This is part three of a six-part newsletter.
- Part one looked at the recent 13 minute ‘walk around’ the Temple Mount by Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and the immediate international explosion. Then it examined the histories of Roman, Byzantine and Islamic laws forbidding Jews to walk on or pray on the Temple Mount.
- Part two looked at attitudes and policies concerning the Jews/Temple Mount during the Early Islamic times, the Crusader period, the Ottoman Turkish occupation, the British Mandate, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as well as Israeli Minister of Defense General Moshe Dayan’s decisions regarding the ‘status quo’ in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six-Day War.
- This third newsletter looks at Temple Mount developments between 1967-2022
- Part four will focus on the biblical perspective regarding the Temple Mount and the Last Days (including its central place in both the Last Battle and the location of Messiah Yeshua’s throne).
Jihad – the sleeping dragon
Once a country is conquered by jihadi armies, those territories are considered as belonging to Islam forever. This Muslim principle is reflected in Jordanian King Abdullah II’s clear declaration regarding the Temple Mount in the summer of 2015: “Al-Aqsa is the entire al-Haram al-Sharif, and we accept neither partnership, nor partition.” The Temple Mount’s former Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri agrees: “Entrance of Jews is permitted as visitors, but not as worshippers. Jews call the place the Temple Mount and they say: ‘It is ours.’ We certainly will not allow them to enter one of our holy sites, to pray there and say that it is theirs.”
According to Israeli intelligence and security expert Brigadier-General (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (former head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence [AMAN], Palestinian national ideology has some foundational beliefs:
- Jews are neither a people nor a nation but merely believers of a religion (PLO Covenant, Article 20)
- The Jews do not have a national or sovereign history in the Land of Israel/Palestine nor the right of national self-determination (PLO Covenant, Article 20)
- Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase (PLO Covenant, Articles 9, 21)
On June 9, 1974, the Palestinian National Council of the PLO approved the ‘Ten Points Program,’ also known as the ‘Phased Plan.’ Significant input for this plan came from North Vietnamese top General Võ Nguyên Giáp, who trained the PLO how to use diplomacy and guile in order to gain a territorial foothold in Israel, while simultaneously pursuing armed struggle as the main method of liberating that country. This strategy allowed and allows the PLO to work toward their goals in phases while disguising their real purpose, permit strategic deception, and give the appearance of moderation.
The retired President of Israel’s Supreme Court, Justice Moshe Landau (in an interview with Ha’aretz Magazine, October 6, 2000), makes the same point: “From the point of view of Islam, it is impossible to recognize the sovereignty of the Jews in any part of the countries which Islam claims for itself . . . As far as Islam is concerned, the entire land of Israel is waqf land. And legal experts know [what] waqf land means: it is property which is sanctified to Allah. And that is the reason that for Arabs/Muslims it is forbidden to give the Jews a foothold of control in this land, and they must be driven out from here.”
All of the Palestinian leadership – whether Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Authority, or Arab-Israeli Members of Knesset – have a bottom line: what the Jews call ‘the state of Israel’ will never ultimately belong to the Jews. It is Islamic territory forever. As PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat declared on May 10, 1994 to a Muslim audience in a Johannesburg mosque: “The Jihad will continue . . . Our main battle is Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the first shrine of the Muslims. . . (N)ot the permanent state of Israel – no! It is the permanent state of Palestine . . . You have to come, and to fight and to start the Jihad to liberate Jerusalem, your first shrine . . . It is not their capital, it is our capital!”
Waqf spokesman Adnan Husseini says that the issue of Jewish control of the Temple Mount is “a closed file . . . The issue has been settled by Allah, and there will be no negotiations . . . Moslems can’t discuss it and can’t make any compromise. This is the stance that every Palestinian and Arab and Moslem will adopt, forever . . . If [the Jews] want to dream of something that was here 3,000 years ago, then we will dream about the situation before 1948, when there was no State of Israel” (in Faithful to the bitter end? Michael S. Arnold, August 18, 2000).
The undulating conflict between 1967 and 2022 between Israel and the Palestinians over supposedly ‘status quo’ issues becomes clearer when realistically viewed through this Islamic lens: to the Palestinians and the majority of Islamic leaders and theologians, all solutions except jihad are transitory, and all negotiations between the Jewish state and the Palestinians are brief and will soon vanish – like al-Aqsa’s temporary captivity at the hands of Israeli unbelievers.
The status quo keeps changing
World media often refers to something called ‘the status quo’ when talking about the Temple Mount. Their talking points focus on the hypothesis that the Jewish state is constantly ‘violating the status quo’ in its policies regarding the Temple Mount. What does this mean, practically speaking, and how does it interface with what is happening today on the Temple Mount?
To understand the term ‘status quo,’ we have to go back in history to 1054, when the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches went through a major split – what is known as ‘the Great Schism.’ In the Land of Israel, Roman Catholics/Franciscans quickly got the upper hand over the Greeks, bolstered by an infusion of European knights in the First Crusade. The Catholics received a position of authority known as the Custody of the Holy Land in 1217. When the Ottoman Turks conquered the Holy Land in 1517, the weakness and infighting of the Christian churches catalyzed both Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox to appeal to the Muslim Turks, seeking special protection and privileges. Control of Christian Holy Sites would ping-pong back and forth between these two Christian streams and violent clashes were not uncommon. Bribes to the Sultan in Istanbul often decided the outcome.
A stop-gap mechanism developed, later called ‘the Status Quo,’ which involved Turkish-authorized and enforced decrees (the ‘firman’) – legal documents laying out the rights, responsibilities and limitations of opposing Christian parties at a particular moment in history. The initial steps in this direction were negotiations held in January, 1699 at Carlowitz, Szerem (modern Serbia) between Leopold Emperor of Germany and Mustafa II, the Turkish Sultan.
In 1637 the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophanes III obtained a firman from Sultan Murad IV recognizing Orthodox control of significant areas of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1675 Sultan Mehmed IV granted a firman ordering the removal of Franciscan monks from the Holy Sepulchre and Rotunda. During Easter Holy Week 1757, Orthodox Christians annexed parts of the Franciscan-controlled church, leading Sultan Osman III to write a 1757 decree forming the basis of what was later called ‘the status quo.’
In 1852 Napoleon III demanded that the Sultan recognize France as the protector of Christian monks and pilgrims in the Holy Places, sending a French warship toward Istanbul. Tsar Nicholas I, champion of the Greek Orthodox, insisted on Russia being confirmed by the Sultan as the protector of the Holy Places and of all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. When the Sultan dragged his feet in responding, a Russian army invaded the Ottoman provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia (modern Romania) in July 1853. The Turks declared war (the Crimean War) and in November the Russians destroyed a Turkish fleet at Sinope in the Black Sea. This war was jump-started over the issue of the ‘status quo’ in Jerusalem!
In the meantime, Ottoman Turkish Sultan Abdulmejid I issued firmans in 1850, 1852 and 1853 in favor of his Protestant subjects granting them specific rights and protections. These firmans received international recognition in Article 9 of the Treaty of Paris (1856).
The first time we run into the term ‘status quo’ as connected to the Holy Places is in Article 62 of the Treaty of Berlin (1878): “The rights conceded to France are expressly reserved, it being well understood that the status quo with respect to the Holy Places shall not be seriously affected in any way.” This Status Quo has, with ups and downs, remained largely intact from 1757 to 1967. It is known in legalese as “The Ottoman Status Quo Arrangement in the Holy Places.”
How did Israel’s June 1967 liberation of Jerusalem affect these centuries-old patterns, and how did this issue morph into a significant international anti-Israel weapon vis-à-vis the Temple Mount?
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (The more things change, the more they stay the same)
On June 7, 1967 Israeli paratroopers wept as their hands touched the ancient stones of the Western Wall. No one on that day imagined or expected that the State of Israel would soon continue the centuries-old discrimination against Jews, banning them from ascending to and praying on the Temple Mount. But this is exactly what happened.
At 10:00 am on June 7, then-commander of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade Motta Gur had radioed from his half-track: “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” Yet within a few minutes IDF Defense Minister Moshe Dayan radioed Gur, demanding that he immediately remove the Israeli flag from the Temple Mount’s Dome of the Rock, yelling “Do you want to set the Middle East on fire?”
These two diametrically opposed responses sum up the present quandary at the Temple Mount.
“Even as Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces Shlomo Goren famously stood at the newly liberated Western Wall and blew the shofar, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, contemplating his victory from nearby Mount Scopus, is said to have wondered, ‘What do we need all this Vatican for?’ For Rabbi Goren, the Jews had rightfully recovered their property, and a keystone of the Jewish faith. For Dayan, Israel was now burdened with a foreign religious artifact; the best it could do was to try not to upset Muslim sensitivities. These contrasting attitudes reflect two opposite approaches to Zionism: One that sees in it the partial fulfillment of the biblical vision of Jewish redemption, and one that sees in it a strictly practical answer to the problem of anti-Semitism and Jewish defenselessness” (in We Forget Thee, Jerusalem; Azure no. 30, Autumn 5768 / 2007)
But on June 17, 1967 Defense Minister Moshe Dayan met with the Temple Mount’s Supreme Muslim Council (the waqf) and unilaterally authorized a new metamorphosis of the ‘status quo’ – that Jews who had liberated Jerusalem from centuries-long control by Islamic dictatorships, would themselves not be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, and that the Muslim Waqf would remain in charge of the compound.
The Sheriff comes to al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf (Arabic for the Temple Mount compound)
Dayan described in some detail his meeting with the Waqf on that day. His recounting of that meeting is a riveting read. Here are a few excerpts:
- I thought that the first unequivocal decision that had to be made concerned the direction and supervision of the compound of the mosques and the Moslem offices. On the morning of the first Saturday after the war, I visited the El Aqsa Mosque and met the Moslem religious personnel responsible for it . . . I then plunged directly into the main issue. I said that the war was now over and we had to return to normal life. I asked them to resume religious services in the mosque on the following Friday . . . I said that Israeli troops would be removed from the site and stationed outside the compound. The Israeli authorities were responsible for overall security, but we would not interfere in the private affairs of the Moslems responsible for their own sanctuaries. These were two Moslem places of worship, and they had the right to operate them themselves . . . We had no intention of controlling Moslem holy places or of interfering in their religious life. The one thing we would introduce was freedom of Jewish access to the compound of Haram al-Sharif without limitation or payment. This compound, as my hosts well knew, was our Temple Mount. Here stood our Temple during ancient times, and it would be inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to visit this holy place now that Jerusalem was under our rule . . . [My hosts] would have wished the entire area, not just the mosques, to remain under their exclusive control, with the continued ban on Jews. But they also realized that Israeli troops had been removed from the compound and that we had recognized their rights to control their own holy places . . . I was convinced that precisely because control was now in our hands it was up to us to show broad tolerance, so rare an attitude among the regimes of the preceding decades and centuries. We should certainly respect the Temple Mount as an historic site of our ancient past, but we should not disturb the Arabs who were using it for what it was now – a place of Moslem worship.
Dayan’s new-and-improved status quo allowed for non-Muslims (including Jews and Christians) to ascend to the Temple Mount as tourists, but not as worshippers. Dayan was not an aficionado of Isaiah’s Messianic vision stressing the importance of Jewish and Gentile prayer issuing from the Temple Mount: “For My House will be called a House of Prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).
An April 2014 report by the Knesset Research and Information Center states that Dayan was attempting “to neutralize, as far as possible, the religious aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He believed that leaving the management of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Muslim authorities would prevent an uprising in the territories of Judea and Samaria and in the other Muslim countries and would facilitate adaptation to Israeli control.”
Dayan’s new status-quo was then ratified by the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Holy Sites (Governmental Decision #761, August 20, 1967). It ordered Major General Shlomo Goren (then the IDF Chief Rabbi), by way of the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff to “cease all actions connected to the organization of [Jewish] prayer, measurements, and the like on the Temple Mount.” It added that, “When Jewish visitors enter through the gates of the Temple Mount for the sake of prayer, they shall be redirected by defense forces to the Western Wall.” Dayan elaborates: “Although, understandably, no minister wished to take a formal position stating baldly that Jews were forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount, it was decided to ‘maintain the current policy,’ which in fact banned them from doing so. It was evident that if we did not prevent Jews from praying in what was now a mosque compound, matters would get out of hand and lead to a religious clash.” Dayan was nearly accurate: Ministers Zvi Warhaftig and Menahem Begin opposed this government decision.
The Israeli Supreme Court created a legal framework stating that, while Jews had the right to pray on the Temple Mount, the police hold the authority to prevent the realization of that right. In the words of then-Chief Justice Aharon Barak, “The fundamental point from which we begin here, is that every Jew possesses the right to ascend the Temple Mount, pray there, and commune with his Creator. This is an inherent part of religious freedom. This is inherently part of freedom of speech . . . As with all human rights, this one is not fully absolute. It is a relative right . . . In a place where the near-certainty exists that real damage will be inflicted on the public interest, if the human right to freedom of worship and expression are realized, we are permitted to restrict the human right, for the sake of safeguarding public order” (SCJ 2725/93, Gershon Solomon vs. the Chief Commander of the Jerusalem District).
“It’s true,” [Member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad] said, “that the original sin was when the Jewish People, immediately after the Six Day War in 1967, ceded its hold on the Temple Mount in an unholy alliance between the Chief Rabbinate and Moshe Dayan – each side for its own reasons.”
Dayan’s status quo arrangement was a continuation of what the Jordanian police permitted between 1950 and 1967 – the same specific hours of visitation allowed for non-Muslims (though now, Jews were also allowed to visit).
Nadav Shragai, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, adds a closing note: “In granting Jews the right to visit the Temple Mount, Moshe Dayan sought to mitigate the power of Jewish demands for organized worship and religious control at the site. In granting administrative control to Muslims on the Temple Mount, he believed he was mitigating the power of the site as a center for Palestinian nationalism.”
Morphing the Temple Mount into the Western Wall
A decision was taken by top Israeli government leaders and reflected in Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s statement to the Israeli Knesset on June 12, 1967: “Jerusalem has been reunified. For the first time since the establishment of the State, Jews pray at the Western Wall, the relic of our holy Temple and our historic past, and at Rachel’s Tomb. For the first time in our generation, Jews can pray at the Cave of Machpela in Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs. The prophecy has been fulfilled: ‘There is recompense for the work, the sons have returned to their borders’” [Jeremiah 31:17].
For over 3,400 years Jewish people had been focused on the Temple Mount: “Come, let’s go up to the Mountain of YHVH, to the House of the God of Jacob” (Isaiah 2:3). But now the longed-for place of prayer and the fulfilment of prophecy would instead be connected to the Western Wall. The western supporting wall for one side of the large Temple Mount compound would become the central focus of Jewish religious practice. For the Jewish religious consciousness, the Western Wall would come to represent and replace the Temple Mount. During the reign of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, a small prayer space was constructed outside of the Temple Mount in 1550 for the Jews, who were forbidden by Suleiman from ascending to the Temple Mount (for more background, see https://davidstent.org/the-restoration-of-jerusalem-and-the-temple-mount-part-two/; ‘Saladin and Suleiman’). Now Israel’s government was about to start streaming its own people away from the Temple Mount and into Suleiman’s ersatz prayer court. An Israeli government decision was quickly taken to expand the small walkway into a fairly large modern plaza.
“Do not fear the people of the land!” (Numbers 14:9)
This spiritual volte-face by Israel’s government hoped to postpone (or even avoid altogether) the unpleasant necessity of having to deal with the biblical and historical role of the Temple Mount in Jewish history. It was also fear-based – continued anxiety was expressed in many forums about how Palestinian Muslims (and international ones) might respond, were Israeli Jews to pray on the site on Solomon’s Temple compound – where Isaiah and Yeshua once ministered.
Such concerns are not new. Indeed they predate the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. In a 1929 British Mandate handbook published just prior to Arab riots which resulted in 133 Jewish casualties, the author wrote of an attempt to secure the formal transfer of the Western Wall to Jewish ownership four years previously. He noted that “the Military Governor . . . discouraged the pursuit of the matter in view of the sensitive state of Arab opinion.”
Some Israeli lawyers use the phrase “the severe political consequences of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.”
Israeli Supreme Court Judge Alfred Witkon says regarding Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount: “The situation is extraordinary, and I doubt whether there is a case akin to it in the history of our country or in the world. The situation is delicate and dangerous on an inter-religious basis, and the site is explosive. It would be foolish not to take into account the effects and the cost in manpower that the granting of the petitioners’ petition would entail.”
Israeli journalist Arnon Segal points out that “the ongoing inability to enforce Israeli law is the failure of the government to implement freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount, for fear that the realization of this right would lead to bloodshed” (“Police Officer: It’s Strange that Jews Can’t Pray on the Temple Mount,” Makor Rishon, October 10, 2014).
There is no question that the dynamic of fear has influenced some Israeli leaders.
There is a scholarly consensus that since 1967 Israeli laws regarding freedom of worship have been blatantly violated by Palestinians on the Temple Mount and have found to be not enforceable. From that perspective, Israel’s sovereignty has not been fully realized.
Over the past century Palestinian leadership has continued to stir up riot and murder through falsely accusing Israel and the Jews of planning to destroy the al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. A few examples would include:
- October 8, 1990 – later dubbed the ‘Al-Aqsa Massacre’
- September 24, 1996 – Western Wall tunnel riots in Jerusalem, Gaza and through the West Bank
- October 29, 2000 – the al-Aqsa Intifada
- September 9, 2015 – riots on the Temple Mount
Yigal Carmon, former IDF Colonel and head of AMAN (Israel Military Intelligence Service) under Yitzhak Rabin draws conclusions based on Palestinian actions and strategies: Carmon “no longer believes that the idea of two states is feasible. In his view no solution of any kind for the Israel-Palestinian conflict can be envisaged in the foreseeable future.” (in ‘Willful Blindness and the Mistake of Underestimation: The Oslo Gamble’ by Joel Fishman and Yossi Kuperwasser; Spring 2020).
Friends and enemies
In Muslim medieval Spain, an Islamic philosopher, theologian and historian named Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Saʿīd ibn Ḥazm (994-1064 A.D.) made some astute observations in his Book of Morals and Conduct [Kitāb Al-Akhlâq wa’l-Siyar]:
- The definition of prudence consists of being able to distinguish a friend from an enemy. The height of stupidity and weakness is the inability to distinguish one’s enemy from one’s friend.
- To treat one’s enemy as a friend is the mark of fools whose end is near.
- Magnanimity is not to befriend the enemy but to spare them and to remain on you guard against them
As the world moves forward to the return of Messiah Yeshua and the restoration of Jerusalem, it will focus more and more on the Temple Mount. Zechariah 12:3 tells us that Jerusalem will become a heavy stone for all the people. Today’s fast-moving developments regarding this precious and prophetic piece of real estate point to days of challenge, shaking and promise.
How should we then pray?
- Pray for God to grant clear vision to believers worldwide, to the Jewish people and to Israeli leaders regarding both divine and demonic strategies concerning the Temple Mount
- Pray for YHVH to thwart the destructive plans of the enemy against Israel, the apple of God’s eye and their Land
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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