The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound (or Temple Mount complex) – the fulcrum of the Arab-Israel conflict- is at the centre of attention all over again. Jewish nationalists are reclaiming the 36-acres complex which they consider to be the site of the two historic temples of Jews.
Recently, dozens of Israeli settlers are reported to have stormed into the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and performed Talmudic prayers in the Mosque’s Eastern part. Palestinian worshipers claimed that the Israeli settlers were led by radical Rabbi Yehuda Glick with protection from Israeli forces as they entered through the Al-Mughrabi Gate. They also alleged that Muslims were prevented from entry at that time.
Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch in Israel has been constantly urging Palestinians to augment their presence at Al-Aqsa. Last month, he said, “The Israeli occupation has no legitimacy in Al-Aqsa Mosque, despite its false attempts to strip Palestinian and Islamic sovereignty over the mosque as a prelude to building the alleged temple.”
The Temple Mount compound or Al-Aqsa compound is unparalleled in religious significance for the Jews. According to Jewish tradition, the First Jewish Temple was built here by King Solomon in 1000 BC, but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Moreover, the reconstructed temple known as the Second Temple was again demolished by the Romans in 70 AD.
Today, the Temple Mount compound hosts two huge structures- the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine in the middle of the compound occupying the area where the Jewish temples once stood and the Al-Aqsa mosque on the far Southside of the Temple Mount. As for Jews, they still pray at the Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple.
Presently, the status quo plays against the Jews, because even though Israel occupied Eastern Jerusalem after the Six-Day war in 1967 and now controls access to the Temple Mount, the disputed complex is administered by an Islamic Waqf. Moreover, non-Muslims are allowed to enter the 36-acres compound only during designated hours and even during that time, they are forbidden from praying.
Nonetheless, Jews believe that a Third Temple would come up at the Temple Mount compound before, or with the coming of the Messianic Age. However, the problem is that the Third Temple needs to come upon the same site where the previous two Jewish Temples existed. There is a consensus among scholars that the previous Temples stood where the Dome of the Rock currently stands.
However, now Jews have started challenging the status quo. There have been several attempts by Jews at rebuilding a Third Temple at the disputed site of Al Aqsa Compound. In 1984, a right-wing organisation- the Jewish Underground- tried to blow up the Dome of the Rock and initiate the construction of the Third Temple.
Later, in 1990, The Third Temple movement announced that it would lay the ‘cornerstone’ for a Third Temple. Then in September 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount which led to the Second Intifada, a period of renewed Israel-Palestine violence.
Since 2013, the Third Temple movement has been describing Jewish access to the Temple Mount as a matter of “religious freedom” and “human rights.” But it is only over the recent past that Jewish activism has intensified even further. Reports of Jewish incursions into the compound, secret prayers and rumours of Israelis digging a tunnel to reach the ruins of their ancient Temple have become far more frequent.
On its part, Israel is particularly irked by attempts to rope in the Islamist Turkish President Erdoğan into the dispute. Sheikh Salah has, for example, hailed Turkish and Malaysian attempts to defend and support Al-Aqsa. Wannabe Khalifa Erdoğan is riding high on his success to insult Christians by reconverting the ancient Cathedral Hagia Sophia into a Mosque, and Israelis know that his next target is the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Israel and orthodox Jews feel they will have to make a move before Turkey gets to become a party to the conflict. Israel is also believed to be in talks with Saudi Arabia to keep Turkish presence at bay at the Temple Mount. Jordan, which was initially hesitant to alter the composition of the Islamic Waqf- administering the third holiest site in Islam- has also agreed amidst growing Turkish interference.
The renewed Jewish activism ultimately hints at attempts to take over the Temple Mount. Jews not only want to control access to the Temple Mount but they want complete authority to administer the holiest site in Jewish tradition. As such, the process to build the Third Temple has already begun.