ON Friday, July 14, Palestinian terrorists smuggled an assortment of weaponry onto the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and shot dead two Israeli police officers.
The fact that the officers were Druze is probably irrelevant — the terrorists might have mistakenly thought they were Jewish or might have decided that the murder of Druze officers would somehow “pay back” Israel’s Druze community for allying itself with the Jews.
Be that as it may, it’s now clear that the terrorists entered the al-Aqsa mosque disguised as worshippers, changed their clothes (in which they proceeded to conceal their weapons, which had been carried by an accomplice), and then exited the mosque to carry out their evil deeds.
In an exchange of fire with other Israeli police officers, the terrorists were shot dead.
So the Temple Mount had become a crime scene. And that being the case, the Israeli authorities closed the entire compound — the first time this has happened on a Friday in half a century.
When the compound was reopened on Sunday, July 16, a number of eminently sensible extra security precautions were put in place, including the installation of metal detectors at the al-Aqsa entrance.
Whereupon members of the Islamic charity that administers the Temple Mount site — the Waqf — refused to enter it and called upon the Muslim faithful to do likewise. Those Muslims who chose to ignore this advice were verbally abused and physically harassed.
But, owing to the absence of the Waqf, Jews were at last able to entire the site without harassment.
On Monday, July 17, a group of Orthodox Jews did so, and in a gesture that was both sad and beautiful — a true Kiddush Hashem — they recited kaddish in memory of the dead police officers.
Under the Ottomans, Jews were prohibited from setting foot on the Temple Mount. Jews could — and can — pray facing the Western Wall, a remnant of the outermost wall of the Temple but well outside the area that the Temple itself occupied, though they could and can equally pray (as I’ve done) facing the southern Wall.
The area around the Western Wall, now an imposing plaza, was then a slum.
When the Jordanians illegally occupied the West Bank, 1948-1967, Jews were supposed to have this right of worship restored. But, of course, this never happened.
Under the Jordanians, many of the synagogues that surrounded the Western Wall were destroyed, and formerly Jewish-owned property was confiscated.
With the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, a rebuilding and refurbishing programme was put in place.
But in relation to the Temple Mount, the-then Israeli government (brushing aside the protestations of Shlomo Goren, the-then chief rabbi of the IDF and subsequently Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel) made a serious error of judgment.
While Israel exercised the right to take charge of access and security, the actual day-to-day management of the Mount was gifted to the imams of the Waqf.
This is the so-called status quo that Israeli governments have honoured and enforced ever since. And I should add that it had — and has — rabbinical approval.
Fearing that the Temple might be rebuilt, and that therefore religious authority in the Jewish world might revert from the rabbinate to the kohanim (the priesthood), successive generations of rabbis (Goren was an honourable exception) have endorsed the insistence of the Waqf that Jews be forbidden to pray anywhere on the Temple Mount.
Jews who venture thereon are watched closely — both by the Waqf and by the Israeli authorities – for any sign that they might be engaged in prayer.
If they are, they are — or at least until now have been — quickly interrupted and removed.
Since the events of last month, a great deal of blood has been spilled as Palestinians have predictably taken to the streets in defence of the status quo, which in the view of the Waqf has been violated by the installation of metal detectors (now unwisely removed) and of more closed-circuit television.
My Muslim friends who have been on Haj (pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia) tell me that there are plenty of metal detectors around Mecca.
It strikes me that the shooting dead of Israeli police officers on the Mount was itself a violation of the status quo.
But apparently what’s really important in the Muslim world is that Jews be prevented from exercising the right to freedom of religious worship.
From the Jewish point of view the status quo is a really bad deal. The sooner it is swept aside the better!