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Jewish World Review
Nov. 5, 2004
/ 22 Mar-Cheshvan 5765
Arafat Burial on Temple Mount Unthinkable
Rabbi Aryeh Spero
Planting Islamic monuments atop holy sites of other religions, cultures or nationalities has been a long-standing Moslem modus operandi to impress its ascendancy and permanence over a given area. In Turkey, for example, the St. Sophia Mosque in Istanbul was, before Islamic hegemony, a magnificent Christian church. The landscape of the entire Middle East is littered with Moslem religious buildings erected directly atop earlier Christian churches and monuments. We would be remiss thinking that these are arbitrary and local events when, in fact, it has been a well-documented, centuries-long political strategy.
In Israel during the past decade, Moslem clerics administering Islamic sites on Jerusalem's Temple Mount have deliberately destroyed historic Jewish artifacts unearthed around Solomon's Temple in a campaign to extinguish the ties of the Jewish people to their historic Temple. These imams wish to rewrite history.
The debate already has started to further supplant history by planting something into the Temple Mount earth never before there: Yasser Arafat. Reports abound that after Yasser Arafat's death, though hailing from Egypt, he wishes to be buried in Jerusalem where the ancient Jewish Temple stood, only yards from the ridge of Mt. Zion, King David's burial spot. Israel cannot let this happen, no matter the world's outcry in behalf of Arafat.
What greater credence would undergird Moslem claims to that spot and thus to ancient Jerusalem and the Old City than the permanence symbolized by such a monument/tomb. Talk about "facts on the ground." Decades from now, the Mount will achieve a Mecca-like Moslem status, codified by a shrine to a latter-day political Mohammed.
In life, what we see and can touch affirms more than what we simply hear or read. As hard as it is for us to conceive today, a century from now the visual of millions of Arabs making a pilgrimage to what will be termed "Islam's Second holiest site" will reify in the mind of humanity an Islamic connection to the Temple Mount dwarfing that of the Jewish connection remembered simply in scattered history books. Who today remembers that Mecca itself was once primarily a Jewish town? The reality of the Haj, pilgrimage, and stone obscures and deadens history.
Not even the United States would place its embassy in an East Jerusalem officially hallowed a northern Mecca. It would be the world's biggest political coup, without the Arabs having fired a shot to achieve it.
A Jubilee from now, the emotional attachment even of Jews to the historic site can be undermined, since reality always trumps what remains only theory. A theoretical Jewish holy site is no match against a countervailing living Muslim reality. It becomes simply nostalgia. Against the backdrop of an area teeming with zealous Moslem multitudes, Jews will feel alienated, pushed out.
Would the Israelis cave in? If history is a guide, the Israelis may first balk but later acquiesce under the prevailing attitude that land and holy sites are not as important as peace. The threat used successfully by the European Union to cut off all trade with a non-compliant Israel, as well as United Nations calls for boycotts, may well, again, exert over Israeli decision-making.
Aside from economic pressure, Israel will be portrayed as a "heartless" country if it denies Arafat his "last dying wish." Its refusal will be characterized as a unilateral decision over Jerusalem and, thus, an obstruction to the peace process.
During his life, Arafat claimed that the reason for the latest intifada was when then Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon walked on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, calling it an "intrusion." Israelis may fear that denying Arafat burial there would unleash a wave of anti-Jewish slaughter.
The much heralded concept of "land for peace" has in Israel repeatedly degenerated into "holy sites for peace," as demonstrated by Israeli forfeiture of three historic sites: 1) the burial place of the Biblical Joseph; 2) the second most holy and oldest Jewish city, Hebron; 3) the prohibition by the Israeli government itself of regular Jewish visitation on the Temple site in Jerusalem's Old City.
In each instance Israel relinquished Jewish administration of these sites out of fear of Arab rioting and out of a mindset that sublimates Jewish sovereignty to the aspiration of a concept, "peace."
The Israeli/Arab conflict is a demonstration of the tactile vs. the conceptual. The Arabs hardly speak of peace as much as they demand the tangibles of land and holy sites. Thus, every few years, like clockwork, they garner from the Israelis more and more of the above. The Israelis speak of and yearn only for the ideal of peace. The upshot: every few years, peace eludes them ever more.
Evidently, the Arab strategy of a bird in the hand land and holy sites is exceedingly more successful than the ephemeral one peace the Israelis pursue, an ever-elusive aspiration.
After the 1967 War, the Israelis decided not to establish a concrete Jewish presence on its own Temple Mount so as to be "peaceful," "unprovocative." But territory is not an ideal but physical. Where a vacuum exists, it eventually must be filled. Yasser Arafat and Arabs intend to fill it. Where a Jewish presence should have been will come, instead, an Arab presence that should not be. It will be the ultimate "in-your-face."
Secular Jews have believed that a confrontation over the Temple site has not been worth the trouble. Religious Jews have felt that the sheer sacredness of the place rendered it off-limits to all people, the impure. Jews were not even to walk within 100 yards of it. Incongruously, their other-worldly reverence for it has made it unusable for Jews and thus, in practical terms, irrelevant. Either way, Jewish political or religious timidity has resulted in a de facto forfeiture. What has been needed has been to build World Jewry's most glorious and most inspirational Central Synagogue there.
To be a landed people means knowing the importance of one's land and historic/holy places. Call it pride. Call it the glue that unites a people, binds it. While ideas certainly inspire, a nation tied to a land must first recognize the primacy of its land and its historic sites.
It should be obvious that Yasser Arafat, the child killer and monster dedicated to the destruction of a people and nation, cannot be enshrined forever on that very people's most holy site, its heart. If it were to happen, it would be an obscenity. It would be akin to carving the face of Osama bin Laden into the granite of Mount Rushmore. Imagine the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus walked towards his death, being used as a procession route for Arafat, a self-avowed enemy of Christianity. If allowed to happen, it would constitute utter, irredeemable capitulation.
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JWR contributor Rabbi Aryeh Spero, a New York-based radio talk show host, is president of Caucus for America. Click here to comment on this column.
© 2004, Rabbi Aryeh Spero