Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thinking About the Temple Mount

Earlier this week, I called out the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star for mislabeling Israeli soldiers as "Jewish troops." It was a clear example of journalism gone awry.

While writing the post, I almost included another example of sloppy journalism, but I left it out for stylistic reasons. So I'm glad that Evelyn Gordon at Commentary has spotted the same mistake and taken the effort to correct it.

In a recent New York Times article, Isabel Kershner reviews an interesting new book about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, entitled "Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem's Sacred Esplanade." According to Kershner, the book combines Muslim, Christian and Jewish experts to discuss the "history, archaeology, aesthetics and politics of the place that Jews revere as the location of their two ancient temples, and that now houses the Al Aksa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam."

Everything was going great until I reached this sentence: "The lack of archaeological evidence of the ancient temples has led many Palestinians to deny any real Jewish attachment or claim to the plateau."

While there's no question some Palestinians have dubiously questioned the Temple Mount's Jewish roots, Kershner unfortunately phrases the sentence to imply that there is, in fact, a paucity of evidence. Except there is plenty of evidence.

As Gordon points out, the Jewish temple is "well-documented in extant writings from the period" and there are several walls still standing. I have physically touched the evidence, walked around the evidence and ventured beneath it - as have millions of other tourists who visited the Western Wall. It's existence is not in question to anyone who can see.

Gordon goes on to explain why such an important archaeological site has not received the amount of archaeological scrutiny it deserves. Namely, since the 1967 War and the capture of East Jerusalem, Israel has allowed the Temple Mount to remain under Muslim authority, making excavations impossible due to political and religious sensitivities.

And then Gordon makes a mistake, I believe, more damaging than the New York Times article she sets out to correct. She writes, "perhaps Jerusalem needs to rethink its tactics - and start demonstrating the Jewish connection to the Mount in actions rather than words [...] letting Jews pray on a designated section of the Mount devoid of mosques would be an excellent place to begin."

This would undoubtedly start the Third Intifada. As is, tensions are incredibly high throughout the Holy Land. Palestinians and Israelis are already clashing over the Temple Mount, with Muslim leaders calling to "defend the Temple Mount from conquest by Jews" as right-wing Jews flock to the Mount to raise holy hell. Meanwhile, scholar Steven Cook concluded this week that "a third intifada is likely to erupt in the near future" if the political situation continues to deteriorate. Nor should we forget what instigated the Second Intifada: Ariel Sharon's ill-fated visit to the Temple Mount.

In other words, the gasoline has already been poured over the tinder. All we're waiting for is a spark, one that Gordon seems ready to provide.

In the long-run, sure, it seems fair to let Jews pray on the Temple Mount in a cordoned-off section. After all, it's both a Jewish and a Muslim holy site. But until cooler heads prevail, political realities dictate otherwise.

*FYI, I read another bad idea today. From Sarah Palin. She argues for continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank because Israel's population "is going to grow [...] in the days and weeks and months ahead." Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy does a good job summing up why that's a horrible idea.

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