During the last week in August I was with my friend and work colleague Avshalom Kapach at the Western Wall plaza. We wanted to check out whether the Third Temple is really recognizably in the planning stages, or even already being built, as the Palestinian media often claims.
Palestinian politicians are continually warning of Israel’s plans to build a temple. “The Israelis, together with the Americans, want to remove all Palestinian Muslims from Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” ranted Najah El-Bakirat of the Al-Aqsa Academy. He even reported that Jews were planning to storm the mosque during the Islamic holidays. Adnan al-Husseini, a member of the executive committee of the PLO, maintained a few weeks ago that Israel planned to desecrate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and that this would cause an explosion in the region. At the same time, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in Ramallah that Jesus was a Muslim and was born in Palestine: “According to Islam, all the prophets, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and also Jesus, are Muslims. They weren’t Jews or Christians, as the children of Israel, who are mentioned in the Koran, accepted the Islamic faith.”
So, we ascended the Temple Mount, and were surprised by just how quiet things were there, although there were quite a lot of tourists and Israelis wandering around. It was hot, we sought out some shade and found it under the olive trees and by the cool walls of the mosques.
We approached some Arabs at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque near the broad stairway that leads down to the new mosque in Solomon’s Stables and politely asked them where the Jewish Temple is being built. They stared at us in surprise, as if we had just dropped from the sky. They weren’t sure whether or not to take us seriously. I repeated: “We read that the Jews are planning or building a temple. Is that true?” The man on the stairway winked at me and said quietly, “Nonsense.” I whispered back to him, “I know that it’s nonsense! But why are your politicians talking such nonsense?” He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head knowingly. He smiled, and we relaxed into a pleasant conservation. Kapach speaks Arabic, and that opens doors.
I have discovered that the Muslims take the Jewish Temple more seriously than the Jewish population does. The guard at the Al-Aqsa Mosque did not want to answer when we asked him the same question. On the contrary, he became almost angry that we would ask such an idiotic question: “There will never be a Jewish Temple here, because there never was one here!” he shouted at us. We retorted: “If that is so, why are your people telling lies about us building a Jewish Temple and driving you out?” We reminded him of the Islamic proverb: “A Muslim is honest and refrains from lying. For lying leads to evil.” We realized that the guard wasn’t in a joking mood, and quickly took our leave. God forbid another intifada breaks out because of us.
The Golden Gate
As we were passing the Golden Gate, we saw three Israeli policemen. They allowed us to approach the stairway, but not to go down into the open prayer room located there. We can say with absolute certainty: there are no plans to build a temple. So far, the Third Temple exists only in the prayers and dreams of the Jews. But on the other hand, the Muslims have in the meantime opened yet another mosque, this time in the narrow stone hall of the sealed Golden Gate. Two Arab men who invited us to drink coffee with their families praised the religious freedom that Muslims enjoy in this land.
We had set out to feel the pulse that was beating on Mount Moriah. And that pulse was calm. In total, we were on the Temple Mount for three hours, and in that entire time there wasn’t even a hint of religious tension. Quite the contrary, actually. A couple visiting from Milan felt the same. After taking our photo, the couple revealed that they were visiting Israel and Jerusalem for the first time, and were surprised by how much more calm and quiet it was than the media had suggested. They even said the food in Israel is better than in Italy!
Of course there is conflict and occasional disturbances. But it is far more rare than people realize. Naturally, those disturbances are all the media focuses on, so those who don’t inform themselves via alternative sources come to think that confrontation and violence is the norm in Israel. But it’s all nonsense. The Arabs we spoke to admitted it, as will any Palestinian being honest with himself. Most days of the year pass as quietly as our summer stroll atop the Temple Mount.
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