The Temple Institute: Spiraling Out of Control



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Spiraling Out of Control

reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
Oct. 19, 2006

by Ksenia Svetlova, The Jerusalem Post

From the veranda of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, the call for the Maghreb (evening) prayer permeates the warm Jerusalem fall air. A thousand different voices repeat the ancient formula from all across the town, although the loudest call without a doubt comes from Al-Aksa's four minarets.

Soon, if the plan announced last week by Jordanian King Abdullah II becomes a reality, a fifth minaret will be added. The Hashemite monarch's announcement last week seems to have detonated a small bomb in both Arab and Jewish worlds, causing contradictory reactions and not a little antagonism.

Although the minaret in question, a tall spiral structure, will certainly not change the holy compound beyond recognition, some Israeli experts warn that the addition of another minaret, or any new building or sanctuary, might ruin the delicate and fragile status quo that has been achieved after many years of friction, pressures and suspicions.

Dr. Yitzhak Reiter of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies believes that the agreements on holy places must remain unchanged, since even the slightest amendment might cause a great deal of trouble and unrest: "Even the amendment in the regulation of security arrangements on the Mount could potentially trigger trouble, let alone the addition of another sanctuary.

"Since Israel claims to be in charge of security in this troubled spot, it might not be wise to support such a decision since it may cause dissatisfaction among other religious groups. For example, the Jewish radical elements might say that if there is room for another minaret on Temple Mount, a place could also be found for a synagogue."

As if living up to Reiter's predictions, MK Uri Ariel (NRP-NU) announced last week that he was drawing up plans to construct a synagogue on the Temple Mount.

"This is not a new idea," Ariel stressed. "It has been brought up and considered countless times since the Six Day War."

He also told reporters that the plan would soon be submitted to the Jerusalem Municipality and the Committee for Construction and Planning for approval. Remembering the tragic days of September 2000, and the five years of intifada that followed - when thousands of protesters around the Arab and Muslim world burned Israeli flags with the name Al-Aksa on their lips - it's hard to imagine that either Wakf authorities or the Jordanians, considered Al-Aksa guardians, will be thrilled with the idea.

The plan may not be approved, but even discussing the issue adds fuel to the fire of religious intolerance and zeal.

"This [the construction of the synagogue] will be an ideal opportunity for the Muslims to demonstrate tolerance toward other faiths," Ariel told Arutz Sheva. The question is whether this rationalism will be accepted by any of the sides who are fighting the fight of their lives to call the Temple Mount their own.

In response to In Jerusalem's request, advocate Zahi Meijidat, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement in Israel, said that the movement's leaders are not yet seriously concerned about Ariel's plans. "We don't think that these plans will be allowed to become reality. At the same time we want to remind everybody that Al-Aksa and Al-Haram al-Sharif [Temple Mount] are purely Islamic, and will remain that way forever. We do not recognize the right of any other religious denomination [to have authority over the area]. For more then 14 centuries this holy compound has belonged to the Muslims and will stay this way."

Meijidat also says that the additional minaret that will be built by the Jordanians is a blessed act. "Israel has put a lot of effort into safeguarding Al-Aksa. The security of this specific patch of land is essential to the security of the state itself," says veteran Israeli-French journalist Dr. Amnon Kapeliuk.

Despite multiple reports of Israeli compliance with the Jordanian plan, last week The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli officials said they were not even aware of it. "We didn't receive any official request on this matter, therefore we are not studying the possibility of granting or not granting the necessary permits," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Amira Oron told In Jerusalem. Last week a senior Jordanian personality involved in the project, Dr. Raef Najim, was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying that to date, he has not detected any Israeli objections to the project, and he has already toured the proposed building site, accompanied by a senior Jerusalem district police official, as well as a national government representative.

According to Najim, an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) official also accompanied him on his tour of the site, signaling passive approval by the various governmental agencies.

Despite the Israeli denials, the Jordanians are already talking about beginning construction on Temple Mount in early 2007. King Abdullah II also announced a contest for the best design for the brand new minaret, which must correspond architecturally with the four existing minarets - Bab al-Asbat, al-Fakhria, al-Ghawanmeh and Bab al-Silsilah. Three are square and one is cylindrical, from the Mamluk period.

The fifth minaret will be situated along the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, near the Golden Door and Bab al-Asbat. It would be clearly visible towering above the Western Wall.

The Hashemite dynasty has a long-term and difficult relationship with the Temple Mount. Since the beginning of their reign in 1921 the Hashemites started paying special attention to the Temple Mount, as if trying to replace the dynasty's loss of control over the Mecca and Medina sanctuaries. After several battles during the Forties over the right to control the Temple Mount with the Supreme Muslim Council, the body that was then led by Palestinian religious figures, the most famous of whom is Haj Amin al-Husseini, Amman took over control of the city's holy places in 1948.

Administrators and religious functionaries at the Temple Mount became Jordanian civil servants, with Amman paying their salaries and assuming responsibility for maintenance of the sites. A major renovation of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa was carried out in 1958, albeit with financial assistance from other Muslim governments and organizations.

This special Jordanian role continued even after the Six Day War. Jordan retained custodial responsibility for the mosque compound, even after it gave up all claims to the West Bank in 1988, and coordinates its work with the Palestinian Authority. According to the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement, Israel agreed to respect the "special role" of Jordan at Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem and promised to give "high priority" to Jordan's historic role at the shrines during permanent-status negotiations with the Palestinians. Former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat, who agreed not to set up institutions in Jerusalem according to an agreement with Israel, appointed his own mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, and other Palestinian officials as Islamic religious authorities on the Temple Mount, sidelining the Jordanian administration in the mid-1990s.

Building the fifth minaret, then, might become the grand Jordanian comeback to the area, symbolizing that the Jordanians are still calling the shots at the Temple Mount.

"Jordanians always sought recognition for their role at Al-Haram al-Sharif," says Reiter and adds, "During the Fifties they funded the renovation of the Dome of the Rock and King Hussein had even sold his private house in London to finance this costly operation. So the Jordanians certainly want to be in the picture, and it is also in the interest of Israel that King Abdullah II and not some radical Muslim organization will call the shots in this Gordian knot."

At the same time Reiter repeats his concerns about the soundness of the decision to create another minaret at the place. "You have to think really carefully how you can satisfy all the parties and at the same time not to mess with the status quo, which might have unanticipated and unwanted consequences."



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