ago.
Someone should take a picture of that now so it too is not erased from Israel’s history! Saladin at one point permitted both Jews and Muslims to settle in Jerusalem and worship together, to the extent of even permitting Jews to erect something of their own on the site (as per Emil Offenbacher). Later on, because subsequent Ottoman rulers invested little to no effort in the upkeep of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, there was never any record or precedent of Muslim clerics ever visiting the Temple Mount or of evicting Jews those places.
In modern times, the late Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (1929-2010) suggested a concrete plan for some type of structure to be located in the open area to the northeast of the Dome of the Rock, closer to the eastern wall. He made his intentions clear when speaking on the subject, saying: “that also the Children of Israel will enter into the areas that are permitted [to pray], in holiness and purity according to Jewish Law....”
At the end of the day, what can we glean from this history? There was a working solution that was generally accepted by the various governments of the time, and for all parties concerned.
Is there any chance of this type of thing being suggested vis-à-vis the geopolitical scenario in Israel today? Not a chance. But now, just as back then, the idea still holds merit. Emperor Julian had it right: universal religious tolerance is indeed the way to go. Moving forward, the PA , and more importantly UNESCO, must abide by the latter’s very own universal principle and slogan: “Building peace in the minds of men and women” – i.e., all men and women (including Jews and Christians), and to respect their ancestral holy sites of worship, and especially those in Israel.
This column originally ran in the Jerusalem Post. READ IT HERE.