Since 2007 I’ve been traveling to the Holy Land showing Christians the power and significance of the ancient biblical sites. As Christians visiting Israel we tour famous Jewish and Christian places like Jerusalem, the City of David, the Western Wall, Joppa, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River. During our tour we always encourage our travelers to bring along their Bibles so they too can trek along in the Scriptures and experience the great biblical narrative as it unfolds before them, and to take to time to pray at each place.
What’s amazing is that at any of the numerous Jewish and Christian sites we tour, anyone of any faith is welcome to enter. If a Muslim wants to wander down to the Western Wall complex to put his hands on the stones, he’s welcome to do so. If a Christian wants to go to the Tomb of David and pray, there’s an open door. If a Jewish person wants to go to the Garden Tomb, he is invited.
But there is only one place, in all my experience of leading tours to the Holy Land, where we are demanded to hide our Bibles. There is only one place where we are forced to feel like outsiders who aren’t welcome. There is only one place where we are prohibited to tell the powerful story of God’s redemption. There is only one place where we are forbidden to pray… and that is atop the Muslim Waqf-controlled Temple Mount; a place sacred and significant to Jewish people, Christians, and Muslims.
This act of religious intolerance, that the Temple Mount is only a sacred space for Muslims and all the rest are treated as second-class citizens, is actually at the heart of the all recent terror in Jerusalem and around Israel.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the Israeli government maintained status quo for the holy site. This meant the Jordanians would remain in control of the Temple Mount that houses the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque through an organization called the Waqf. It also meant that Christians and Jews could visit the site, but they must hide any religious symbols and they were prohibited from praying.
The wave of recent Palestinian incitement comes as of a result of just a handful of Israeli politicians and religious leaders who want to see the status quo changed. Bear in mind, there are only a few Israelis that want the right to pray up on the Temple Mount. Because of this simple request, Palestinians are encouraging their people, even their youth, to go on murderous rampages, shooting, stabbing, stone-throwing, plowing over with cars, killing innocent Israeli bystanders, all in the name of maintaining the status quo, which hasn’t even been changed or broken.
This craziness isn’t new. It’s believed that when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon simply walked on the Temple Mount in 2000, his presence alone was enough to start the second Intifada, which is insanity.
There are two things I see that need to happen here. First, eventually the Waqf that controls the Temple Mount will have to realize that under Israeli law, no Muslim, Christian, or Jewish sacred place will be harmed, tampered with, or destroyed. The sanctity of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque to the Muslim community is preserved under Israeli law to their benefit. This fact alone should alleviate whatever stress they feel about Jewish people or Christians praying on the Temple Mount.
This takes me to my second point. Israel is a thriving democracy that promotes the freedom and expression of religion and faith, unlike Saudi Arabia that prohibits non-Muslims from even entering into holy cities like Mecca and Medina. It’s time for the Muslim community of Israel to recognize that the unified city of Jerusalem is a place for all pilgrims to come, experience, and worship God. It’s time for them to realize that a Jewish or Christian person praying on the Temple Mount will not diminish the significance of their holy site. And it’s time for them to understand that Jerusalem is the capital of a democratic system that invites all people of various backgrounds to enjoy the benefit of living in and around Jerusalem. So stop treating the Temple Mount like Mecca and Medina and start treating it like the rest of Jerusalem.