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Sites & Places in Jerusalem:
The Temple Mount


Sites in Jerusalem: Table of Contents | Temple Mount | Museums


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"Then Solomon began to build the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. It was on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David, his father."
- 2 Chronicles 3:1
"Glory be to Him who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Sanctuary to the farthest Sanctuary, whose precincts We did bless...."
- The Koran, Sura Al-Isra’ 17:1

Overview


Blueprint of the Temple Mount

The Temple Mount is the trapezoid-shaped, walled-in area in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem. The four walls surrounding it date back – at least in their lower parts – to the time of the Second Jewish Temple, built at the end of first century B.C.E. These huge supporting walls, partly buried underground, were built around the summit of the eastern hill identified as Mount Moriah , the site traditionally viewed as the location of where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice and the known location of the two Jewish Temples. The gaps between the walls and the mount were filled in to create a large surface area around the Temple. Its eastern wall and the eastern half of its southern wall form part of the city wall on those sides. Deep valleys (now partly filled by debris) run outside the walls (northeast, east, south, west), thus separating the Temple Mount from and elevating it above its surroundings, both inside and outside the city.

The dimensions of the Temple Mount extend considerably beyond those given in the Mishnah (Mid. 2:1), which describes a square of approximately 250 × 250 m., referring only to the sanctified area within the Temple Mount as known today. The entire enclosure consists of an esplanade or courtyard, surrounding an elevated platform occupying approximately 23 dunams of land and decorated by arched structures around the Dome of the Rock. In each of the walls there are a number of gates. Some are ancient gates such as the Golden Gate which are blocked, and some are newer gates from the Arab conquest onward which are still in service.

Within the area of the Temple Mount there are about 100 different structures from various periods, among them great works of art and craftsmanship, including open Muslim prayer spots, arches, arched porticos, Muslim religious schools, minarets, and fountains (some for drinking and others for worshipers to wash their hands and feet before prayer). Underneath the present-day surface, in the "artificial" parts of the mount, there are 34 cisterns. There are also other substructures, the largest of which is known as "Solomon's stables."

History

The Temple Mount (Heb., Har Habayit; Arabic, Haram esh-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary), is identified in both Jewish and Islamic tradition as the area of Mount Moriah where Abraham offered up his son in sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-18; the Koran, Sura Al-Saffat 37:102-110).

Here King Solomon built the First Temple almost 3,000 years ago. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, but 70 years later Jews returning from exile built the Second Temple on the same site. King Herod refashioned it into an edifice of great splendor.

In Muslim tradition, the place is also identified as the "furthermost sanctuary" (Arabic, masjid al-aksa) from which the Prophet Mohammed, accompanied by the Angel Gabriel, made the Night Journey to the Throne of God (The Koran, Sura Al-Isra’ 17:1).

Following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70, the area of the Temple was deliberately left in ruins (first by the Romans, then by the Byzantines). This desecration was not redressed until the Muslim conquest of the city by the Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab in 638. He ordered the clearing of the site and the building of a "house of prayer".

Some 50 years later, the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock to enshrine the outcrop of bedrock believed to be the "place of the sacrifice" on Mount Moriah. He (or his son, the Caliph al-Walid I) also built the large mosque at the southern end of the Haram, which came to be called al-Aksa after the Koranic name attributed to the entire area.

During the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Jordan retained control over Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount and subsequently refused entry to the area to any Jewish person. During the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli Defense Forces conquered Jerusalem and liberated the Temple Mount, reclaiming Jewish control over the area for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple.

Temple Mount Today

Today, an Islamic Waqf, or religious committee, manages the Temple Mount, though Israel provides security and upholds decisions made by the waqf about access to the site.

For Jews, visiting the Temple Mount is a very controversial subject- both in terms of religious allowance and because non-Muslim prayer is prohibited at the site. Although freedom of access to the site is enshrined as law, Israel does not allow non-Muslim prayer on the Mount so as not to offend Muslim worshippers. Beyond this, many rabbi's say that since the Jewish Temple's Holy of Holies stood near the center of today's Temple Mount, Jews are religiously forbidden from entering the area.

Arabs can enter the Temple Mount through one of ten different Muslim-only gates from various sites in the Old City. Tourists and Jews are only allowed access to the site through the Mugrabi Gate which is located just above to the left of the Kotel, or Western Wall plaza.

Because of the sensitivity of the Temple Mount, Israelis enforce strict security measures for Jews and Muslims alike. For instance, during Friday prayers, any Muslim under the age of 45 is prohibited from ascending the mount; a rule put in place in response to young demonstrators throwing stones at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall. Additionally, no Jewish groups can pray in the plazas surrounding the mosques or provoke the Muslims.

In 2005, the bridge leading to the Mugrabi Gate collapsed after a landslide occured on the site following heavy winter storms and two years later, Israel decided to build a temporary, detour bridge to ensure non-Muslim access to the Mount. Israel had also considered renovating the centuries-old bridge, but their decision was widely assailed by Palestinians as an attempt to destroy their historical site. Though this claim was patently false, Israel decided to not go ahead with construction so as not to inflame an already volatile region.

In 2011, the Western Wall Foundation forced the government to close the four-year old temporary bridge leading to the Mugrabi Gate for fear that its instability could lead to its collapsing.

Three police officers were injured after the Temple Mount opened to non-Muslim visitors on Wednesday October 8, 2014 in clashes between masked Palestinian individuals and the police officers.  The masked individuals began throwing rocks, pieces of metal, large cinderblocks and molotov cocktails, and spraying flamable materials at the officers soon after the Mugrabi entrance to the Temple Mount opened.  The Mugrabi entrance is the only entrance to the Temple Mount specifically for non-Muslim visitors, located near the Western Wall.  As the calendar counted down to Sukkot, more and more Jewish individuals came to visit the holy site, causing increased tensions.  According to Israeli police, in advance of the disturbance the masked Palestinians had placed objects to block the police access to areas of the Temple Mount, and poured flamable liquid on objects in the vicinity that they later attempted to set ablaze with their molotov cocktails.  After the initial clash, the rioters were chased into the al-Aksa Mosque where they baracaded the doors with large marble slabs, furniture, and wood posts.  Bricks, rocks and fireworks were thrown at the officers from inside of the mosque, causing great permanent damage to the interior, and the rioters also sprayed an unidentified flamable substance on the officers which made breathing difficult.  Three officers were hit and injured with rocks and fireworks. A fire broke out inside of the mosque, started by a stun grenade thrown in by an Israeli security officer.  Five arrests were made and dozens of Palestinians were injured during these clashes.  Calm was restored to the Temple Mount later in the day and the site was opened again to the public after remaining closed for a short period of time. 

On Friday October 17 2014 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech in which he stated that "we have to prevent the settlers from entering the Temple Mount by any means.  It is our mosque and they have no right to enter and desecrate it". 

Yehuda Glick, a prominent Rabbi who worked day and night to restore Jewish rights to visit the Temple Mount, was shot and seriously injured on October 30, 2014 as he left a conference about the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount at which he spoke. In the past Glick had been barred from the site, and at one point staged a hunger strike which lasted 12 days to reinstate his priveleges to visit the Temple Mount.  Glick is the head of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, an organization that seeks to enlighten Jewish individuals on the significance of the Temple Mount, and encourages them to visit the site.  Glick often participated in acts forbidden by Israeli police at the Temple Mount including praying and performing Jewish rituals.  Muslim individuals frequently reacted angrily to his presence at the Temple Mount, and they had thrown rocks at him in the past.  Israeli police shot and killed Moataz Hejazi while attempting to arrest him, whom they believe is the person who shot Glick.  They tracked Hejazi to his home and upon arrival were immediately shot at by Hejazi and other individuals inside of the home, after which they returned fire and killed the suspect.  Hejazi had spent 11 years in an Israeli prison after having his sentence extended twice for attacking gaurds, being released in 2012.  Hejazi was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member who was labelled as a "toublemaker" who "should have been shot 10 years ago" by residents of his neighborhood following the incident. Islamic Jihad released an official statement that read "We praise his martyrdom that came after a life full of Jihad and sacrifice and which responded to the call of holy duty in defending Al-Aqsa mosque".  In response to the attempted murder of Glick, the Israeli police completely closed the Temple Mount for the first time since Ariel Sharon paid a visit to the holy site in 2000 that sparked the Second Intifada.  The site was reopened the following morning after threats and protests from Palestinian individuals, but past restrictions including the barring from the site of anyone under the age of 50 were put in place.  This age restriction was removed on November 16 2014.  Glick was released from Shaare Zedek Medical Center on Monday November 24, weak and wheelchair bound but expected to make a full recovery.  He thanked the Arab and Israeli doctors who saved his life after he was shot, and described the wounds he sustained as well as the treatment he recieved.  Glick stated upon his release that "The terrorist who shot me told me, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m shooting you because you’re desecrating Al-Aqsa.’ But the person who shoots another person in the name of Al-Aqsa is the one who is desecrating Al-Aqsa, and the person who treats another person in the hospital is the one who is honoring Islam. The Muslim doctors and nurses who work in the hospital are the people who honor their religion, not the man who shot me." 

Tensions rose to critical levels following violence at the Temple Mount and al-Aksa Mosque in late 2014. Following tense weeks of riots in Jerusalem surrounding access to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aksa Mosque, on November 1 2014 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in secret with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan's capital city of Amman.  During the meeting Netanyahu and King Abdullah discussed security at the Temple Mount and the Al-Aksa Mosque: members of the Jordanian Waqf Authority are stationed at the Al-Aksa Mosque and help provide security.  The purpose of this meeting was to coordinate security measures at the holy site between the Jordainain Waqf Authority and the IDF.  A few days after the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu called King Abdullah and assured him that the Jordanian special status at the Temple Mount will not change due to recent developments.  Both leaders called for an immediate cessation of late 2014's violence surrounding access to the Temple Mount. Following this meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the two leaders in Jordan and stated that everyone involved was interested in de-escalating the situation. 

Palestinian individuals participated in various acts of violence and incitement at the Temple Mount and al-Aksa Mosque during October and November 2014. Protestors with bags over their hands and feet and masks on their faces to obstruct their appearance flung rocks, molotov cocktails, cinderblocks, and other items at Israeli security forces on multiple occasions.  On November 13 2014 over 60 foreign Ambassadors and Diplomats stationed in Israel were briefed by the Israeli Police Commissioner and Deputy Foreign Minister about the status of the recent situation at the Temple Mount.  During the briefing they were shown photos and videos of Palestinian individuals participating in various acts of incitement including building barriers and other obstructions with trash cans and other materials to prevent security personnel from accessing certain areas of the grounds, and hurling fireworks and molotov cocktails from within the al-Aksa Mosque where there is abundant historical and irreplacable material.  The only harm that is coming to the al-Aksa Mosque is coming from the Palestinians themselves. 

Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock (Arabic, Qubbat al-Sakhra) is one of the most recognizable architectural glories of the world. The design of the building is basically Byzantine - double octagonal ambulatories encircling the Holy Rock. A shrine and not a mosque, it is the third holiest place in Islam after the Ka’aba in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

The Dome of the Rock is an architectural expression of the ascendancy of Islam. The interior glass mosaics in the drum and dome contain representations of Byzantine imperial jewelry, and one of the ornate inscriptions affirms that God is One and not three; and that Jesus was an apostle of God and His Word, and not His son.

The shrine stands on or near the approximate site of the Jewish Temple (though scholars disagree whether it was the Holy of Holies or the Altar that stood on the site of the rock). It has even been suggested that the Temple building stood 80 meters further north, on the site of the small 16th-century Qubbat al-Arwah (Arabic, Dome of the Winds or Spirits) on an east-west axis with the present Golden Gate.

The exterior of the Dome of the Rock has undergone several restorations. The exterior tiles were last restored in 1963; the gold-leafed dome in 1994).

al-Aksa Mosque

The al-Aksa Mosque, at the south end of the Temple Mount platform, was last rebuilt in 1035 and has since undergone several restorations - most recently in 1938-42; and again beginning in 1969 to repair extensive damage from a fire deliberately set by a deranged Christian tourist.

The design of the building is that of a basilica with a narrow central nave flanked by six aisles (14 aisles in an earlier 8th-century phase). The decoration of the mihrab (prayer niche) in the south wall was a gift of the Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin). The beautiful inlaid cedar wood minbar (pulpit), also donated to the mosque by Salah al-Din was destroyed in the 1969 fire.

A stairway in front of the north entrance to the al-Aksa Mosque leads down to a vaulted passageway and the walled-up Hulda Gates, which had been an entrance to the Temple Mount Platform at the time of the Herodian Second Temple.

During the Mamluk and Ottoman periods and until the mid-19th century, non-Muslims were not permitted onto the Haram. The first known exception was made by order of the Ottoman Sultan in 1862, during the visit of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.

On October 5 2014, in reverence of the 3 day Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, or Id al-Adha, over 500 Gaza residents travelled to Israel for the first time since 2007 to pray at the al-Aksa Mosque.  Following Operation Protective Edge, Israel has eased travel restrictions and has for the first time since 2007 allowed individuals from the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip to come to the al-Aksa Mosque to pray.  The Palestinian individuals were issued permits by the Israeli government, and residents of the West Bank are free to travel to Israel for visits with their families over the holiday as well.  This is the first time since the blockade of the Gaza Strip that these individuals have been able to move relatively freely into Israel. 


Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry; Visiting the Temple Mount (by Lambert Dolphin); Wikipedia; The Jerusalem Report (January 16, 2012)
Photos courtesy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Lambert Dolphin, and אסף.צ, Times of Israel
, Haaretz; Times of Israel (October 30, 2014); Reuters (October 30, 2014); New York Times (October 31, 2014); Haaretz (November 24, 2014);

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