Misperceptions Regarding Tensions Over the Noble Sanctuary
In the background, the Golden Dome of the Rock and Noble Sanctuary. Below and in the foreground, the Western Wall. (Christopher Hazou/IMEU)
Misperception: Israelis who are pushing for greater access to the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex (known as the Temple Mount to Jews) in occupied East Jerusalem just want religious freedom for Jews.
- Although they often couch their goals in terms of civil rights and religious freedom, the right-wing Israeli individuals and groups that are pushing for more access and Jewish prayer in the Noble Sanctuary want to remove the Muslim holy sites that it houses and replace them with a Jewish temple. On its website, one of the movement’s most prominent organizations, the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement, declares as its objective:
Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque were placed on this Jewish or biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination. The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of G-d without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed, transferred to, and rebuilt at Mecca.
- For these messianic Jewish extremists, efforts to gain more access and to be able to pray in the Noble Sanctuary form part of a larger plan to remove and/or destroy the mosques it contains and replace them with a Jewish temple. As Moshe Feiglin, then-deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, explained in March 2014: "I'm not asking for equality at the Temple Mount; there is no equality - it's ours and ours alone."
- Many Palestinians fear that Israel will eventually attempt to take over all or part of the Noble Sanctuary for exclusive Jewish use, as occurred with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. In that case, the Israeli government divided the mosque and gave half of it to Jewish settlers following the massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers by an Israeli-American settler in 1994.
Misperception: Israeli authorities reject attempts to change the status quo in the Noble Sanctuary and oppose actions by Jewish extremists that provoke tensions over it.
- While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he has no intention of changing the status quo in the Noble Sanctuary, senior officials in his current and previous governments have openly called for the construction of a Jewish temple in the Noble Sanctuary, including Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the extreme right wing Jewish Home party and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely of Netanyahu’s Likud party. In July 2013, then-Housing and Construction Minister Ariel declared to an “archeological conference” in the occupied West Bank:
We’ve built many little, little temples… but we need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.
- In May 2014, hardline Knesset member Miri Regev from Netanyahu’s Likud party introduced a bill calling for the status quo to be changed to allow Jews to pray in the Noble Sanctuary.
- The Israeli Knesset (parliament) has also held hearings on changing the status quo in the Noble Sanctuary to allow Jews to pray there, including a February 2014 debate that was initiated by the ultra-right wing Moshe Feiglin, then a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and deputy Knesset speaker.
- The Israeli government provides funding to organizations like the Temple Institute, which are actively working towards building a temple in the Noble Sanctuary. According to a March 2013 report by Israeli NGOs Ir Amim and Keshev:
The State of Israel directly funds various Temple movement activities. In the years 2008-2011, the Ministry of Culture, Science and Sports and the Ministry of Education supported the Temple Institute and the Midrasha at an average rate of NIS 412,000 [approximately $105,000 USD] per year. In 2012, the Midrasha, the educational arm of the Temple Institute, received NIS 189,000 [approximately $48,000 USD] from the Ministry of Education.
On December 30, 2010 a highly attended conference took place at Binyanei Ha’uma (The Jerusalem Conference Center). The event, promoted as ‘Every Jew Has a Part in the Sacred’ (the logo on the invitation proclaimed ‘Something good is happening in Jerusalem!’), drew thousands of attendees, mostly Haredim. The program included a discussion of ritual sacrifice and an exhibit presenting a model of the Temple. It also showcased a virtual presentation illustrating the construction of the Third Temple on the ruins of the Dome of the Rock. The conference was held under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Department of Religious Culture.
Misperception: Messianic Temple Mount extremists are a tiny minority in Israel and are on the fringes of society.
- Once considered to be on the margins of the Israeli political right, the Temple Mount movement has grown rapidly over the past decade and a half and has become mainstream.
- Growing numbers of Israeli rabbis are approving, and even encouraging, Jews to visit the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount, something that until recently was opposed by the vast majority of Jewish religious authorities based on theological grounds.
- Messianic Temple Mount extremists who advocate the building of a Jewish temple in the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex now sit in powerful positions in government, including ministerial posts.
- According to statistics released by the Israeli police in January 2015, the number of visits by Jews to the Noble Sanctuary has increased 92% since 2009. As the right wing Jerusalem Post noted in reporting the story: “The trend is driven by several activist groups who encourage Jewish Israelis and tourists to visit the Temple Mount, saying they wish to re-assert the Jewish connection to the site.”
Misperception: Palestinians enjoy religious freedom and freedom of worship in the Noble Sanctuary and other Muslim and Christian holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem.
- Israel routinely violates the religious rights and freedoms of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories.
- Israeli authorities frequently prevent access to the Noble Sanctuary to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem by implementing age and gender restrictions that prohibit men under a certain age, such as 50-years-old, from entering to worship.
- The Israeli government denies millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza access to East Jerusalem and its holy sites. Millions of other Palestinians living in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere in the diaspora are similarly denied the right to worship freely at their holy sites in Jerusalem.