JERUSALEM AND
THE TEMPLE MOUNT

By Boris Shusteff

It is doubtful that the name Marek Schwartz means anything to the vast majority of the dwellers of Jerusalem. However, this man's contribution to Jerusalem's history was extremely important. If he had carried out the orders of Jemal Pasha, the Turkish commander during the First World War, Jerusalem's fate could have been different.

Pierre van Paassen described this fateful event in his book Days of Our Years, published in 1937.

Marek Schwartz had been left in charge of a sacrifice unit of artillery when Jemal Pasha was forced to abandon the Holy City to General Allenby, with instructions to "blow Jerusalem to hell" the moment the British should enter. On the personal orders of Jemal Pasha, Schwartz had his batteries trained on the Mosque of Omar, and ammunition laying ready for a forty-eight-hour intensive bombardment. When Jemal left for Meggido to make his last stand before Damascus, captain Schwartz, rather than destroy Jerusalem, walked into the British lines.

It was a Moslem who gave the order for destruction of the third holiest place for the Islamic religion, and it was a Jew who prevented the destruction of the first holiest place for Judaism. One could only guess what sort of structure there would be standing today on the Temple Mount if this place had sustained a forty-eight-hour bombardment.

The Moslem shrines remained intact and the Jewish presence at the Temple Mount remained unwelcome. Only fifty years later, on June 7, 1967, we were able to return to this place, the holiest of holies for the Jewish people. Colonel Motty Gur's exclamation upon reaching the Temple Mount will forever be engraved into Jewish memory: "The Temple Mount is ours. I'm standing near the Mosque of Omar right now. The Wailing Wall is a minute away."

The Jews had been waiting for this moment for 1,897 years. On August 16, 1967, on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, a fast day in commemorative mourning for the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Shlomo Goren led a group of Yeshiva students in a service on the Temple Mount which ended with the blowing of the shofar. It seemed that the words of the Prophet had come true: "And it shall come to pass on that day the great trumpet will blast forth and those abandoned in Assyria and the outcasts in Egypt shall come to bow down before the Lord on the Holy Mount in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 27:13). Alas, this was the one and only public Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount since the time of our return to this sacred place.

Moshe Dayan, in the autobiographical Story of My Life, wrote that on the morning of the first Saturday after the war he visited the Al Aksa Mosque. He told the Moslem religious delegation headed by Sheik Abdel Hamid Sa'iah, the chief Moslem judge, that now there will be unrestricted "Jewish access to the compound of Haram esh-Sherif . This compound. was our Temple Mount. Here stood our Temple during ancient time, and it would be inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to visit this holy place now that Jerusalem was under our rule."

Dayan wrote that "his hosts were not overjoyed at [these] remarks, but they recognized that they would be unable to change my decision." It was up to Dayan at that moment to tell to "his hosts" that the Jews would pray on the Temple Mount forever from that day on, and the Moslems would have acquiesced to this "inability to change his decision." However, for the agnostic Dayan a Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount was of a little importance. Instead, as he wrote, "precisely because control was now in our hands, it was up to us to show broad tolerance . 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."

Countless times in our history we have shown "broad tolerance" and made goodwill gestures towards our enemies. How much of our blood was spilled! How much more will be spilled. Why do we like our enemies so much? Why not grant one hundredth of our "broad tolerance" to our fellow Jews? How is it possible to comprehend that the Jewish leaders did not want to "disturb the Arabs" and cared a lot about a "place of Moslem worship" and at the same time were indifferent and even hostile to the religious feelings of the Jews?

Dayan was wrong when he wrote that the Temple Mount was "an historic site of our ancient past." The Temple Mount was and STILL IS the holiest place for the Jews. Even after the destruction of the Temple our uninterrupted presence on the Temple Mount, though greatly diminished, continued for almost fifteen centuries. Eliyahu Tal wrote in Whose Jerusalem? that the "Jews were actively involved with the service in the Dome of the Rock: they were in charge of lighting the candles, preparing the wicks for the oil lamps and cleaning the sanctuary." Tal mentioned an astonishing fact that, "for substantial part of Islamic history, the religious ceremonies at the Dome of the Rock were held on Mondays and Thursdays, not on Friday which, for Muslims is the public day of prayer." This is because "to begin with, the Dome was not built as a place of prayer. . Abd al Malik wished to build a dome over the Rock of the Holy Temple to protect the Muslims from the heat and the cold."

It was not the Arabs who restricted the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount but the Jews themselves. Almost until the end of the fifteenth century the Jews had access to the Temple Mount. Karen Armstrong wrote in her book Jerusalem that the Italian traveler Obadiah da Bertinero pointed out when he visited Jerusalem in 1487 that "Jews now refused to set foot in the Haram .. Sometimes the Muslims needed repairs there, but Jews would never take these jobs because they were not in the required state of ritual purity." It is worth mentioning that Maimonides, who held similar views, nevertheless felt able to enter the Haram when he visited Jerusalem.

Although the Jews voluntarily limited their presence at the Temple Mount, until this century the Moslems did not contest the Jews' connection with Jerusalem. In the book Customs and Traditions of Palestine published in 1864, the Italian scholar Ermette Pierotti, who spent many years in Jerusalem, and served as chief architect to the Ottoman governor, the Pasha of Jerusalem, wrote.

On 8 July, 1861,...the Jews waited with all formalities on the Governor, Surraya Pasha, and requested him to restore to them the keys of Jerusalem according to a right on the death of one sultan and the accession of another. At the same time, they brought forward such proofs of the justice of their demand that the Pasha did not refuse it but referred to his ordinary counsel consisting of the Mufti,...the Cadi... and other persons of distinction natives of the country. Their decision was in favor of the Israelites, the whole Council being aware that they were the ancient owners of the country.... Said Pasha, the general of the forces ...went to the Jewish quarter where he ... was conducted to the house of the Chief Rabbi who received the Pasha at the door and there was publicly presented with the keys.

For two thousand years, in Eretz Yisrael and in exile, we clung to Jerusalem with our nails and teeth. Unwillingly, the Moslems, and the world community as well recognized that we are the "ancient owners of the country." However, after reestablishing the state we became generous and complacent. We lost the yearning that we had had for two millennia. We succumbed to humiliation, and we allowed others to spit in our faces.

One defeat followed another. We swallowed the relocation of foreign embassies from Jerusalem. We did not create a media storm when on June 26, 1991 Binyamin Begin showed the Knesset a map that displayed all the capital cities of the region except Jerusalem. This map was part of a press kit carried by US Secretary of State James Baker when he visited Israel in March 1991. We permitted others to label our primordial land "an occupied territory."

With the signing of the Oslo agreement our acceptance of humiliation spread like a metastatic cancer. The list is endless. One can mention, for instance, the Palestinian police that freely roams in the eastern part of Jerusalem; and the control by the Palestinian Authority of the schools and the hospitals in this part of the city; and the visits of foreign dignitaries to the Orient House, the PA's headquarters; and the Palestinian flag flying above this "Foreign Ministry;" and the ban on Israeli flags imposed there .

If we behave like slaves in our own homeland, why should anybody else treat us any differently? Why do we expect others to treat us as an independent nation when we betray our ideals, squander our land and are indifferent to our holy places?

When we respected our religion and traditions others respected us too. This is exemplified by the following incident, which happened in the aftermath of the Six-Day War and is described by Martin Gilbert in his book Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century. The Jewish religious seminary Torat Hayim, located on Via Dolorosa was "abandoned by its occupants after the riots of 1936, and left in the care of its Arab janitor. This janitor had died just before the war in 1948 but had given the keys of the building to his brother." While renting the lower rooms to Arab tenants, the brother managed to "seal off and preserve the synagogue and library on the upper floor." Rumors of this story reached Chaim Herzog, the Israeli Military Governor at that time. He went to the building "and found that the synagogue and its library of 3,000 books were intact. The Arab janitor was asked: 'Weren't you afraid to watch over the synagogue when all the other synagogues in the old city were demolished?' To which the janitor replied: 'The holy place watched over me more than I watched over it.'"

When are we going to understand that if we really want Jerusalem to be our undivided capital, then we need to watch over its holy places. The Babylonian Talmud instructs, "When you pray, you are to face Jerusalem, if you are in Jerusalem; you should direct your heart toward the Temple" (Brachot 30a). The surest way to direct our hearts toward the Temple is while standing on the Temple Mount. Only through establishing our presence there we will watch over our holiest place and God will watch over us. It is inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to pray on the Temple Mount now that Jerusalem is under our rule. [04/21/99]

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Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.



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