translated from Makor Rishon
July 25, 2014
This interview originally appeared in Hebrew in the Makor Rishon newspaper.
Efraim Inbar is a Professor in Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and Director of its renowned Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (the BESA Center).
Efraim Inbar: Whether or not the orders come from the local commanders or from the top political echelon, the police exhibit a careless attitude concerning the Temple Mount. They come down hard on the religiously observant Jews who want to ascend the Temple Mount, and they do so in order to discourage others who would be inclined to come. If it weren't for the hostile attitude of the police many more Jews would arrive. In addition, the police do not maintain law and order on the Temple Mount despite the fact that they have the ability to do so. The state of Israel prides itself on granting freedom of access for all faiths on the Temple Mount, but nevertheless discriminates against religious Jews out of fears that, while understandable, are greatly exaggerated.
Arnon Segal: Is there room for both Muslim and Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount?
Efraim Inbar: Why not? It is a huge place. After all, this is the vision of the prophets.
Arnon Segal: The police have said repeatedly that the Temple Mount is a "powderkeg" and that any change in the status quo concerning Jewish prayer could set the entire Middle East ablaze.
Efraim Inbar: The Middle East is in flames and this has absolutely nothing to do with the Temple Mount. The Arabs are preoccupied with other issues. It doesn't seem to me that they are even paying attention to the Temple Mount. Who does pay attention are the local Islamic Movement and Hamas. They encourage conflict on the Temple Mount and they need to be dealt with. The Israeli police certainly know how to deal with them and their fears about doing so are misplaced. And since when have the police exhibited expertise in the international relations of the Middle East? By virtue of what exactly do the police have the right to make such statements?
The High Court of Justice in the past has allowed Jewish nationalistic demonstrations in [the Arab town of] Umm al-Fahm, which is truly a provocation, so why can't a Jew pray quietly in a designated area on the Temple Mount? Should the objection of a few radical Arabs negate his right to perform this very important princible of worship? The state of Israel takes pride in granting freedom of worship to all faiths. This is not a religious declaration but a declaration of policy that Israel makes heard in order to justify her sovereignty in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount - but in point of fact, Israel is not enforcing this policy.
Arnon Segal: Is it possible to change the status quo that has been in effect for neary fifty years?
Efraim Inbar: There is no reason for enshrining a bad status quo. So what if there exists a status quo? In any case, the religious-secular status quo changes all the time [in Israel]. So why, concerning the Temple Mount it is considered forbidden to change the status quo? The time has come to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. The High Court has stated so. There is simply a lack of will to enforce Israel's stated policy [of religious freedom] and a denial of the very values that the High Court has upheld.
Arnon Segal: There exists a confluence of interests that unites both the police and certain political forces to refuse to make any change in the status quo. What is the motivation for such a blanket refusal to make change?
Efraim Inbar: They share a very real fear that there will be violent riots [if the status quo is changed], which is a fear that I feel is not justified. In addition, the police, as an organization, have an interest in maintaining quiet for themselves. Why would they want to have to deal with a new issue? In any case, the police have proven in the past that they are quite capable of performing the tasks that they have been charged with. There is simply no reason to prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. This strikes me as so self evident that I am simply amazed that the [current] nationalistic government doesn't possess the courage to uphold a principle that the entire world is capable of understanding. After all, this is the reason we have returned to the land of Israel - in order to pray on the Temple Mount. Not only to settle the land of Israel, or to build a strong nation, but to exercise our historic and natural right to pray on the Temple Mount.
Arnon Segal: They claim that, in light of the fact that violent unrest on the Temple Mount is a not infrequent occurence, allowing Jewish prayer will have an incendiary effect.
Efraim Inbar: Even if we suppose that this is correct, it is the obligation of the police to guarantee the rights of the vast majority of Israelis who certainly have an interest that Jews be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. All the polls show that some seventy percent of the Jews in Israel desire that the state of Israel remains in control of the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is part of the national concensus. This is not a fringe issue, and shares nothing in common with the issue of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.