Noted Jerusalem expert Dr. Samuel Berkowitz reminds Israel Today Editor-in-Chief Aviel Schneider that 40 years ago renowned academics at Harvard University actually presented a possible scenario for a third world war that would be sparked by conflict over the Temple Mount. “I take this very seriously,” he warns. “The Muslims are experts at instigating uprisings.” Berkowitz has written several books on the topic, among them How Terrible Is this Place (Carta, 2006). The title is an echo of Genesis 28:17 – מה נורא המקום הזה – “Mah norah ha-makom ha-zeh!” – which could also be translated: “How awesome is this place.”
Israel Today: Is Jerusalem united as Israel’s capital?
Dr. Berkowitz: No. Technically, it may be united, but in practice it is not. Israeli law is valid on both sides of the city, but in terms of every day life, things are not equal. On the eastern side of the city there are clear signs of neglect, affecting the infrastructure, education, welfare and social services.
Let’s assume that Israel had done things differently over the last 50 years and this neglect had not occurred. Would that have satisfied the Arabs?
No, it is impossible to buy off the nationalist Arab movement with money. And yet, the violence in Jerusalem is more subdued because the Arabs here have something to lose. They receive financial subsidies from the state, just like all citizens of Jerusalem. For this reason, the Arabs of Jerusalem are more cautious than their brothers in other areas. But they have the same goal, and are striving for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Let’s be realistic. No Israeli government will surrender the Western Wall, and the Islamic world will never allow a Palestinian leader to give up the mosques on the Temple Mount for the sake of peace.
It is quite possible that we have a problem here that we cannot solve. But what we know is that this conflict will claim thousands of victims on both sides. And we don’t want to live with a sword in our hands forever. So we must test the Arabs, once and for all, to see whether they really want to live with us in peace. We must be prudent about our security today, and not make everything about the rights of our ancestors. What use are those rights if we don’t have security? If we make a deal and the Arabs break it, Israel can always retake the Palestinian state.
Look, I realize this is not simple. We don’t have a genuine partner for peace. Still, one negotiates peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends, right? Is there a real chance for peace? No. But should we try anyway? Yes!
But, again, Jerusalem is a sticking point. We must first theoretically have a solution for this city. But how can we when the Palestinians deny and rewrite Jewish and biblical history to fit their agenda?
This is a problem. Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran. All the European experts on the Middle East know that Mohammad was never in Jerusalem. The whole basis for the Palestinians viewing the Temple Mount as sacred is a minor story that even the Muslims originally considered to be myth. According to this story, Allah is said to have brought Mohammad on a flying horse from Mecca to a place called Al-Aqsa.
But the Koran was written in the year 652, and Mohammad had died in 632. What is now called the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was built only 55 years later. We are dealing here with mere matters of faith, whereas I can prove historically and archaeologically that the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem. I can accept their belief, and, as far as I am concerned, the Muslims should continue to pray there, but the Jews must also be allowed to go onto the Temple Mount and pray.
Do you have concrete examples of this proof?
Until well into the 11th century, the Muslims themselves called Jerusalem “City of the Temple.” In 1924 and 1929, the Supreme Council for the Muslims in the Middle East published a tourism and travel guide for the holy sites in the region. There it states in black and white that on the site of the two mosques there once stood the Temple of Solomon.
Palestinian historian Aref el-Aref, a colleague of the Jerusalem mufti Mohammed Amin al Husseini, wrote: “The Wailing Wall is the Temple wall that King Herod built. The Jews pray by this wall, and on Tisha B’Av they weep because of the destruction of the Temple. Haram el Sharif lies on Mount Moria, which is mentioned in the Book of Genesis in the Bible; David bought this mount for the building of a temple, which was built by King Solomon in the year 1007.”
The New Testament also describes the Jerusalem Temple in detail.
The Palestinians describe themselves as the descendants of the Canaanites, the Philistines and the Jebusites. They understand that they need to be connected to one of the biblical nations who were here before Israel in order to have a real claim to the land.
First of all, the Palestinians need to decide whose descendants they want to be. Any sensible person who knows anything about history knows that this is absolute nonsense. The Muslims claim that Abraham was their ancestor. How can this be true historically if Islam only arose centuries later, in the 7th century, through Mohammad? Where were all the Muslims in the period between Abraham and Mohammad?
My students at Hebrew University hear from me over and over again that the Palestinians are a new nation. Before the 20th century there were no Palestinian people! Just as there were no Muslims 2,000 years ago. A Palestinian student once told me that they are the descendants of the Jebusites. I asked her to write an essay with historical facts and evidence for what she was claiming. She didn’t succeed in doing so.
I respect the Muslims, and I do not want to tear down their mosques, nor do I want to build a temple. I simply demand that they respect our Jewish history and the Temple in Jerusalem. I do not really favor the building of a Third Temple. I would like to believe that this will happen in the end times with the coming of the Messiah.
What role does the Christian world play in the conflict over Jerusalem?
Under Israeli rule, the Christian world is enjoying religious freedom in Jerusalem as never before. Things were very different under the Ottomans and the Jordanians. But there are two disturbing issues.
The first is the classic Christian theology that accuses us Jews of having killed Jesus, which leads to antisemitism. In this view, the Jewish people are an accursed people who should not be permitted to exist. The Church regards itself as the new Israel. They are the spiritual Israel, and we are Israel in the flesh. These Christians have a fundamental problem with the return of the Jews to Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) and the founding of our state.
The second issue is that many Church leaders are concerned for fellow Christians in the Palestinian areas and in the Arab countries in the Middle East. During the intifada, Palestinian Muslims told their Christian brothers and sisters that after the Shabbat (Sabbath) comes Sunday–after we have finished with the Jews, it will be the turn of the Christians. I am aware of countless attacks by Palestinian Muslims on Christians who refused to take part in Palestinian uprisings against Israel. Global Christian leaders are concerned for the safety of the Christians in the Arab world, and therefore will not take Israel’s side.
Would this conflict even exist without Jerusalem as a catalyst?
Of course. Our conflict with the Palestinians has to do with the entire Land of Israel, not just with Jerusalem. Jerusalem has become the focus because of the sanctity of the Temple. A national and religious conflict is raging between us and the Palestinians over who is permitted to rule this land.
So, there is no chance of finding a solution?
That may well be true, but I want to keep believing nevertheless in the possibility of peace.
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