Eye on Jerusalem?

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Eye on Jerusalem?

Wednesday, 19 August 2020 | Priyadarshi Dutta

Eye on Jerusalem?

Al-Aqsa mosque is not under any adverse possession. Therefore, Erdogan’s call to liberate it might mean recapturing Jerusalem, a century after Ottomans lost control of the city

Alongside converting the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to “liberate” the Al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. His appeal has not only been condemned by an umbrella group of 53 major Jewish organisations but has also triggered convulsive reactions inside Israel. Cases of radical Jews storming into the mosque to offer Talmudic prayers have increased since then. They are guarded by the Israeli police to prevent any conflict. Such unauthorised raids are, at best, a law and order problem that could be sorted out. There is currently no bar on the Jews visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque but they are not permitted to pray in its premises.

There was a time between the 13th and 18th centuries in the aftermath of the Crusades when no non-Muslim was permitted inside the entire Temple Mount complex at whose edge the Al-Aqsa mosque stands. However, norms seem to have been relaxed during the 19th century. A number of Jews visited the Temple Mount since then. These Jews, mostly from the West, were either inquisitive or seized with Zionistic fervour. They were either ignorant of the protocol or could not care less. Their action always scandalised the traditional Jews in Palestine, who metaphorically lived in the shadow of the Temple Mount.

Traditionalists believe that the Temple Mount is so sacred that it can’t be defiled by one’s bodily presence. Since the cleansing ritual — required for all Jewish pilgrims in antiquity — has been permanently lost since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, a Jew visiting the Temple Mount would risk succumbing to the divine wrath. Though there is no statistics concerning the number of Jews who actually lost or wrecked their lives to visit the Temple Mount, it is futile to argue against an entrenched belief. However, all Jews are encouraged to visit the Wailing Wall (Kosel) nearby to chant their prayers. The wall, which stands at the Western periphery of the Temple Mount, is a remnant of the destroyed Second Temple.

Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, literally meaning the farthest mosque, is considered the third holiest one in Islam after the Great Mosque in Mecca and Al Haram Mosque in Medina. The mosque (estd 715 AD) is duly administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which is placed under the control of Jordan’s Ministry of Awfaq, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places through the Peace Treaty signed between Israel and Jordan on October 26, 1994, in Washington DC. The mosque has never been under adverse possession except when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem between 1099 and 1187 AD. In 1187 AD, Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known as Saladin the Great, expelled the Crusaders from Jerusalem.

More than seven centuries were to lapse before any Christian Army could retake the Holy City. British Field Marshal Edmund Allenby (1861-1936) captured Jerusalem from the Ottomans during World War I. Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot through the Jaffa Gate on December 11, 1917, at the head of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, a British Empire military formation.  This victory— seen in conjunction with the Balfour Declaration announced by the then British Government a month earlier — prepared the way for the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. 

There exists no Jewish temple on Temple Mount. The Jews never had one since the destruction of their Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. That act signalled the cessation of the ancient State of Israel. It triggered the dispersion of the Jews to various nations, most notably in Europe and Middle East, but less importantly to India and China, too. Since then, synagogues or the assemblies of congregational worship have become the central institution in Judaism; though they might have been of far remoter origin.

The Temple Mount, however, evokes distinct emotion in every Jewish heart. It is the most recognisable site pertaining to the foundation of the ancient State of Israel. The first temple of the Jews was planned on that height by Biblical king David. It goes to the credit of David, who moulded Israel into one nation out of a conglomerate of clans and tribes. He wrested Jerusalem from the Canaanites to make it the capital of Israel. He wanted the sacred “Ark of Covenant” to be enshrined in the magnificent temple. However, the temple could finally be established by Solomon, his son and successor. The Solomon’s temple, open to people of all nations, lasted until four centuries before being destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

The invader viz, King Nebuchadnezzar, carried off the Jews to Babylon. The Jews could only return to Israel in the later part of the century after the liberal Persian king Cyrus triumphed in 538 BC. Thereafter, the Jews built an imposing Second Temple at the site. It lasted up to 70 AD, when it was destroyed by the Romans to quell a Jewish national insurrection against Rome’s hegemony.

Temple Mount is now home to a Muslim shrine viz, Dome of the Rock (built Circa 690 AD), and a mosque viz, Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa (built Circa 710 AD). Both of them are products of the Arab epoch. Jerusalem under the Arabs (638-1072 AD) emerged as the Quds-al-Sharif (or Al Qud), the centre of Islamic sanctity.

The Temple Mount is geographically located in East Jerusalem, which Israel wrested from Jordan during the Six-Day War in June 1967. For a brief while, the Israeli flag was hoisted over Temple Mount. Then it was quickly brought down under the orders of Moshe Dayan, the then Defence Minister and hero of the war. Then, in an astonishing act of concession, the sovereignty of Temple Mount was conceded back to the Wakf that maintained the two Islamic sites.

Dayan feared anything less would have turned the Arab-Israel conflict into a full scale jihad against the Jewish State. The Jews were happy to resume praying at the Wailing Wall, prohibited during the Jordanian occupation of East Jerusalem (1948-67), but had to forego sovereignty over Temple Mount. Though it had greatly hurt the Jewish sentiments, Israel has continued with the 1967 decision. However, depending upon the security situation in East Jerusalem, admission to the Al-Aqsa mosque is sometimes regulated. Such temporary provisions are internal matters, which Erdogan is ill-advised to comment upon. He himself was allowed to visit Al-Aqsa in July 2015.

Thus from who does Erdogan propose to “liberate” Al-Aqsa mosque when its sovereignty is already with Jordan? Or is the “liberation” actually a call to resume Turkish rule over Jerusalem? It is evident from some of his statements or approbation of slogans by his party members in the recent years. Is that only Jerusalem on his wishlist, or his vision approximates to Gamal Abdel’s Nasser’s agenda of “wiping out Israel from the face of the globe?” History is testimony to who prevailed in all the Arab-Israeli Wars.

(The writer is an author and independent researcher based in New Delhi. The views expressed herein are his personal)

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