March 12, 2009 Adar 16, 5769
by Nadav Shragai
For years, the Jerusalem District Police "benefited" from the fact that few Jews visited the Temple Mount, sparing the police this "headache." But now the situation is changing. The halakhic consensus that Jews are forbidden to ascend the mount has been broken. More and more rabbis are permitting Jews to visit, and more and more Jews are seeking to do so.
The police have not come to terms with this new situation. They are confused and are confusing others, and have inverted the natural order of things on the mount, which is both the world's most sensitive site and the Jewish people's holiest site. Not much remains for Jews on the Temple Mount. The Temple is gone. Prayer is forbidden there. The mount's antiquities have been destroyed, and its mosques have become founts of religious and nationalist incitement against the State of Israel.
The little the Israeli government has left to Jews on the mount, the minimum possible, is the right to visit their holiest site without feeling that they are being restricted and despised or doing someone an injustice. This natural right is enshrined in the Law for the Preservation of the Holy Places, which ostensibly permits freedom of access to members of all religions. But now that the halakhic rulings are changing, and theory is turning into practice, some people in the police - unofficially, of course - see this as tantamount to a threat to public safety and are making it as hard as possible for Jews to visit the mount, especially in groups.
The long lines at the mount's entrance, even though the site is open to Jews only in the mornings (meaning during work hours) and is closed entirely on Fridays and Saturdays, attest to Jews' growing interest in the site. But the fact that someone is taking the trouble to organize and transport groups of Jews to the mount - from Ma'alot, Netanya, Hadera and every corner of the country - has distorted the police's judgment. The sight of thousands of Jews on the mount - Jews with a Jewish/religious outlook, as opposed to a secular/Israeli or touristic one - is unjustly perceived by the police as a threat, as something that disturbs the peace on the mount, as a situation that must be prevented.
This is particularly true regarding the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist communities, which naturally have a national, religious, historic and cultural interest in the mount. It is unacceptable for Jews to wait in line for hours at the site's entrance, for the police to limit their entry to small groups, for them to bar each new group from entering until the preceding one has left, and for policemen and Waqf personnel to treat all Jews who look religious as potential suspects, to search their belongings and assign them an escort for as long as they remain on the mount.
Something very fundamental is wrong with the thought process of those responsible for the mount at the Israel Police. The issue of freedom of access to the Temple Mount - for everyone, and especially for Jews - is not an act of grace. Jews' freedom of access to their holiest site cannot be just one interest among many that the police must balance, or part of a carrot-and-stick style of negotiations with the Waqf, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. This freedom is axiomatic. That is what the government decided, and that is what the law says. The police must internalize this and make it clear to all the interested Muslim parties that such visits are natural for us, just as praying in the mount's mosques is natural for them.
It seems doubtful that the welcome increase in the number of Jews seeking to visit the mount really threatens public safety. But even if it did, the police should crack down on those making the threats, not those being threatened. If the Jerusalem police's field units do not understand this, someone higher up needs to explain it to them.
Jewish provocateurs should be barred from the mount, and they are. But to treat every one of the thousands of Jews who seek to ascend the mount as a provocateur - and, even worse, to give them the feeling they are visiting our holiest site by grace of a foreign government, after having already been deprived of their natural right to pray there - defies common sense and attests to a serious loss of direction.