The murders of four rabbis on Nov. 18 during morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue — a police officer also died of his injuries — could throw a wrench into the results of the Nov.13 summit in Amman that brought together Secretary of State John Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss arrangements for visitors and worshipers on the Temple Mount. The summit, as least in the immediate, resulted in an easing of Israeli restrictions on Muslim access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, permitting thousands of younger Palestinians to participate in Friday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic, for the first time in months.
There is a long history of Jordanian oversight of the Temple Mount, and by allowing Muslim men under 50 to attend prayers at Al-Aqsa, Israel had hoped to reassure King Abdullah that there was no change in the status quo affirmed by the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and its eastern neighbor that Jordan, and not the Palestinians, is the legally binding administrative authority over the Temple Mount.
“I think that when King Abdullah of Jordan says he was happy with what he heard from Netanyahu, that is not only passed down as general news to the public but also gets conveyed as an instruction to the waqf [the Muslim religious endowment],” a Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem told the Jewish Journal.
“To some extent, the waqf officials can turn on and off the clashes which have occurred there.”
However, soon after the news of the Jerusalem attack on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement linking the latest incidents to the Temple Mount strife:
“Palestinian incitement is continuing despite the Nov. 13 talks in Jordan with Kerry, King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. The parties were supposed to act to calm the situation in Jerusalem. Israel did; Abbas most certainly did not. While Israel acted to restore calm and reaffirmed its commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount, the Palestinians incited to terrorism and carried out murders. Israel ended the temporary security restriction on younger Muslims praying on the Temple Mount on Nov. 14. The PA’s official media called for a ‘Day of Rage’ on Friday. Instead of calming the situation, Abbas exploited Sunday’s suicide to inflame it.”
Public tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted since October, when Jordanian officials went public with their finding that Israel was restricting Haram Al-Sharif access for Muslims, even as religious Jews were increasing politically motivated visits to the Temple Mount. In a speech to his parliament, Abdullah equated “extremist Zionism “ to the Islamic State movement and called on “stakeholders to acknowledge there is extremism in all camps.”
Tensions between Jordan and Israel reached a crisis point on Oct. 30 after Israeli police ordered a complete closure of the Temple Mount, following the assassination attempt in Jerusalem of right-wing activist Yehuda Glick.
Glick was shot minutes after concluding a seminar, “Return to the Temple Mount,” at the capital’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Several members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition were in attendance.
“I am always leaving my phone on, so that if they inform me that we have permission to build on the Temple Mount, I will leave immediately, so I really apologize in advance,” Glick told the seminar, as recorded in a video. In the shooting, Glick sustained multiple gunshot wounds and is recovering at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; the pro-settler Arutz Sheva website reported Nov. 17 that he has been removed from the intensive care unit. The alleged shooter, 32-year-old Islamic Jihad member Moataz Hejazi, was killed after exchanging gunfire with Israeli police outside his home in the religiously mixed Abu Tor neighborhood in South Jerusalem.
After the assassination attempt, Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin went to the Temple Mount, ignoring Netanyahu’s call for restraint and vowing to “change the reality” of a ban on Jewish prayer at the site. Feiglin’s previous attempts to enter the Dome of the Rock had resulted in a warning from the Jerusalem Police that the MKs actions could provoke Muslim rioting at the Haram Al-Sharif.
Feiglin, the leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Leadership caucus inside the Likud Party, has repeatedly slammed Netanyahu for “transferring the sovereignty on the Temple Mount to Jordan in practice” after the government failed to replace the Mughrabi Bridge used by non-Muslims to enter the Al-Aqsa compound from the Western Wall plaza.
Jordan’s royal family, the Hashemites, first became guardians of Al-Aqsa, the Dome of the Rock and other Jerusalem Islamic institutions in 1919, after the retreat of the Ottoman Turks. As a result, Wasfi Kailani, director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, said in an interview prior to last week’s summit, “Jordan is more provoked than any other party in the Muslim world because of his majesty’s custodianship of the mosque.
“If something bad happens to the mosque, his majesty will be held responsible. Jordan is responsible for the site even more than the Palestinian Authority or any other Muslim nation,” said Kailani, who studied contemporary Jewish temple movements while attaining his doctorate in sociology and anthropology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Kailani believes Israel and Jordan have different understandings of what defines the religious status quo at the site. “For Jordan, status quo is the pre-occupation, pre-1967 status quo at Al-Aqsa. For Israel, status quo is something ongoing, something dynamic, and this is unacceptable to Jordan and the Muslims.”
Proposals to allocate Jewish ritual space and devotional time periods, similar to arrangements at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, pose ongoing concern to officials of the Jerusalem waqf, which reports directly to the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Jordan’s capital of Amman.
“It’s clear that Israeli society has changed because of the extremist influence; they dominate the cabinet, and I think it is the most powerful group now in Israeli politics,” said Kailani, who worries that Temple Mount activists will escalate their demands from intermittent “prayer access” to an ongoing presence at the Haram Al-Sharif.
“[The temple movements] were encouraged to frankly speak of crazy ideas, such as altering the shape of the mosque, and there were many calls by ministers, by Knesset members, to change the status quo, to make a space and temporal division to this structure of the mosque, and these plans are now articulated in the media and are no longer in the closed circles of the Jewish denominations,” Kailani said.
“For Israel, I think it should be easy, more than for any time, to understand that it is better not to go too far in ideological goals of speeding up the messiah and God’s will on Earth because this is not different actually from the thinking of Da’ash [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State movement],” Kailani added.
ISIS and challenges to Muslim religious triumphalism
Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University sees the rise of ISIS, not the temple movements, as the formative factor in Jordan’s urgent rhetoric about the status quo at the Haram Al-Sharif.
“The Hashemites today are under immense pressure because of [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, which threatens the entire kingdom,” Kedar said.
“They are afraid that some Islamists in Jordan will use the issue of Jerusalem in order to incite against the Jordanian Hashemite kingdom, and they charge that the king does not do anything in order to save Jerusalem from the Zionists.”
Kedar notes that pro-ISIS demonstrators recently staged a protest in the town of Maa’n — just 30 miles southeast of Petra — Jordan’s most significant tourist attraction.
“People are demonstrating there without any cover on their faces, which means they are not afraid of the Mukhabarat” — the secret state intelligence service — said Kedar, who dismisses the significance of the Temple Mount movements.
“I know Yehuda Glick — he’s one of a handful of lunatics who represent nobody but themselves,” Kedar said.
By contrast, Kedar claims PA President Mahmoud Abbas has engineered the unrest in Jerusalem, citing a condolence letter the Palestinian president sent to the would-be Glilck assassin’s family.
A PA spokesman last week confirmed the text of the note, which reads in part, “[Your] son Mu’taz Ibrahim Khalil Hijazi will go to heaven as a martyr defending the rights of our people and its holy places.”
“The Temple Mount activists are not violent,” Kedar said. “They are not going to kill anybody … unlike those thugs. They just work on the Jewish right to pray at the Temple Mount. Did Yehuda Glick attack somebody?”
Kedar said Muslims see Israel as a religious challenge to Islam, whose doctrine teaches it came into the world to replace both Judaism and Christianity.
“This is why Jerusalem, as the pinnacle of Jewish revivalism, is something that hurts [Muslims] religiously, before anything connected to national, political, legal or territorial issues,” Kedar said.
Empowered messianic religious Zionism
Mordechai Inbari, an Israeli expert on Jewish fundamentalism, sees attempts to assert worship rights on the Temple Mount as a risky trend powered by fear among settlers and their supporters that the Jewish state has embarked on a journey of territorial compromise that endangers their messianic vision.
“Temple Mount activists are saying that since the State of Israel is leading the Jewish redemption astray by returning territory, signing peace accords, [being] willing to compromise, this would mean that their dreams would never be able to be fulfilled,” said Inbari, an assistant professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“Therefore, action is required by the people who believe in this scenario, and they need to go straight to the Temple Mount and push to put the messianic project back on track. “
The Machon HaMikdash, or Temple Institute, focused on establishing the Third Temple, has completed reconstruction of all 93 sacred vessels required for halachically kosher resumption of the sacrificial rites in Jerusalem with a golden menorah displayed alongside one of the most the highly trafficked lanes in the Jewish Quarter.
Inbari holds that the campaign led by Glick and others at organizations such as the Temple Institute have made inroads in the larger populace in Israel by shifting from messianic arguments to making a case for religious equality at the Temple Mount.
According to the Jerusalem pluralism group Ir Amim, Temple Mount movements have benefited from direct funding by the state, receiving support from the education and culture ministries, an average equivalent of $108,000 per year.
Inbari believes Netanyahu is attempting to balance the value of a solid security and diplomatic relationship with Jordan against substantial pressures from the messianic Zionists and the religious West Bank settler communities.
“When you consider that all the commentators believe that Israel is going to elections soon, Netanyahu needs to strengthen his base from the right,” Inbari said.
“Maybe he allows things to happen that were not part of the plan, but now he needs Feiglin supporters in his own political party — so they are allowing things to take place.”
Inbari noted that advocates of a Third Temple recently posted a video on Facebook and YouTube that uses computer-generated graphics to illustrate a reconstructed shrine on the Temple Mount.
The video then links to an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign that has generated more than $100,000 toward the construction of the temple, without directly saying that it is the messianic people who are running the campaign, Inbari said.
“Since the activists for the Third Temple were able to convince more and more religious leaders of the legitimacy of their demand to go on the Temple Mount, to pray there, the next step will be to build a synagogue. That is the second stage of their plan. And the third stage will be to build a temple,” Inbari said.
“You don’t see any mosques on the Mount” in the video — perhaps the most ominous aspect — he added.
“The clip suggests that the temple replaces the mosques on the Mount. This can explain why Muslims are nervous.”