Part IV: The History and Philosophy of the Temple Mount
By Dr. Richard L. Benkin
There are 15 Arab states in the Middle East, sitting upon two-thirds of the world's oil reserves. Their population is 50 times that of Israel’s, and their territory is hundreds of times larger than Israel’s. Yet, all of them are and have been obsessed with ousting the region's one tiny Jewish State. They have led their nations into disastrous wars, neglected their people’s own needs and squandered their oil wealth all to feed that obsession. What impels them to focus on that tiny scrap of land, less than half the area of tiny Bhutan? Jews have irrefutable historical ties to the land. Their holy books and historians say so. Immediately before reading their holy book, the Torah, Jews say and have said: “For out of Zion comes the Torah, and the Word of G-d from Jerusalem.” They have prayed every week for centuries that G-d allow them to reclaim their birthright. And until that redemption began, Arabs had shown no interest in the land. The land was but sparsely populated and almost unused before the 19th and 20th century Zionist halutzim started returning. Travelers, from obscure monks luminaries like American writer Mark Twain, commented on its fallow and neglected state. The land that today is Israel was little more than malarial swamp and desert before modern Zionists started transforming it; a land with no oil wealth; a land virtually abandoned by Arabs for centuries. But yet a land that Jews wished to return to and redeem.
What sudden passion turned neglect into religious zeal only after Jews reclaimed but a portion of what is and always has been theirs? How can one explain the sheer hatred by Israel’s enemies that they consider no slur or threat of annihilation too harsh if uttered against the Middle East’s only democracy? Why did the UN and its oil-soaked masters condemn Israel for phantom abuses while standing by to allow millions to die in Rwanda, Biafra/Nigeria, Sudan and elsewhere; and while ignoring Arab terrorists’ murder of innocents? They tolerate the disappearance of entire nations while perceiving slights and inconveniences for those who still wish to eradicate Israel.
Principles of exclusivity and ethnic cleansing are and have been at the heart of anti-Israeli positions. Arab leaders only recently and only reluctantly started acknowledging Israel’s existence. Many still cry that all they want is to end Israeli “occupation” of territories formerly occupied by Jordan. They conveniently forget that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), precursor to the Palestinian Authority (PA), was founded in 1964, three years before Israel gained control of that territory, including the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Yet, the PLO never demanded its West Bank/Gaza Palestinian state from Jordan and Egypt before 1967. For that was never their goal. Rather, Arab political leaders seized upon the principle of religious exclusivity and cynically elevated their interests to a “holy mission.” Whatever ideology happens to hold sway in the Arab world—from Saudi Arabia's Wahabi Islam to Syria's faux socialism to the radical fundamentalism of Iranian autocracy—they all demand refusal to accept any non-Muslim state in the Middle East. From the Arabs’ rejection of the 1948 Partition of Palestine to the cries of Egyptian dictator Gamal Nasser to “drive the Jews into the sea” to the maniacal Iranian president’s screeds today to wipe Israel off the map, their real agenda has been clear. Take a trip through the Arab markets in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and elsewhere. There you can buy tee-shirts showing a map that occupies all of Israel and the territories, emblazoned with the name “Palestine” and a smiling Yassir Arafat. Arab schoolbooks and anti-Israeli UN commissions show their true colors with maps that refuse to show Israel.
An unvarnished, report about Arab actions at Jerusalem's Temple Mount, not distorted through the lenses of political correctness, presents the Middle East conflict in microcosm. They are a metaphor for the entire conflict and allow us to see the battle in the true light that animates it. That is, what is called holy is in reality venal; what is called religious is in truth political; what is called Islam is nothing more than imperialism. Let the reader suspend any prejudgments of religious exclusivity. Allow that Jews and Muslims alike have religious claims to the Temple Mount. Examine the issue from a position that G-d has made room in His world for more than one religious belief. That is what I am doing. For as a Jew, I believe only the Jewish religious claims, but as an advocate of peace, I am willing to allow that my religious beliefs are not the only ones that should be respected.
Most people, who follow reports of military exploits, terrorist acts, and so forth, are unaware of activity on and about the Temple Mount, where tradition places Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, Jesus' preaching, and Mohammed's ascent into heaven. Beyond tradition, extensive archeological and other evidence locates both ancient Jewish Temples on the site. Yet, despite that Mount of evidence, it has been official Arab policy in recent decades to deny any historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem's Temple Mount. That's Arab policy, not Hamas, Palestinian, or Syrian. At first glance, the notion sounds absurd; and it is absurd. Not just another piece of Arab propaganda, however, it is part of an ongoing Arab attempt to de-legitimize Judaism.
The belief that Israel's enemies want a "two-state solution" is a chimera.
Ever since the Prophet Mohammed, Muslim tradition and writ have recognized those Jewish temples. Islam came late to Jerusalem, in 638 when Umayyad Caliph Umar, defeated the Byzantine Christians who had inherited the city from the Romans. The Romans, by the way, exterminated over 2,000,000 Jews after conquering and destroying their sovereign nation. They renamed the Jews’ capital, Jerusalem, to Aelia Capitolina and expelled the Jews from their Middle East homeland. One of Umar’s first commands was to be taken to site of the Jewish Temples. The Byzantines were no friends to the Jews but never attempted to deny their history. Their Patriarch, Sophronius took Umar to the Mount and said, “Here is that appalling abomination.” Umar was indeed appalled—but not by the Temple itself. He was incensed at the accumulated garbage and debris, which he believed desecrated that Jewish holy site. He ordered the site cleansed immediately in a manner befitting its holy purpose. Succeeding Arab leaders had Al-Aqsa and The Dome of the Rock built there not to mark a Muslim holy site but rather in historical tradition to advertise Muslim hegemony over Jerusalem with its Jewish and Christian holy sites.
Succeeding centuries of classic Arab literature continues to document the holy Jewish Temple, even down to details about its construction and destruction. The many stories about Umar and his successors at the site of the Jewish Temples in Jerusalem are but part of that tradition. Abu Bachar al-Wasti, one of Al-Aqsa’a early preachers, wrote an 11th century book praising Jerusalem, noting the city’s Jewish roots and the Jewish Temples’ location at Al-Aqsa. Eleventh century geographer and historian, Al-Mukadasi and 14th century Persian legal scholar, Al-Mastufi both identify the Al-Aqsa Mosque with the Temple of Solomon. Jalaluddin Rumi’s 13th century poetry equates the “Mosque” of Solomon with Al-Aqsa mosque, just to note a few examples.
Even in the 20th century, the Palestinian historian Araf al-Araf wrote Haram al-Sharif is on Mount Moriah, which King David purchased from the Jebusites, and where “his son Solomon” built the Temple in the year 1007 BCE. Al-Araf also added that the remains of the structures “underneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque” date to the period of Solomon. And in 1930,” Jerusalem’s supreme Moslem authority in its official “Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif stated: "Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute." The historical record is replete with like statements by Arab leaders, yet all from a time before the Arab world became obsessed with the State of Israel and its ongoing failed attempts to eradicate it from the nations of the world. Since then, they have deemed political expediency more important than historical truth.
Of more recent vintage is the attempt to connect the “furthest mosque” of the Quran’s Sura 17:1 with Jerusalem. There is, however, no evidence of any kind to suggest that Muslims of the Prophet Muhammad'’s day recognized the Mount as anything other than a Jewish holy site. Islamic scholarship through the 1960s located the furthest mosque (al-masjid Al-Aqsa) in al-Gi-ranah on the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet himself had no regard for Jerusalem, except for a brief time while he courted Arabia’s Jews, anticipating that they would flock to his teaching. When they rejected his proffered apostasy in 624, Muhammad' strictly forbade all Muslims from facing Jerusalem when they prayed—a ban enforced on Al-Aqsa worshippers, as well, who face Mecca.
In 2003, Ahmad Muhammad 'Arafa, a columnist for the Egyptian weekly Al-Qahira, published by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, wrote an article rejecting the belief that the Prophet Muhammad's "Night Journey" took him from Mecca to Jerusalem. Arafa analyzes of the Koranic text and demonstrates that the Night Journey in Surat Al-Isra refers to the Prophet's emigration (Hijra) from Mecca to Medina. No one has successfully refuted Arafa’s scholarship on the Mount; subsequent Arab preachers and historians simply ignore it.
More indicative of official Arab Muslim policy today are assertions such as those emanating most Fridays from mosques throughout the Middle East that there was no Jewish Temple on the Mount. Arab political and Arab/Muslim religious organizations re-affirm that outrageous claim at regular intervals. Typical are the words of these Iranian clerics that the Mount is a “sacred place only for Muslims, around the globe.” The Jerusalem mufti (or Muslim spiritual leader) regularly insists that Jewish or Christian prayer never will be allowed on the Mount, as it is strictly a Muslim holy site. Many Muslim legal scholars now attach the word " Typical of the current racist screeds that Arab leaders purport are historical is one by Abed al-Tuwab Mustafa, University of Cairo lecturer in political science and former Egyptian television host. He writes that the Jews' belief in the Temple is a specious allegation, the research unscientific, and no more than assumptions and hypotheses. Noted author and historian, Dr. Yitzchak Reiter, however, debunks Mustafa’s false assertions. For instance, Mustafa misquotes a 1929 British commission of inquiry on the Temple’s Western Wall, alleging it concluded “that the Jews' contention that the Western Wall is one of the walls of Solomon's Temple is incorrect.” In fact, the committee report states the opposite. Mustafa similarly distorts statements by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, on which he bases his entire treatise. He misreads her location of the Jewish Temples, claiming they must be somewhere other than the Temple Mount. Yet, she never doubted their location on the Temple Mount. Finally, Arab pundits have oft repeated that Israel’s post-1967 archeological excavations have failed to find evidence of the Temples at the Mount. Israel’s Islamic movement quotes Isreali archaeologist Eilat Mazar, as having said: "We did not reach a temple, and we have no idea where it was." But in fact, her book Mazar presents findings to support the scriptural sources regarding the Temple.
In recent years, however, the Muslim Waqf has attempted to erase that historical record by engaging in extensive and unsupervised "renovation" of the Mount. It built a new mosque under its southeast corner, cutting additional exits through the Temple Mount walls, and blockeding any archeological supervision of the work. Without any oversight, they ripped physical evidence of the Temple from the Mount and secreted it-often mixed with present-day garbage-in various spots around Jerusalem, most notably the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem's eastern wall and the Mount of Olives.
The Arabs, of course, claim that the objections to this Waqf activity is all a hoax. In their media and from their pulpits, they repeat their mantra of a Jewish conspiracy to undermine the Muslims' claim to the Mount. One Iranian piece quotes the Jerusalem mufti of accusing those who have protested Waqf actions as creating "a big hue and cry to justify [Israel's] interference in [Muslim] affairs." And he emphasized that the Mount is a sacred place "only for the Muslims, around the globe."
The reality is quite different, and there can be little doubt that publicizing this Arab attempt to erase history can only lay bare the true nature of the Middle East conflict. The next installment of this series on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount will present the documented evidence of what has been termed the Arabs’ Temple Mount Jihad.