A House of Prayer for All Peoples?
On Simchat Torah (Festival of the Rejoicing of the Law/Last Great Day) I went up to the Temple Mount with my Bible to pray. Although I do not usually wear a kippa (skull cap), I took one with me.
My first challenge was to pass the guards near the Temple Mount entrance; if they saw me with my Bible they would not let me enter. I silently prayed all the way up to the site where God's Temple stood twice, and will be rebuilt for a third and final time, that I would be able to go in. I got past the guards.
You say Jewish guards prevent Christians and Jews from exercising their religious right to pray on the Temple Mount? That's right! Only Muslims have unlimited access to Judaism's most holy site. Only the Koran is permitted within. The Tanach (Jewish Scripture, known to much of the world as the "Old Testament") and Christian Scriptures (the New Testament) are forbidden. Yet Israel claims to respect the religious rights of all people.
Israel has no law against Christians and Jews praying or reading scriptures on the Temple Mount. However, it does have an unwritten agreement with the Wakf (Muslim religious authorities) prohibiting this. No sign is posted, stating: "Warning! Christian and Jewish prayers are forbidden! Bibles not allowed inside by Muslim religious authorities. Proceed with caution!"
I do not accept that Moslems have the authority to forbid me from reading appropriate Psalms or the New Testament account of Jesus celebrating the Water Libation Ceremony (Psalms 120-134, John 7:37). My question was, where should I read those passages? I ended up between the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa mosque, just to the right of the place where Moslems wash their hands and feet. I was on the other side of the raised platform there, if you face the Mosque of Omar.
First, I nervously sat and read. Then I put on my black kippa, stood up and started to read for a few minutes until I became distracted by fears of being attacked by the Moslem guards. I sat down, took off my kippa, and continued to read. Then one of the Wakf guards noticed me and asked what I was reading. I replied, "Yes, it's my book." He took it from me and saw that it was a Bible. He demanded to know if I was a Christian or a Jew. When I told him I was a Christian, he asked me why I was wearing a magen David (Star of David).
I did not feel obligated to explain that it was a gift from my mother and youngest sister, and told him, "Give back my Bible." He ordered, "You have to leave now!" Again I said, "Give back my Bible." When he refused, I demanded its return more loudly. He raised his fist as if to hit me and warned me not to raise my voice. This attracted the attention of some passing tourists, who gathered around us. I told them, "This thief has stolen my Bible!"
The Wakf guard told me to leave again and threatened to hit me. He said he would give me back my Bible outside. Since there was no reason for him to confiscate it in the first place, I told him to return it to me then and there and I would go. At this point he radioed an Israeli policeman, who came running. The Israeli handcuffed my right hand, which I raised and showed to the assembled tourists, saying, "This is Israeli democracy!" I asked the Israeli repeatedly, "What law have I broken?" knowing that I had not broken any law, yet was being treated like a common criminal.
I am shocked that Jewish police in the Jewish State help maintain Moslem domination of the Temple Mount by suppressing Christian and Jewish religious rights there. Is it the Temple Mount or the Mosque Mount?
An Israeli policeman led me away. I told the bewildered tourists, "This is what happens to a Christian or Jew who wants to read the Bible where the holy Temple stood. This is what happens to Christians and Jews who want to pray where our prophets and patriarchs prayed, and where Jesus and his disciples taught."
Why the exclusive religious rights for Moslems? And Israel wants to hand over control of Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem and Joseph's Tomb to Moslem religious authorities?! Are they crazy or what?
In the police station at the Western Wall Plaza, the officers wanted to know who else was with me. They were relieved to find that I was alone. (They should have known I was performing a mitzva [religious commandment]). The police said they arrested me for my own protection. I told them they should have arrested the Wakf guard who threatened me! Why not remove, once and for all, the threat of Moslem violence? Why reward Moslem extremists?
The police laughed in disbelief when I told them I am a Christian and that my Bible includes the New Testament, which they returned to me. A Druze officer said, "But you must respect other religions." He remained silent when I asked, "Where was their respect for mine?" I explained that our Biblical goal is to enable everyone to come and pray on the mountain where God's Temple stood, and in the Temple when it will be rebuilt. It is prophesied to become a "House of Prayer" for all nations.
The police told me I could return to the Temple Mount as a tourist - without my Bible. I said that I do not want to go up there only as a "tourist;" I want to pray there. When they asked me how many times I had been up there, I said "a thousand." They wrote that down in their report. They said I could make a short statement for the record. I said something to this effect: "Is it too much to ask during this 3,000th anniversary of King David's Jerusalem to peacefully read his inspired words on the Temple Mount?"
When I left the police compound, one of the policemen told me I did a good thing. Once outside, I was met by some Jews who saw the incident and congratulated me.
I pray that this unfortunate encounter will raise awareness of Israel's religious discrimination against Christians and Jews. The situation must change. It will when enough people cry "Basta!" (Italian for "enough!").
May the day soon come when Christians, Jews and Moslems can say: "My House shall be called a house of prayer for all Peoples." (Isaiah 56:7). The Bible says
"Moreover, concerning the stranger, who (is) not of Your people Israel, but comes out of a far country for Your Name's sake. For they shall hear of Your great Name, and of your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm, and will come and pray toward this house. Hear you in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calls to You for, that all peoples of the earth may know Your Name, to fear you, as (do) Your people Israel, that they may know that Your Name is called upon this house that I have built." (I Kings 8:41-43)
"And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord to serve Him and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants - everyone who observes the Sabbath - I will bring them to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:6-7)
"And it shall come to pass at the end of days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established at the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and peoples shall flow to it. And many nations shall go, and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord...and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths,' for out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Micah 4:1-2)
(This article was published in the Jerusalem-based, Root and Branch Association newsletter, January 1996.)
About the Author
David Ben-Ariel, an American author who has travelled widely and who has lived throughout Israel, shares a special focus on the Middle East and great interest in Jerusalem, reflected in hard-hitting articles that help others improve their understanding of that troubled region. Check out www.benariel.com