Friday, December 14, 2012

My Experience with the Tension in Jerusalem (Part 2)


In Part 1 of this series, I explained that Jerusalem has an ancient district - a very small walled area called the "Old City" - which is surrounded by a modern city that has emerged within the last 100 years or so. The present day nation of Israel was formed in 1948, but only the modern part of Jerusalem belonged to Israel at that time - the Old City (and other territories) were captured in 1967. This territorial expansion has been extremely controversial for decades and has proven to be an obstacle to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians (the people who lived there previously).

While all of the 1967 territory is disputed by the Palestinians and surrounding nations, the Old City is perhaps the most hotly contested from a cultural standpoint because of its religious significance. The eastern side of the Old City is home to the Temple Mount, a large elevated platform which rises about 20 meters above the street level. Atop this platform stand two Muslim worship places where God's Temple once was, and you can see both of them in my video of the Temple Mount area below.

video

This place is the reason why both Muslims and Jews contend passionately for the Old City. The site of the Temple, that all-important historical center of the Jewish religion, is now home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock is the 3rd holiest site in Islam because, according to tradition, it was from there that Mohammed ascended to heaven. According to legend, he jumped off of the stone altar (i.e., the one that puts the "Rock" in "Dome of the Rock") on which Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, and there's even a "footprint"(read: slight formless depression in the rock) where he jumped off for tourists to go see - or at least that they used to be able to see, since only Muslims are currently allowed access inside the Dome at present. Pegging Jerusalem as the location for this event is a tradition that is based on a rather vague reference in the Quran, which simply refers to the "northernmost mosque." Because the city isn't given explicitly by name, the link may seem tenuous, but hundreds of years of tradition have ingrained this notion. As an interesting aside, Jerusalem is never mentioned by name in the Quran, and some suggest that this was a deliberate way of dissing the Jewish and Christian religions, which both have big reasons to be interested in Jerusalem.

The line for non-Muslims to enter the Temple Mount area
I found the administration of the Temple Mount interesting. While Israel has political control over the area, the Muslim community sets the rules of the Temple Mount, and their decisions are then enforced by the Israelis. Non-Muslims are only allowed to go up onto the Temple Mount during a 3 hour window each morning and are not allowed to pray there, and the entrances and exits are vigilantly guarded by Israeli Police around the clock to prevent unauthorized access by non-Muslims. In fact,  non-Muslims can only enter through one of the many entrance points, and, combined with the stringent time constraints, there's typically a line (as you can see - I was actually most of the way through it in the above pic). As I remarked in the video, you're not supposed to wear shorts or other immodest dress on the Temple Mount - the Israeli Police at the entrance didn't say a word about it, but I was quickly swept aside by Muslim guards as soon as I emerged from my climb up to the platform, who informed me that I must buy a wrap to cover my legs if I wanted to continue, which set me back 50 shekels (~$13).

I didn't just dorkily take a picture of the line for its own sake - I took it because I thought the little sign there was significant, and it's actually quite relevant to the topic at hand:
Thanks, Chief Rabbinate!

Talk about tension! This sign essentially says, "you're defiling our sacred place by going in here." For the Muslims who worship there every single day, it's reminding them, "we think that your worship here is an abomination." Orthodox Jews refuse to go up to the Temple Mount to avoid walking on the ancient site of the Most Holy Place, and they don't like others walking on it either. Instead, the Jews gather to pray at the Wailing Wall, pictured below.
That rickety tunnel/bridge is how non-Muslims get up to the Temple Mount, and the Wailing Wall is seen to the left of it.

The Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, is the only intact support wall from the 2nd Temple.  People go there to pray and often cram written prayers into the cracks, which you can see in the bottom left.

Jews crowd the Western Wall throughout the day, "wailing" because of the destruction of God's Temple and praying for the time when the Messiah will come and restore the Temple (see Ezekiel 40 - this will occur during Christ's reign in the Millennium, see Revelation 20). This is the reason, by the way, that the Muslims don't want the Jews praying on the Temple Mount right in front of their worship places! You can also imagine that they're not happy in general with the fact that the Jews want to see their mosques atop the Mount torn down. This is something that Christians should also be looking forward to, though it is largely deemphasized or wrongly interpreted as allegory by mainstream Christianity, who do not understand the true purpose of Christ's return.
Zechariah 14:4
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, half of it shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south.
Mount of Olives viewed from the base of the Temple Mount. The splitting of it will begin on the opposite side and propagate towards the Temple Mount, with half of it going left (north) and half of it going right (south)
You can see that the Mount of Olives is littered with various Christian churches, which will presumably be destroyed when the mountain is ripped in half (they'd have to be torn down later anyway - why not kill two birds with one stone?) Christians in the area don't contribute much to the tension over the Temple Mount, though they do engage in occasional interdenominational donnybrooks. They're content to have buildings on the spots that are important to them (places that are supposedly the site of where Jesus did this-or-that), so I'm going write an article on Christianity in the Old City as a standalone issue in the next week or so.

As I've pointed out, the religiously significant Old City has only been under Israeli control since 1967. The protest video from Part 1 was shot about a week before Jerusalem Day, the annual celebration of the "reunification" of Jerusalem to full Israeli control. Needless to say, the Palestinians do not appreciate this celebration, which is the topic of the next (and final) installment of this series, complete with more audiovisual highlights captured by yours truly.

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