- - Friday, November 13, 2015

Regardless of your beliefs or lack of, any reasonable person would admit that the Jewish people have a claim to their history, as do Muslims, or followers of Islam. The Jewish history by most, rational, historical accounts, includes thousands of years in Jerusalem. Again, most historians would acknowledge the existence of two Jewish temples in the Holy City of Jerusalem, revered by all three monotheistic religions as critical to their faith.

The first Temple of Solomon is written in the Bible to have been built around three thousand years ago and was destroyed by the Babylonians about five hundred years later. The exact location is disputed but most historians place it somewhere on what is currently called the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The second temple is written to have been constructed less than one hundred years later on the same spot, only to be destroyed by the Romans around 70 AD when the Jews rebelled against Caesar.

Islam entered the picture hundreds of years later when Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 637 AD. Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam. Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount where Muslim caliphates built several religious structures, including the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Muslim kings ruled Jerusalem until the fall of the city to the Crusaders in 1091 AD, only to recapture it a few centuries later.

The British took control of Jerusalem after defeating the Ottoman Empire in 1917 during World War I, only to withdraw after the end of WWII when the United Nations declared the state of Israel. The 1948 war divided Jerusalem between the East controlled by the Arabs and the West controlled by Israel, which proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950.

Obviously history has delivered a complicated situation to today’s inhabitants of the ancient city. There is no way peace can be maintained with either of the two religions restricted to the Temple Mount area. What most people that condemn Israel don’t know is that Jews have been restricted from praying or worshipping on the Temple Mount itself since Israel conquered East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. The area has been controlled by a joint Jordanian-Palestinian body called the Waqf. When Israel conquered the area in 1967, they left the status-quo in place, in order to keep the peace. Small numbers of Jews are allowed into the area during limited hours but with severe restrictions on what they can do. In short, they can’t do anything that even looks like religious activity.

The recent violence started with Muslims on the Temple Mount grounds yelling and throwing rocks at Jewish visitors. The Israeli police, in return, restricted a certain activist Muslim group, called the Murabitat, from the site. Muslim protests and violence quickly followed. Israeli police raided the Temple Mount and found a stockpile of weapons and homemade bombs that were to be used against Jews. Violence flared across Israel and threatened to spiral into the next Intifada. Israel, then increased police presence and barred men under the age of forty from entering the Mount altogether.

Muslims leaders have repeatedly said that Jews should have no access to the Temple Mount whatsoever. This does not seem like a solution, only a road to more problems and violence. Jewish leaders have accused the Waqf of destroying historical artifacts under the temple which might point to proof of the first and second temple of Jewish origin, and of denying the Jewish heritage of the area altogether. This behavior hardly will lead to reconciliation and peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has recently categorically stated that Israel will not change the status quo regarding access to the Temple Mount. Israel has proven itself as a rational arbiter of the Mount since controlling it for so long. It hardly seems credible that Islamic leaders would have shown the same restraint to Jews, based on recent statements and behavior.

The only road to peace for this small piece of land and the people surrounding it is to find a solution for access for both religions. For the time being, it seems Israeli control is the best, albeit not acceptable for many, method for maintaining access for all until a final settlement is negotiated and implemented. This outcome of course depends on the Palestinians actually wanting a peaceful solution.

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