“Har Habayit beyadeinu!” “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
These were the words Lieutenant General Mordechai Gur broadcasted as he commanded the division that liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967. But did Israel ever really take control of its holiest site? In 2006, Shmuel Berkovits’s “How Dreadful is this Place!” Holiness, Politics, and Justice in Jerusalem and the Holy Places in Israel demonstrated the deep-seated reluctance of Israeli leaders to enforce Israeli law on the Temple Mount. Reviewing the book in Azure, Emmanuel Navon warns that Israel faces a choice between asserting its rights to the site against those who would deny them or relinquishing its claims, and its history, altogether.
In truth, however, Israel never really took control of Jerusalem’s holiest site, the Temple Mount. Even as Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Shlomo Goren famously stood at the newly liberated Western Wall and blew the shofar, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, contemplating his victory from nearby Mount Scopus, is said to have wondered, “What do we need all this Vatican for?” For Rabbi Goren, the Jews had rightfully recovered their property, and a keystone of the Jewish faith. For Dayan, Israel was now burdened with a foreign religious artifact; the best it could do was to try not to upset Muslim sensitivities. These contrasting attitudes reflect two opposite approaches to Zionism: One that sees in it the partial fulfillment of the biblical vision of Jewish redemption, and one that sees in it a strictly practical answer to the problem of anti-Semitism and Jewish defenselessness.
As Shmuel Berkovits demonstrates in How Dreadful Is This Place!, a book on the political, legal, and religious significance of holy sites in Israel, the Israeli government has consistently adopted the second approach in its treatment of the Temple Mount since 1967. Focusing mainly on post-state policies toward holy sites, but drawing on a wealth of primary and secondary Jewish, Muslim, and Christian historical sources, Berkovits’ comprehensive work reveals a troubling state of affairs: While its Muslim neighbors have been calculating, even shrewd, in their attempts to claim the Temple Mount as their own—and, concomitantly, to deny any Jewish link to the site at all—Israel has shown an astonishing lack of determination in defending it.
More about: • Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism • Religion and State in Israel • Zionism
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