Following Israel’s liberation of the old city of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan established what has become known as the “status quo” on the Temple Mount. Meir Soloveichik describes this situation, and also how it has evolved despite its name:
Religious authority over the area is largely exercised by the Muslim waqf, [a religious trust], and visiting Jews are literally forbidden to pray there. Despite this indignity, religious Jews have continued to come, recently by the many thousands. One of the most popular days of the year to visit is the Ninth of Av, when the Temple was destroyed. The Temple’s destruction is the reason that this day is the saddest of the Jewish calendar, because—obviously—the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site. It was on the Ninth of Av this year that rioting Arabs sought to prevent Jewish visitation. They failed.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thereafter made a statement in which he spoke of “freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.” However, his alternate prime minister, Yair Lapid, had to walk back the implication that Jews might be allowed such freedom at the site of the ancient Temples:
Then Lapid went further. “Jews have freedom to visit the Temple Mount and Muslims have freedom of worship there,” he said. “If Jews wish to pray, the holiest place for Jews is a few meters from there—the Western Wall.” This is preposterous. The Western Wall, or Kotel, is the retaining wall of the Temple plaza from the Herodian age. It acquired its special status because it was the one site where Jews were allowed by the Ottomans to gather in yearning for the Temple itself, and to mourn its destruction. The Kotel is the place where Jews for centuries gathered . . . to affirm that the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site.
Ultimately the problem with statements such as these is not their ignorance but that they give ammunition to enemies of Israel, who seek to lie about Jewish history. The hard truth is that in the past 54 years since the miraculous moment when Jews returned to ancient Jerusalem, the sacred city has itself been rebuilt—but the destruction of the remnants of the Temple has gotten worse. The waqf has destroyed much archeological evidence of the Temple that once was there, and many Palestinian leaders have denied that the Temple stood there in the first place. To say on television that the Western Wall is Judaism’s holiest site is to provide propaganda to those who seek to negate the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.