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When Israeli military chief Moshe Dayan arrived at the Islamic holy sites atop Jerusalem's Temple Mount that his forces had captured in the war of June 1967, he immediately ordered the removal of an Israeli flag that had just been hoisted over the Dome of the Rock. Dayan recognized the inflammatory situation created by Israel's military occupation of the single most contested piece of real estate in the region, and as a result, established an enduring status quo atop the sacred platform known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, from which the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven.
Although Israel has since retained security control of the area — and frequently cites security concerns to bar Palestinian access — it recognizes the authority of the Islamic Waqf religious body, supervised by the Jordanian government, to manage the area. Jews and other non-Muslims may visit the compound, but only Muslims are permitted to pray, as they do in the tens of thousands every Friday when access is open.
On the south end of the Haram Al-Sharif complex is Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest place in Islam. And down below, to the west, is the Western Wall, from which Jews traditionally pray in the direction of the Temple Mount’s center.
Meanwhile, clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians barricading themselves inside the mosques have become more frequent, with Muslim leaders suggesting that Israel intends to let Jews sing, dance and bow down. Episodes of rioting against Israeli forces and throwing stones at the Western Wall plaza on holidays have often led to further age restrictions.
Chief justice of the Israeli High Court Aharon Barak opined in 1976, “The basic principle is that every Jew has the right to enter the Temple Mount, to pray there, and to have communion with his maker.”
He continued, “However, as with every human right, it is not absolute, but a relative right … Indeed, in a case where there is near certainty that injury may be caused to the public interest if a person's rights of religious worship and freedom of expression would be realized, it is possible to limit the rights of the person in order to uphold the public interest.”
The Temple Institute, largely funded by contributions from Jews abroad, has been preparing to replace the Dome of the Rock with a Third Temple to include barefoot priests, burnt offerings and even Internet connectivity. Designers at the organization’s Old City office have hatched architectural plans — along with trumpets, lyres and a golden menorah — as part of what the organization's Chaim Richman describes as the fulfillment of the long-held Zionist dream and the coming of the messiah. The group aims to bypass religious rules against being in proximity to the Holy of Holies through an arcane purification ritual in which Cohanim (high priests) are doused in the ashes of a sacrificed heifer on which almost every hair was red.
Regardless, the Israeli state has traditionally dealt with the sensitive site through a secular, security-oriented prism. A majority of the world's Jews do not favor restoring the biblical mode of worship and removing Islamic structures that have stood for 13 centuries. Yet the geopolitical temperature is likely to continue rising amid revivalist fantasies and talk of a synagogue being constructed adjacent to the epicenter of Muslim prayer in the Holy Land.