Last week, a prominent Israeli archaeologist was speaking to a group of American students visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. When Islamic officials heard him use the phrase “Temple Mount” (rather than its Arabic equivalent), they immediately requested that Israeli police eject him from the area. Although the request was refused, they then approached him directly to stop using the term. To Evelyn Gordon, the episode sums up the absurdity of the current status quo at Judaism’s holiest site:
There’s no reason why Jews shouldn’t be allowed to visit [the Mount] whenever and in whatever numbers they please, aside from, say, during Muslim holidays or Friday prayers at the mosque. There’s no reason Jewish visitors to the site should be unable even to shed a tear [for which offense an Israeli journalist was nearly expelled two years ago], or use its Hebrew name. And there’s especially no reason why Jews should be denied the right to pray at their holiest site, as long as they don’t do it in the mosque itself—which they wouldn’t want to do anyway, since Jewish law forbids entering the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and its exact location isn’t known, [but almost certainly overlaps with the mosque]. Thus Jewish prayer would be possible only in peripheral areas, where there’s no risk of violating Jewish law.
Nor can one credibly argue that it’s impossible for Jews and Muslims to share a holy site; at Israel’s insistence, they’ve been doing it at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron for decades. The only thing that makes the Mount different is that there, Israel has shied away from enforcing a similar equal-access arrangement.
Thus, instead of sanctifying the “status quo,” it’s long past time to admit that this status quo grossly violates basic religious rights, that the violations are only getting worse, and that this deterioration will continue unless Israel takes steps to reverse it. In short, it’s time for Israel to scrap the status quo and finally start protecting Jewish as well as Muslim rights on the Mount. And it’s time for America, whose own constitution enshrines freedom of religion, to back Israel fully in doing so.