Violent clashes erupt at Jerusalem's holiest siteThe demonstrators were holed up for a while tonight in the al-Aqsa mosque, which together with the neighboring Dome of the Rock (shown here) comprises only the third holiest site in the world among Muslims. As the site of the Second Temple (specious Temple-denying to the contrary), the Temple Mount is unquestionably the holiest site for Jews. Also in Jerusalem, but not on the Temple Mount, is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, by far the holiest site for Christians. However you slice it, you can't write that headline without seeming to play favorites.
The body of the story calls the Temple Mount Jerusalem's most volatile site, about which there's little doubt. Reporter Matti Friedman attributes today's violence to understandable Muslim frustration at the stalled peace talks and unsubstantiated rumors spread by clerics that Jews were planning to disrupt or damage their holy sites. It's been an especially tense place since former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit in 2000. While many fault him for doing so, he said at the time that Jews should feel free to visit, since their temples had stood on the same territory on and off for roughly 1,600 years. With the Muslim conquest of the holy city in the seventh century, the site became what today's Palestinians might call occupied territory. Although under Israeli political and security control, the Temple Mount is administered by an Islamic council.
As noted, it's becoming fashionable in some circles to assert the Jewish temples never existed, which would seem to make it all the more vital for Jews to put in appearances. It's also important for Christians to go, as I did in pilgrim groups in 2007 and again in July. During this year's trip, we were 20 mild-mannered pilgrims with an Arab Anglican guide and a famous Arab Muslim anthropology professor. After we were settled on an empty patch of grass, a Muslim women brought her children to sit near us (as in almost leaning against my right shoulder) and began to talk loudly to another woman, which effectively drowned out our soft-spoken speaker. We learned later that she felt we were sitting in the wrong place, that we should have listened to the professor's talk at a spot closer to the exit. This occurred after a member of our party had been castigated for her allegedly immodest dress.
Perhaps the woman had a legitimate beef against Jews, Christians, or Episcopalians. Sorry to have offended you, my sister. But it's our spiritual home, too. Someplace beneath our feet, a 12-year-old Jesus had sat at the feet of the priests, and the fully grown Messiah had done some Temple-cleansing. It also seemed odd that Temple Mount authorities still weren't permitting non-Muslims to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque or the Dome of the Rock. Why not, exactly? Because Sharon showed up nine years ago?
As for the stalled talks, the Israelis refused to stop West Bank settlements without confidence-building measures from the Arabs, while Arabs refused to make any such gestures until Israel stopped the settlements. Who is to blame? Not one or the other. That's too easy. Neither, or both.
Hat tip to Mike Cheever