Analysis of the tensions brought about by the different name given by Jewish and Muslims to the same place in Jerusalem.
I would like to present the inter-religious conflict related to the Temple Mountain in Jerusalem, involving Jews and Muslim. Two questions will be at stake: the sovereignty on the place, and the right of archaeological digging.
The origin or the reasons of the conflict are bounded with the name that Muslim and Jews give to that place. The Temple Mount is the Hebrew name and indicates the place where the holy Temple of Jerusalem was placed, before its disruption in 70a.C. According to Jewish the Messiah will come back and re-build the temple. No Jewish can enter the Temple Mount for two precise reasons:
(1) to enter the place of the Temple a Jewish must make a sacrifice first, but since the Temple has been destroyed and the priests class does not exist anymore (priests gave services only in the Temple of Jerusalem, the only Jewish temple), a Jewish cannot be purified and enter the area;
(2) while walking on the Temple Mount could happen that a Jewish step on the place where once there was the “Saint of Saints” room, the holiest place of the Temple where is present the Spirit of God. Stepping on it is a terrible sin. For Jewish that is the place of the Temple and the fact that nowadays there are to Mosques is only temporary.
The Name of the Place according to Muslims: the Noble Enclosure In Arab the name of the same place can be translated as the Noble Enclosure (il Nobile Recinto), and it means the enclosure containing the two mosques: Al aqsa and the Dome of the Rock (la Cupola della Roccia). For Muslims, the place is holy because Mahomet has done a night trip from Mecca to Jerusalem and according to a non Koraninc text rose to the sky and talk to angels.
For the Waaqf, the board for the administration and the custody of Islamic holy places, that place is the mount of the Mosques, furthermore, the Waaqf claims that the Jewish Temple was NOT situated there and that the Noble Enclosure is a holy place only for Muslim.
Archaeology as an Ideological Tool
These standpoints bring to continuous inter-religious tensions. Archaeology has a big role in this difficult situation. In fact, the first question arising is “What is there, under the ground?” Before starting exposing the interconnected situation of the archaeological sites in the area, it has to clarify that in Israel and in Palestine archaeology is used as an ideological tool, that is whoever digs, he/she digs to find its own evidence and to cancel the evidence of the opposite part.
Now, let us try to tackle the conflict from an archaeological point of view. Most of the archaeologists’ community assumes that that is the actual place of the Temple; however, the topography of the Ancient Jerusalem is not completely clear. The argument defended by archaeologists is that the Mount is the most plausible place for the Temple. However, to have the certainty of this the only way would be to dig and discover the ruin of the Temple.
But carry on an archaeological project is impossible because no one has the right to do it and it would cause a re-exacerbation of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. To complicate the situation, the area of the Mount is part of Israel, but it was conquered during the war of the 6 days, therefore officially is an “occupied territory”. Therefore its statute is not defined. The block is a Jewish block, however on the mount, there is Palestinian police, people (not Muslims) can enter the Mount but not the Mosques. Although Israel retains formal sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the site is governed by an Islamic trust that allows non-Muslims to visit the compound during limited hours and prohibits Jewish or Christian worshipers from reading prayers aloud.
The international community decided that no one has the right to dig in the area, nor the Palestinian or the Israeli. However, no one respects this decision and everyone digs in secret.
An Explosive Debate
To understand the explosiveness of the situation let us think to the last straw that causes the second intifada in 2000. On September 28th, 2000 Sharon “had a walk” with 1000 policemen on the Mount. In those days there was the rumour that Muslims were digging in secret on the Mount. The Sharon’s walk had a specific meaning: stop digging because we are the owners of this land. This was the start of the second intifada.
The problem of archaeological digging is now exacerbating once more. Israeli dug already along the perimeter of the Mount there is an archaeological site around the Mount. Now a new catwalk has to be built, and the Muslims accuse the Jewish to be digging under the Mount. The tragedy is that each one when digging throws away everything belonging to the other culture.
The proposal of the Vatican
In this difficult situation, the Vatican suggested a proposal to solve the conflict, proposal that was accepted by the entire international community. The proposal suggested considering Jerusalem as an extraterritorial zone, to be ruled by the UN. According to this proposal, the archaeological work should have been carried on by a third party.
Both Israeli and Palestinian did not accept the proposal: the value at stake is the sovereignty on the area, more than the willingness of knowing what actually lay under the ground. It is at this point that the religious discourse overlaps with the political one. However, I will not try here to divide the two, since, as we have been told throughout all the master curriculum, splitting politics from religion is a characteristic of the Western culture, and it is an attitude not shared in many parts of the world, and certainly it is not shared by the Islam thought. The issue is even more complicated since the power to decide about the Mosques is not a right of the Palestinian but of Islam in general, therefore Palestinian on the particular case of holy places do not have the power of negotiating.
In regard to the state of Israel, that is a laic state, it can be said that it is a laic state of Jewish, and the Jewish identity is grounded on religion.
As I said, the proposal was not accepted by the parties and, without a previous agreement between the parties, UN blue helmets cannot be sent in a country.
Value-Positions at Stake
- The Noble Enclosure is a Muslim holy place, the third only place after Mecca and Medina because there Mahomet ascended in the sky;
- The Noble Enclosure is only a Muslim holy place;
- The Jewish Temple was not placed there;
The sovereignty over such a holy place must be Muslim.
- The Temple Mount is the most sacred place for Jews since the Temple was built there before being destroyed in 70 a.C.;
- Messiah will come and rebuild the temple at the end of the world;
- The sovereignty over such a holy place must be Jews.
- Jews claim that the Temple Mount is one of the sites that was legally purchased by their ancestors and therefore remains the legitimate property of the Jewish people only
Mediation Strategies and Solution
I chose a difficult case to mediate if I would be able to find a solution I would at the same time gain the Noble Price for Peace… I am convinced that the solution to the Temple Mount issue will be reached only when the broader Israeli-Palestinian issue will be solved.
About Archeological Digging
Regarding archaeological matters I think that the value at stake on which mediators should stress is the following:
Archaeological evidence is important for both the parties to rebuild their past, digging in secret is dangerous because the risk is to throw away not only evidence of the past of the other party but also evidences of one’s own past. Therefore the solutions can be the following:
No one can dig: to assure that the two parties respect the agreement a third party force (i.e. the UN) should be in place to monitor the situation. The archaeological digging will be carried on only when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved.
A third neutral party can dig: in this case, both of the parties should agree, this solution is realistic only if both the parties consider more important the knowledge of the evidence of the past (of one’s own and of the other) than the sovereignty on the place. [at the moment I do not think that it is the case]
About the sovereignty on the area
I do not want to enter into the political issue, since, as I said before, I do not think the problem can be solved before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved. At the moment the situation is the following:
The block is a Jewish block, however on the mount, there is Palestinian police, people (not Muslims) can enter the Mount but not the Mosques.
Although Israel retains formal sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the site is governed by an Islamic trust that allows non-Muslims to visit the compound during limited hours and prohibits Jewish or Christian worshipers from reading prayers aloud.
I think that a possible solution would be not acting on the sovereignty, thinking on a double sovereignty on the entire area, allowing Palestinians to have authority over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and allow Jews to have a place on the site where Jews could pray.
However, this solution could be taken only if another problem is solved, the issue of the digging. In fact, Jews cannot enter the area at the moment, because they could step onto the “Saint of the Saints” place. Therefore, until the exact place where the Jerusalem Temple was is not discovered, it is not possible to think of a solution on the religious sovereignty of the place.