The faithful and the eccentric


For me, the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif in the holy land is a nitroglycerin keg upon which are sitting together Jews and Muslims. For 2,000 years the Jews have daily mentioned in their morning prayers the sacrifice of Isaac which, according to tradition, took place on the Mount, and have offered a prayer for the renewal of redemption there. The Muslims who control the Temple Mount (with short interruptions) since 638 CE sanctify it like the Jews. No wonder the Temple Mount was the only issue that moved the most moderate of Muslims, such as the Israeli Arabs, to take to the streets when disturbances broke out there in 1990 and after the Sharon visit in 2000.

Israeli far right wing ideology has a tendency to combine national symbols of secular origin with messianic mystic ideas. The Six-Day War and the return to the "land of the fathers" in Judea and Samaria that it ushered in were grasped by many in the national religious camp as the "beginning of redemption". But while the Greater Land of Israel issue inspires ideological consensus among members of, say, Gush Emunim, messianism in general and the legitimacy of activism regarding the Temple Mount are in sharp dispute. The source of disagreement is rooted mainly in religious law (halacha) and derives in practical terms from a "technical" matter: the question of the precise location of the holy of holies, the temple. It is the prohibition by the rabbinic establishment on entering the holy of holies that prevents the vast majority of the religious public from ascending to the Mount and leaves the issue of its redemption to the messiah.

Dangerous fringe groups have adopted a messianic revolutionary ideology that aspires to create a redemption movement that will legally transform the regime in the State of Israel into a Sanhedrin (the Talmudic assembly of 71 ordained scholars that was both supreme court and legislature). Removing the "abomination" (the Dome of the Rock Mosque) from the Temple Mount will be the central act in the process of molding the Sanhedrin state. Hence the process must be helped along by demolishing the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque. Obviously, such an act will totally isolate Israel internationally-a welcome development in the eyes of those who adopt the biblical words of Balaam: "the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations".

The preoccupation with the Temple Mount becomes more dangerous when the route to political profit is bound up with messianic ideas. Thus for example the "Jewish underground", 28 of whose members were arrested in 1984, reached the political conclusion, having despaired of the democratic process, that the withdrawal from Sinai in accordance with the peace treaty with Egypt could only be stopped by an outrageous act–blowing up the Dome of the Rock–that would cause the Egyptians to back out of the agreement. They were probably not wrong in their assessment; indeed, they even took into account an all out war between Islam and Israel, a political war linked to the messianic ideas of a war of Gog and Magog–a preliminary stage for the coming of the messiah.

Alongside ideological criminals capable of deep and serious political messianic thinking like Jewish underground leader Yehuda Etzion, we have witnessed additional varieties of criminal ideological activity over the Temple Mount. Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Kach movement, was placed under administrative detention in 1980 because he intended to fire a missile at the Temple Mount. Eccentric messianic groups of criminal born-again Jews also sought to assist the coming of the messiah by blowing up the Dome of the Rock. These included the messianic Lifta gang that was arrested in 1984 and the TNT gang arrested a year earlier, the latter composed of former criminals, ignoramuses wallowing in superstition who thought that by this act they would atone for their sins against society.

Others keep the Temple Mount cause on the back burner. They consider the abandonment of this perfect symbol of the Greater Land of Israel to strangers and the ban on Jewish prayer rights on the Mount as an open wound at the heart of the land. They are represented by the Temple Mount Faithful, headed by Gershon Solomon, which makes do with intensive protests, albeit within the limits of the law.

The radicalization process over the Temple Mount continues. What, then, is the "red line" which, once crossed, will bring matters to a head? I assess that this will be the dismantling of settlements. When the Yamit settlements were removed from Sinai in 1982 we were not far from an attack on the Mount (by Rabbi Kahane and the Jewish underground)–and this over Sinai, territory whose settlement by Jews is not considered sacred.

Not so in Judea and Samaria. This is the land of the patriarchs, where settlers heavily steeped in ideology have returned to Hebron and the hills of Shechem (Nablus). This is the patrimony that attracts eccentrics like the Lifta gang, living in the Samarian hills. Extremists from all sides will weave their messianic ideas into a political ideology and look for the most promising way–blowing up the Temple Mount–to thwart a democratic decision to remove them.

These very days, when the large majority of Israelis support dismantling settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, these are the days when these dangerous people rouse themselves. They hold the flame that is liable to ignite the nitroglycerin keg upon which we sit on the Temple Mount and to bring disaster upon us all. This is something to lose sleep over, and justification for doing everything in our power to prevent such an act and to keep constant watch over these fringe groups.