How Strongly Do You Feel About Your Right to Pray?

Nothing has stopped the Jewish people from wanting to pray on/near Har HaBayit for more than 2,000 years. The history of the Western Wall and the Temple itself is quite well-known. We know that no matter where Jews were, to Jerusalem, they turned every day in prayer. We know that as far back as the middle to late 1800s, Jews were photographed praying there. Despite the Western Wall being turned into a narrow alleyway, Jews went there to pray. We know in the 1800s, Jews were being harassed from the Temple Mount above and so layers of smaller stones were added on to raise the height of the Wall and protect the people below…and we know it was Muslims who were harassing them by throwing garbage down (until the stones stopped them).

Pictures of the Western Wall (circa 1900)

Pictures of the Western Wall (circa 1900)

We know that Jews continued to pray at the Western Wall…until 1948, and it’s important to point out that no Jews prayed at the Kotel from 1948 to 1967 because the Jordanians, who grabbed control of the area and held it for 19 years (during which time they made no move to create an independent entity known as Palestine) and refused to allow Jews to have any access to their holy site.

By contrast, once the entire Old City came into Israel’s control, Moshe Dayan stupidly handed the Temple Mount to be managed by the Palestinian Waqf. Last week, in the latest act of violence atop Har HaBayit (the Mountain of The House…the Temple Mount), Israel finally did something. They closed Har HaBayit (which in and of itself isn’t really fair because Jews were barred from the area when we had done absolutely nothing). But fair is the farthest thing from the minds of the world (and the Israeli government) because while we do not repeat the cruelty of the Hashemite kingdom, in that we allow Palestinians almost unrestricted access to the Temple Mount and full religious freedom up there (they are even allowed to play soccer, gather fireworks and rocks and apparently guns up there), it is Jews who are once again being denied religious freedom – this time by the Israeli government.

A Jew can, if political conditions allow, go up to Har HaBayit. But, once there, a Jew is not allowed to pray. Yes, that’s right. Oh, and they…we…aren’t allowed to whisper lest the Arabs think we are praying and thereby be offended. A man who dares to marry a woman by saying the ancient words, “Harei at mikudeshet…”…”Behold you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the law of Moses and [the People of] Israel” on the Temple Mount will be brought in for questioning. That too is offensive. A prayerbook is not allowed, if the prayers inside the book are in Hebrew.

For as long as I can remember – dating back at least 40 years, Jews have had to go through extremely severe security checks to simply enter the open plaza that Israel created after recapturing the Western Wall (Kotel) in 1967. We go through metal detectors set on high, as our possessions go through another machine and are checked. The guards speak to us and listen to our accent.

Sometimes they will tell us to open our bags. There are few places in the world guarded as well, as carefully, as the Western Wall. From the oldest to the youngest, they are quickly assessed. The guards are responsible, in seconds, for identifying who we are, why we have come. Our safety and those who have come to pray…simply to pray…all rests in the hands of these guards – and has rested there for 50 years.

And ironies of ironies, the security that we have gone through for all of the last 50 years, is now being required for the Muslims who want to enter the Temple Mount. This was put in place, despite many years of recommendations, only this week after Palestinian terrorists availed themselves of weapons stored in the Dome of the Rock. With those weapons, they opened fire and murdered two Israeli soldiers and so, for once, the Israeli government responded properly – well, mostly.

They closed the Temple Mount to everyone and they searched everywhere. And then, they announced that there would be cameras installed and more, metal detectors so that no more weapons of death could be smuggled onto Har HaBayit.

The King of Jordan issued a condemnation…no, not for the murdered soldiers, but for closing Har HaBayit and for the audacity of doing what we could to prevent it from happening again.

And the Muslims decided they would refuse to go through the metal detectors and so they chose to pray outside. And so, comes today’s amusing picture. It is amusing at a time when we have little to smile about. A three-week old baby has lost his father; two families have lost their sons. A young wife is now a widow.

What is amusing is that sometimes a picture meant to show one thing, ends up showing another. Apparently, so offended that they were asked to do what we have been doing for decades ended up yielding this picture. I have watched the Arabs pray many times. When I lived near Tel Aviv, I thought that they were praying towards Jerusalem, as we do. It was only when I moved to the east of Jerusalem that I noticed that this very view is what you would see if you were in Jerusalem.

They pray towards Mecca, often putting their…um…well…this view towards what they consider the third holiest place in the world.

No, they aren’t bowing before Israeli soldiers but it sure looks that way, doesn’t it? I have to commend the Israeli soldiers for not cracking up when they saw this and I have to recommend that the Arabs reconsider praying like this because, hell, every time I look at it, I smile and think what they would say if they’d realized what they were doing.

Walk through the metal detectors, guys. It’s the way of the world nowadays. A world you created because of instances like the one on Friday. When you allow guns and rockets and fireworks and axes and knives to be stored in your mosques – yeah, metal detectors.


Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.