Understanding the Crisis Over Har HaBayis

From Mecca to the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, heavy security prevails. In an age of international terrorism, in which every prominent public place, whether sacred or secular, is a target, governments and religious authorities the world over work together to protect these landmarks.

No one enjoys the sight of armed guards, gates, checkpoints and police surveillance cameras stationed at their most revered sites. No one looks forward to being scanned or searched, cordoned off and interrogated like a bomb-carrying criminal. But millions of people submit to these inconveniences and indignities for their own safety and that of others.

Many complain about the inefficiency or ineffectiveness of the measures taken, but put up with them for the general good. While they long for the day when such precautions will no longer be needed, in the meantime, there is a general consensus and broad understanding that they are very much needed.

Except by the Muslims’ reaction to the security measures at Har HaBayis. There, simple, straightforward logic does not apply at all.

Instead, the Israeli government’s decision to install metal detectors and cameras at the entrance to the mosque is construed as another attempt to “Judaize” and to extend Israeli sovereignty over their holy places. (Is it because visitors to the Kosel must also pass through elaborate security precautions, that the Muslims in Yerushalayim associate such measures with Judaism?)

It makes no difference to them that the metal detectors were set up in direct response to a terrorist attack in which the gunmen used the Al-Aqsa mosque to stash their weapons until the moment before the shootings of two Israeli policemen. It makes no difference to them that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any intention of changing the status quo at Har HaBayis, has sought in vain to reach a mutually satisfactory security arrangement with the Jordanian and Wakf officials, and has for months imposed a ban on Knesset members, both Jewish and Muslim, from going there, in order to prevent any incident that could be seen as an encroachment on the status quo. It makes no difference that using the mosque as a staging ground for terrorism is itself a violation of the status quo.

No, they are unalterably convinced that all this is merely a cover for Israeli sovereignty-grabbing and an intolerable affront to the sanctity of Muslim holy places and an insult to the dignity of peace-loving worshippers.

Sounds illogical? Israel is the offending party and the Muslims are the injured party? Is it Israel that seeks to take over Muslim holy sites, denying their special connection to those places?

The truth is precisely the opposite. Just days ago, the Palestinians and Arab states pushed resolutions through at UNESCO which denied the Jewish connection to Yerushalayim and declared Me’aras Hamachpelah a Muslim heritage site “endangered” by Israeli actions.

It makes no difference that the claims to these two places are better documented than any other parcel of land on the face of the Earth. The title is held in perpetuity by the Jewish people since Avraham Avinu. This was understood and accepted by everyone for all the centuries since the Torah was given, until the supposed contemporary zeal for heritage preservation drove out all sense of historical truth.

What drives this seemingly groundless campaign to seal off Har HaBayis from any reality and all reason? How can anyone take such arguments seriously?

It is highly doubtful that anyone but the most paranoid really thinks the metal detectors are there to aggrandize the Jewish presence on Har HaBayis.

Instead, as any unbiased observer will readily conclude, it serves as a very effective propaganda tool against Israel. Indeed, they have succeeded in arousing much of the Muslim world to rise up and “defend Al-Aqsa.”

The spuriousness of allegations and cries of “danger” to the holy sites matters not. What matters is to whip up anger against the Israelis. The hatred that has been bred for decades in the Palestinian and Muslim populations requires no evidence, needs no logic, to be inflamed in an instant. Mass protests, riots and terror attacks are but an online posting away.

On Monday, it was announced that a deal had been struck. The metal detectors at Har HaBayis will would be replaced by less visible but highly sophisticated cameras, to be administered jointly by the Israelis, Jordanians and the Wakf. In exchange, the Israeli security guard who shot two Jordanians after he was attacked and stabbed was allowed to return to Israel.

We can only pray and hope that this deal will prove to be the right move under these most challenging circumstances.