13 Nisan 5767 / 01 April 07
by Moshe Dann
Jewish memory, Gush Katif and the Temple Mount.
Jewish historical memory is focused around a few basic experiences, among them: churban (destruction of the First and Second Temples) and korban (sacrifice-offering, re-dedication), both occurring in Eretz Yisrael.
I thought of this when I was told of a tour of the Temple Mount one Sunday morning. I hesitated. The last time I'd been at the site was just after the war, in June of 1967. I had joined a group of volunteers who came from all over the world in response to what the Arabs and the media predicted would be another Holocaust. It turned out to be a huge party.
Jewish historical memory is focused around a few basic experiences in Eretz Yisrael.
Not observant then, I joined thousands of people who thronged into Jerusalem's Old City for the first time in almost 20 years, walking through dust and rubble to witness the devastation and visit the site that was and is the center of Jewish consciousness: the Temple Mount.
Entering the golden Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine built at the end of the 7th century CE, prohibited to Jews by Muslim and Christian conquering armies for 2,000 years, I saw a piece of the mountaintop (the "Foundation Stone") where, according to the belief of the leading monotheist religions, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob encountered God, and where the First and Second Temples stood; it was like a vindication of Jewish suffering, perseverance and strength. Ravaged throughout history, Jews once again - some say miraculously - controlled The Temple Mount. And somehow, I was part of it.
After conquering the site, however, as a gesture of good-will, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan returned partial sovereignty to the Wakf, the Muslim authorities. Most Orthodox rabbis, mindful of stringent limits concerning the area of the Temple, and especially the Holy of Holies - an area restricted for all except the High Priest on Yom Kippur - prohibited Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount, especially the area of the golden dome. I wondered if I should be there.
I asked my rabbi about joining the recent Sunday tour. He didn't approve, but, knowing me, he also cautioned not to walk near the Dome of the Rock, but to follow the path around the perimeter. "Mikveh (ritual bath), and no leather shoes," he added. I was still hesitant, feeling the weight of rabbinic injunction.
At the end of morning prayers, I read the psalm of David for Sunday: "Who may ascend the mountain of HaShem and who may stand in the place of His sanctity?" Was I worthy of such an experience? Was I violating Halacha (Jewish law)?
Not going, however, was also a statement. The Wakf was illegally and systematically excavating on the Temple Mount and destroying all Jewish remnants. Archaeologists from around the world reported desecrations of the site. The Wakf had excavated the area beneath Al-Aksa mosque at the Mount's southern end (called, erroneously, "Solomon's Stables") and dumped the contents as garbage. The Israeli government, despite protests from around the world, refused to intervene.
A few months ago, excavations and reconstruction by Israeli authorities of an area adjacent to the Western Wall (outside the Temple Mount area) led to Arab riots, calls for terrorist attacks (more intifada) and condemnations from around the world. What was "ours," and what was "theirs"? And where did I belong in all of this?
Pesach - one of the three holidays during which Jews were required to come to the Temple with offerings - was a week away. Unable to bring a Korban Pesach, should I instead re-enact this ancient tradition of ascending the Temple Mount?
Still unsure of what I should do, I prepared myself and arrived at the walkway leading to the Mughrabi Gate (named for the North African community that occupied the area in front of the Kotel until it was removed in 1967) - the only entrance allowed by the Wakf to non-Muslims. And, according to their rules, we had to be out in two hours, by 10:00 a.m.
Passing scores of workers digging and filling pails, I joined a few dozen people, mostly non-Jewish tourists, as we were checked for weapons and prayer books (the Wakf does not allow non-Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount). As I stepped through the gate and onto the broad plaza, I suddenly felt lighter, as if another atmosphere surrounded me. Arab guards with walkie-talkies, scattered throughout the area, watched as I walked past the mosque to the eastern side of the compound.
I suddenly felt lighter, as if another atmosphere surrounded me.
As I stood there alone, without shoes, two tall, lanky young men dressed in white, with long payot (ritual side curls), greeted me. They told me that they were from a yeshiva, and they said the name.
"Where's that?" I asked.
"Yad Binyamin. We were in Gush Katif."
Shaking inside, I remembered the yeshiva in N'vei Dekalim, the synagogues and thriving community that were destroyed a year and a half ago. One thousand and five hundred families, 9,000 people - thrown out of their homes, most remaining unemployed and without any permanent housing, or adequate compensation. Twenty-one thriving communities - bulldozed. A stain on the Israeli nation; an on-going trauma. Jewish refugees. Exile and destruction.
Walking along the pathway on the eastern side of the plaza, we were accompanied by two Wakf guards. I pointed to garbage strew around; the guard shrugged. Piles of rubbish and building materials were scattered alongside.
On the northwestern side of the compound, I stopped to chat with another guard. He told me he has a degree from Hebron University, where he studied history.
"There's no Jewish history here," he informed me. "Nothing Jewish."
"The Temple?" I asked innocently.
"Maybe another hill. Not here," he said curtly and pointed to his watch and the exit. It was 10:00 a.m.