Published in JNS

The hold that symbols have over one’s identity, one’s core beliefs, one’s religion, one’s affiliation with a group, a tribe or a nation is incalculable. A friend of mine, a secular Jew who could very easily pass for a WASP, was recently physically attacked on four separate occasions in New York because he proudly wears a Jewish star around his neck.

Asked why he refuses to take it off, he replies, “because that is who I am.”

Nowhere does this play out stronger than within the 2.8 square miles encompassed by the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. And nowhere is the emotional hold on this stronger than in the 1600 feet of the Temple Mount Complex, known to Muslims as “Harim al Sharif” and to Jews as “Har haBayit.”

Prior to the War of Independence, Jordan had control of Judea and Samaria, the West Bank of the Jordan River (hence the term “West Bank”), including East Jerusalem, the third holiest Muslim site, after Mecca and Medina, and holds the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Hashemite Kingdom was appointed in 1924 by the Supreme Muslim Council as the custodian of Al Aqsa.

In June of 1967, Israel waged a preemptive strike against forces amassing along her borders. Jordan was late to enter the war. The Egyptian media blasted dramatic, fallacious news reports that Israel would be thoroughly decimated. Jordan bought into it.

As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The Atlantic, Jordan began bombarding Jewish residential neighborhoods in West Jerusalem, and Israel responded by saying,  “Cease fire and we won’t attack.”

On the morning of June 7th, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent a cable to King Hussein, saying, “If you agree to peace talks, we won’t invade.” Jordan didn’t respond, and Israel was victorious.

When the Israeli forces entered through the Old City of Jerusalem and approached the Western Wall, it was a rare moment of Jewish historical ecstasy. Everyone of a certain age remembers General Moti Gur’s triumphant call, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

After two thousand years of exile, including the worst sorts of collective degradation, humiliation and widescale murder imaginable, including exile, Dhimmitude, Inquisition and pogroms, culminating in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, we recaptured the Temple Mount, the eternal symbol of our national sovereignty and religious identity.

For a few moments, the IDF ascended the Temple Mount and hoisted the Israeli flag. However, General Moshe Dayan, peering through binoculars from Mt. Scopus exclaimed to his troops, “Do you want to set the Middle East on fire?” and the flag was immediately lowered.

Perhaps Moshe Dayan could be credited for understanding the enormous emotional grip that such symbols hold. Immediately after the war, General Dayan met with the Muslim Waqf and cemented their control of the Temple Mount.

It is incredibly contentious in Israel that Jews are (normally) allowed to visit, but have long been forbidden to pray at the Temple Mount. In July of 2021, Prime Minister Bennet said both Jews and non-Jews have freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, but realizing how contentious that statement was, he amended it to “freedom of visitation rights.”

To this day, Jews are arrested by the Israeli police if they are caught praying on the Temple Mount.

One might think that Israel would be applauded in the international arena for its sensitivity that this area of real estate holds for the Muslim world, as they subjugated their own religious passions. It is after all, the third holiest site for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina and the holiest for Jews.

Jordan is among the largest recipients of US taxpayer funding per year—over $1.65 billion was appropriated by the U.S. Congress in 2021.  Since the 1994 peace treaty with Israel, it has long been regarded as a peace-loving, moderate nation.

Yet, Jordan has increasingly been part of the problem, not the solution. During the clashes this Ramadan, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh recently expressed delight over violence against Jews, saying he “praises every Palestinian and Jordanian Islamic Waqf worker…who throws rocks at the pro-Zionists.”

Unfortunately, words matter. Violence has erupted once again in Israel, taking the lives of 17 Israelis. Many unfortunate young Palestinians have lost their lives as well. These young people have been raised in UNRWA schools where there is constant Israelophobic and antisemitic incitement and have been raised on fiery sermons from Imams in their mosques.

These young Palestinians are victims of their leaders’ toxic incitement. And we need to distinguish between the arsonist—who incites and terrorizes—and the firefighter, who tries to protect its civilian population from those acts of terrorism. Rioters that throw large boulders and ignite fireworks toward the police are not equivalent to the police who try to protect the Jewish civilians.

Jordan has recently claimed that Israel is violating the status quo on the Temple Mount, while simultaneously having the audacity to draft a White Paper to change the status quo, asking Israel to relinquish its control and hand more over to the Hashemite Kingdom

This week, Jordan’s King Abdullah will be meeting with President Biden. One can bet his final nickel that he will be criticizing Israel’s behavior on the Temple Mount, armed with gross exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies.

Let us hope that President Biden does not fall for his baseless accusations.

About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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