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Guest Columnist: A forbidden visit to the Temple Mount

reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
Jan. 14, 2010

by David Kirshenbaum

The day before the recent wedding of my daughter, Sharona, I had the awesome privilege of accompanying her, together with my son, Elie, to the Temple Mount. In addition to that much-anticipated visit, we had planned on spending the morning together, strolling the streets of Jerusalem, enjoying a father-daughter brunch and tending to last-minute preparations for the wedding. Instead, our visit to the Temple Mount was abruptly cut short and Sharona and I were detained until noon in a Jerusalem police station for actions deemed dangerous to the safety of the public and state.

Only hours after we were removed from the Temple Mount did I learn what it was that the police had determined made us public menaces. During separate questioning, I was asked, "Was your daughter swaying?"

Incredulous, I asked the officer to repeat the question, thinking perhaps I hadn't heard right.

"You know," and the good officer nodded his head back and forth, explaining, in a hostile manner, how that was quite obviously a provocative action and, therefore, an unlawful movement for a Jew to make on the Temple Mount.

AS I watched this officer bobbing his head and telling me why it was so bad and dangerous, what jumped into mind were the episodes in the classic M*A*S*H television series that mercilessly mocked the intelligence and shallow thinking of army brass.

But this was not comedy or satire. It was real, and it was sad. In fact, the shameful combination of the blatant racism of the Wakf, authorized by the government to monitor every movement on the Temple Mount of any non-Muslim visitor (in practice, the authority is primarily exercised in the case of those who appear to be religious Jews) and the craven police appeasement that my daughter and I experienced on her wedding eve surpassed that which I described in these pages in two recent columns ("Intolerance on the Temple Mount," September 27; "Where's the compromise over the Temple Mount?," November 1).

I suppose I should have been more mindful of the extent of the Wakf hatred and bigotry I described in the more recent article that responded to a Jerusalem Post editorial on the subject: "Even when a religious Jew simply pauses on the Temple Mount for the 'silent meditation and inspiration' [supported by the Post], this is often too much for the Wakf thought police." But while I had seen more than a few cases of an offending group being ordered to keep moving, I had never seen them taken to the police station for fingerprinting.

WHAT FOLLOWS is a brief description of actions by a Jew that are deemed a danger to the public safety in the State of Israel today. I was standing with my son and daughter on the north side of the Temple Mount, looking toward where the First and Second Temples stood. As we paused, I noted the astounding nature of just where it was that we were situated, and I mentioned the names of ancestors who, I said, must be looking down upon us with immense pride and joyful disbelief.

It was at this point that I heard somebody yell - either the Wakf member who was shadowing us the whole time or the Israeli policeman named Mahmoud - that we were praying. I later learned that by this time Sharona had already started her menacing movements, nodding her head in agreement to what I had been saying. I told Mahmoud that we were not praying (heaven forbid), and I continued. I explained to my children that while, for the time being, we were unable to pray out loud or in any formal way, prayer can also be done in our hearts and minds and that there could be no better place and time, especially for Sharona, standing as we were on the Temple Mount the day before her wedding, to think about the Israeli captives and MIAs and those sick and wounded in dire need of healing.

A few seconds later we heard the yelling again about praying, Mahmoud called for backup, and Sharona and I were driven away to the first of our encounters with various members of the police. First there were searches, then separate questioning by a police investigator - in which Sharona was addressed in a most obnoxious manner - and finally a meeting with the police commander responsible for the Temple Mount area.

DURING THE discussions with both the police investigator and the Temple Mount commanding officer, it was extremely distressing to note the extent to which they had surrendered to threats of Muslim violence. I asked each of them what they would do if a Jewish group threatened violence unless Muslims were banned from praying at al-Aksa. Would they forbid Muslim prayer or arrest the Jews for incitement? I urged them to stop being so afraid and take seriously their mandate to enforce public order, rather than forbidding the most fundamental of civil rights to make their jobs easier.

The extent of the flagrant injustice in the current arrangement on the Temple Mount can perhaps be better appreciated if we were to consider a comparable demand made by Jews of the Saudi government to forbid Muslim prayer on Islam's holiest spot at the Kaaba in Mecca (no non-Muslim is even allowed entry to Islam's two holiest cities - Mecca and Medina), or a demand by Jews or Muslims of the Vatican to prohibit Christian prayers at St. Peter's Basilica. Both would be viewed as sheer lunacy and, of course, are inconceivable.

Only in the case of the Temple Mount do we countenance such extreme religious imperialism. And only with Islam do we indulge and accommodate the ludicrous historic revisionism that attempts to obliterate the historic Jewish connection and claim to Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, and even denies the very existence of the First and Second Temples.

THE JEWISH state, its government and security forces dare not allow threats of Arab violence to separate the Jewish people from its holiest spot. Nor will we give up on our belief in the clarion call of the prophet Isaiah that, one day, the Temple Mount shall be "a house of prayer for all nations."

When it became apparent that my daughter and I were going to be spending at least part of the day before her wedding in police detention, she was, understandably, a bit upset. I told Sharona that long before her children reached the age she is today, Jews would be praying on the Temple Mount in the kind of numbers they do today at the Western Wall. Then, she would tell her children the hard-to-believe story of how she was arrested the day before her wedding because her silent prayer on the Temple Mount was considered a danger to public safety.

The writer is an attorney in Israel and New York.



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