The Temple Mount
"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
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
, 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."
Temple Mount (Heb., Har Habayit;
Arabic, Haram esh-Sharif, the Noble
Sanctuary), is identified in both Jewish
tradition as the area of Mount Moriah where Abraham offered
up his son in sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-18;
Sura Al-Saffat 37:102-110).
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.
Muslim tradition, the place is also identified
as the "furthermost sanctuary"
(Arabic, masjid al-aksa) from which
Mohammed, accompanied by the Angel Gabriel,
made the Night Journey to the Throne of God
Sura Al-Isra 17:1).
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
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".
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 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 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. He was leaving 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. 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." (Haaretz, November 24, 2014)
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 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 came to the al-Aksa Mosque came from the Palestinians themselves.
In early 2015, Palestinian women began to “protect” the al-Aksa Mosque from Jews, with one woman stating that “Everybody must protect Al Aqsa so the Jews don’t take it. They have their eyes on it.” The dean of Islamic studies at Al-Quds University, Mustafa Abu Sway, stated that “there is no similar situation” in Islamic history where women had taken such an active role in the gaurding of a holy site. The women chanted at Jewish visitors, hurled anti-Semitic slurs, and chased Jewish individuals, leading some of them to be banned from the holy complex (New York Times, April 17, 2015).
Dome of the Rock
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 Kaaba in Mecca and the Prophets
Mosque in Medina.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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
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.
the Temple Mount (by Lambert Dolphin);
The Jerusalem Report (January
Photos courtesy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry;
Lambert Dolphin, and אסף.צ;
Times of Israel;
Times of Israel (October 30, 2014);
Reuters (October 30, 2014);
New York Times (October 31, 2014);
Haaretz (November 24, 2014);
New York Times (April 17, 2015)