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Two congressmen encounter discrimination by Palestinians at Temple Mount

In this photo from 2008, a Palestinian youth walks near the Dome of the Rock, an important Muslim shrine on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.  It is believed by many to be located where part of the Jewish temple used to stand.
In this photo from 2008, a Palestinian youth walks near the Dome of the Rock, an important Muslim shrine on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. It is believed by many to be located where part of the Jewish temple used to stand.
Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

On Wednesday, May 14 Ari Soffer of Israel International News reported that two U.S. congressmen experienced first hand what it is like on Jerusalem's Temple Mount now that the site is controlled by Muslims during a trip to Israel. As Ben Caspit of Al-Monitor reported last month, the Temple Mount--which is the most holy site in Judaism and the third most holy site in Islam--is being overseen by members of Hamas and other Islamic groups. Jews have limited access to the place where their temple once stood and they are usually not allowed to pray or conduct other religious rites while they are there.

According to Soffer, "In what has become something of a trend, two U.S. congressmen participated in a fact finding mission on the Temple Mount early Wednesday morning, to witness firsthand the discriminatory treatment meted out to non-Muslims on Judaism's holiest site.

"Congressmen Andrew Harris (R- Maryland) and Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) were taken on a tour of the holy site in Jerusalem by Rabbi Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute, who pointed out religious and historical landmarks along the way. The American lawmakers were also accompanied by their wives.

"The group witnessed how Jewish groups are singled out and closely followed by 'guards' from the Islamic Waqf trust which administers the site, as well as Israeli police officers, both of whom scrutinize their behavior for any signs that they might be engaging in Jewish prayers or any other non-Muslim form of worship."

While they were there, an Israeli intelligence officer used a video camera to film them and make sure that they didn't engage in any non-Muslim religious activities. This is typical behavior by Israeli military and police forces who try to minimize the number of incidents that might offend Muslims in the area.

A recent Jerusalem Post editorial gave a brief overview of how Muslim control of the Temple Mount has affected the religious lives of Jews living in Israel. The editorial board also provided an historical context that may help people living outside of Jerusalem understand the situation more.

According to the Jerusalem Post, "Historically, Israel has been hyper-sensitive – and accommodating – to Muslims' religious sensitivities connected to Haram al-Sharif. Shortly after then Col. Mordechai 'Motta' Gur, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade that conquered the Old City during the Six Day War, declared 'the Temple Mount is in our hands,' then-defense minister Moshe Dayan essentially handed the keys to the Temple Mount to the Jerusalem Waqf, the Islamic trust. Today, Hamas and Palestinian Authority flags are flown over the area. The Israeli flag is not. Muslim authorities have unilaterally undertaken construction and excavation projects, including a huge mosque in an area of the mount known as Solomon’s Stables.

"No less worrying... is the Muslims’ repression of Jewish religious expression on the Temple Mount. Jews – and other non-Muslims, for that matter – are prevented from praying on the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people. Jews who go up to the Temple Mount on the few days and times designated for non-Muslim visitors are accompanied by a Waqf official and an Israeli policeman. If the visitor displays outward signs of prayer – such as moving of lips or reading from a prayer book – he or she is immediately and forcefully removed, and sometimes even arrested.

"Jerusalem police officials, political leaders, and even our courts of justice have argued in the past in favor of the 'status quo' that prevents Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, in order to avoid unnecessary friction. Going up to the Temple Mount and praying is a 'provocation,' they say. Muslims are sensitive to what they see as Jewish encroachment on their holy site, and many figures involved in supporting the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount have a broader agenda of wresting control over the entire area from the Muslims."

Soffer added that Jews who are suspected of breaking the rules are frequently banned from visiting for a period of time - "this despite numerous court rulings stating that such measures contravene Israel's Basic Laws concerning religious freedom." He went on to say that Harris expressed concern that Muslims are not allowing people of other faiths to worship in their own ways at the site.

Soffer quoted Harris as saying, "'It's a pleasure to be here on the Temple Mount, obviously an area of religious significance for many religions including Christians like myself, Jews and Muslims…but I'm actually surprised that access is so limited and especially the discrimination against Jews above any other religion in visits to the Temple Mount. It surprises me as an American, believing in religious freedom, that [such conditions] would exist.'"

Frequent Fox News commentator Allen West commented on the situation on Thursday, May 15. He said the way Muslims have been treating non-Muslims who visit the site is very consistent with how followers of Mohammed have behaved for hundreds of years.

According to West, "Sadly, it’s not surprising, when you consider history and the Islamic point of view. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, although it doesn’t appear in the Koran or the Hadiths, Islamic purists promote a concept that the world is divided into the House of Islam and the House of War, the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-harb. The Dar al-Islam is everywhere a Muslim government rules and the Holy Law of Islam, Sharia, prevails. Non-Muslims may live there – but are penalized with a jizya tax. The outside world, which has not yet been subjugated, is called the 'House of War,' and strictly speaking a perpetual state of jihad, of holy war, is imposed by the law. The law also provides that jihad might be interrupted by truces as and when appropriate.

"Throughout history, as part of Islamic conquest, mosques were often erected in the sites of opposing houses of faith. For example, in today’s Istanbul the Hagia Sophia was once a Greek Orthodox Church dating back to the Byzantines. It was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The same occurred in what is termed Al-Andalusia in the Spanish city of Cordoba after the Islamic (Moors) conquest.

"... I suppose in Dar-al-Islam, the whole idea of freedom of religion and free exercise thereof is somewhat lost — as demonstrated by the abhorrent savagery unleashed against the Coptic Christians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans, all of whom existed long before Muhammad and any converts to Islam."

Muslims have not been respecting what Jews value about the site even as they strive to protect the Dome of the Rock and other buildings that were erected long after the first and second Jewish temples were built. Soffer added that some Jewish traditions say that the creation of the world began with the Temple Mount. It would be difficult to find evidence to back those claims up in the Old Testament or historical records from other sources, but they do help explain why the site is so important to practicing Jews.

The Temple Mount is important and sacred to Muslims because of a similar tradition that would be equally difficult to prove. There is a tradition that Mohammed ascended into heaven from a rock called the Foundation Stone accompanied by the archangel Gabriel. While he was there, he prayed with Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The Foundation Stone mentioned in the story is supposedly kept inside the Dome of the Rock. The only problem with that story is that the text never mentions Jerusalem by name, so it would be difficult to confirm that they chose the right stone when Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ordered the building of the shrine in 689 A.D.

An argument can be made that the only reason why there are Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount in the first place is that Muslim leaders at the time wanted to make sure Jews could no longer access their holy site. If that was the case, it would be in keeping with West's example of the Hagia Sophia.

Considering that all the claims on theTemple Mount are based on matters of faith, it is disheartening to see that Muslims and Jews can't share the site peacefully. There has been a long tradition of fighting over it. A few years ago, Israeli police restricted Palestinian access to their shrines. More recently, Muslims resorted to rioting as a way to keep Jews and Christians from worshipping there. Now that Muslims have control, it is sad to see that they are essentially getting payback for things that happened in the past instead of trying to build a better future.