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Why the Temple Mount Should Matter – to Everyone

reprinted from The Times of Israel
July 13, 2012

by Ari Soffer

The Temple Mount is under threat – and it has been for decades. But things are about to change, and here's what you can do to help...

The recent, shocking revelations about the Waqf's desecration of the Temple Foundation Stone (‘Even ha'Sheti'a' in Hebrew) are only the latest instalment in a vicious, illegal and calculated campaign to erase the Jewish presence in Jerusalem from the annals of history, in the name of Islamist imperialism. The objective: quite literally to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. The Waqf and its Islamist allies are eagerly helped along in their campaign by the Palestinian Authority, who avidly adher to the strategy of promulgating outrageous, politically-motivated denials of Jewish history in Jerusalem, in the name of Arab nationalism.

This desecration has, sadly, been allowed to go on unchecked for many years, culminating in what prominent historian Israel Finkelstein has described as ‘the greatest devastation to have recently been inflicted on Jerusalem's archaeological heritage': the gutting of the ‘Solomon's Stables' area to make way for a mega-mosque. In the process, many tons of earth containing countless pieces of ancient, priceless artefacts have simply been dug up and disposed of. The task of retrieving what remains has been left to groups of committed volunteers, whose regular, incredible discoveries merely emphasise the staggering extent of the crimes currently taking place there.

For religious Jews, it is obvious why preventing this desecration must be a priority. The Temple Mount is the physical focal point of the Jewish people and our religious beliefs. It is the site of the two Holy Temples and the place towards which every Jew who prays three times a day directs him/herself both physically and mentally. Moreover, it is a Mitzvah - a Torah commandment – to revere the Temple Mount, as codified by the Rambam (Maimonides). This commandment applies even in our times, when there is no Temple (Beit HaBechira 7:7). In fact, the contemporary Halachic (Jewish legal) controversy over whether one is permitted to ascend the Temple Mount stems directly from conflicting interpretations of this commandment: should we ascend to pay homage, or is it so holy that no mortal may tread upon it?

I dare say that there are few, if any, religions which would tolerate the existence of a foreign religious shrine atop their holiest place. Imagine, say, the prospect of a synagogue on top of or next to the Ka'aba in Mecca (admittedly it would be hard to reach the necessary quorum for prayers given that Jews – and other non-Muslims – are forbidden from stepping foot in Mecca). Considering the reactions elsewhere in the world to perceived desecrations of religious items, it seems fairly reasonable to simply request that Jews be granted equal rights of worship, and that the Waqf authorities maintaining the Temple Mount refrain from destroying and desecrating ancient Jewish artefacts, on what Jewish literature reverently refers to as the ‘Gates of Heaven.'

Yet as the desecration, discrimination and harassment continues to mount, we Jews must ask ourselves a very simple question: if we are determined to behave in such a servile way, if we will hand over our very dignity for the sake of ‘not making a fuss,' then for what purpose did we return to the land of our forefathers, at the cost of so much Jewish blood, sweat and toil?

Yet this is not just a religious issue, or even a Jewish issue. Surely the systematic destruction of ancient artefacts and the denial of the basic right to freedom of worship is something which must bother all decent, right-minded individuals. Most crucially, there is an international political context to this campaign of Islamist destruction which should worry everyone, from the East to the West.

Islamist extremists have long engaged in an aggressive campaign to extend their control over various states and regions by literally wiping out all opposing religious and cultural blocs. This cultural imperialism involves not only murder and terrorism, but the kind of cultural vandalism the world has continually witnessed, from Afghanistan in 2001 to Timbuktu in 2012. And this Islamist imperialism is still on the march: buoyed by their recent political victories across the Middle East, Islamist leaders have recently set their sites on none other than the Pyramids of Giza. By ignoring this phenomenon we are putting the universal heritage of all of humankind at risk.

It must also concern all those who care about Israel to speak up against the hypocrisy of the silence of the UN, EU and international governments when it comes to the Temple Mount, considering their hysterical condemnation of legal real-estate purchases by Jews in Arab-majority neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.

But things are changing. Thankfully, the absurd, collective silence over the Temple Mount has been broken, thanks to a recently-launched initiative by the British Israel Coalition – the largest and fastest-growing grassroots organisation of its kind. Equally encouragingly, the International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor has issued a statement condemning the destruction of Sufi shrines by Islamists in Timbuktu as a war crime. We agree. And we call upon the ICC to apply this legal opinion not only to Sufi Muslim shrines but to all other sites of religious and historical significance. Surely the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is no less important than the tombs of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya in Timbuktu.

If you agree as well, then please join the campaign and sign our petition, hard copies of which will be handed to UNESCO, the ICC and the EU to demand they take immediate action. And there will be some exciting news to follow, you can be sure of that. Together we can make a difference, and the BIC's track record has proven that proactive campaigns such as this work, and certainly beat the ineffectual ‘softly softly' approach that we have had to suffer for so long.

Stand up and take action – together for the Temple Mount, together for Israel!



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