Peace Treaty May Hinge on Sacred Compound in Old City

The Florida Times Union, September 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Peace Treaty May Hinge on Sacred Compound in Old City


JERUSALEM -- In the muted light of the Dome of the Rock Mosque, a young Palestinian man leaned against a stone pillar, crutches under his armpits.

Nabil Adili said he spends many hours a week in the sanctuary, where women sit in circles on the red carpet to study holy texts and worshipers kneel in quiet prayer.

"I feel happy here. If I could stay here forever, I would do that," said Adili, 24, a former activist in the Palestinian uprising. He said his injured legs are a result of mistreatment during four years in an Israeli prison.

The fate of Jerusalem's Old City is the main snag in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Jews revere the walled compound they call Temple Mount as home of their ancient temples. To Muslims, it is the Noble Sanctuary, the spot where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

God willed the site to the Muslims, Adili said, and that is why compromise with Israel is out of the question. "This mosque is part of our faith."

Shlomo Ben-Yosef, an observant Jew, is just as adamant. "We can give up everything, but not Jerusalem," he said as he toured remnants of the Second Temple at the southwestern base of the compound.

During one stop, Ben-Yosef and a dozen other Israelis rested on the partially reconstructed monumental staircase that led up to Temple gates, now filled in with bricks.

Again and again, the group debated whether Jews could have prevented the razing of the Temple by Roman soldiers in A.D. 70. The event, one of the most devastating in Jewish history, is still marked every year by daylong fasting and prayer at the Western Wall, part of the Temple's retaining wall and today the holiest site in Judaism.

The tour's guide, Anat, paused before a jumble of stones, some the size of washing machines, that have not been moved since Emperor Titus' legions pushed them off the mount.

Infighting among Jews at the time was a reason they were now standing "down here, within the ruins, and not up there," where the mosques are, Anat said.

THE SAME MOUNTAIN

Observant Jews pray three times a day for the rebuilding of the Temple. Explaining why he could never give up sovereignty, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has said the Temple Mount has been the object of Jewish longing for 2,000 years.

Yet when Israel captured the compound from Jordan in 1967, it quickly assured Muslim clerics that it would not interfere in their business.

Israel's decision not to provoke the Muslim world was backed by mainstream rabbis who reaffirmed rulings that Jews cannot enter Temple Mount, for fear they would desecrate holy soil.

However, the taboo is increasingly being challenged. Last month, Israel's top rabbis were even asked to consider erecting a synagogue on the fringes of the mosque compound.

Some proponents said Muslims should not feel threatened by that idea. "I say to my Islamic friends, 'Let us all join together, to pray together to the same God, from the same mountain,' " said Shaaryeshuv Hacohen, chief rabbi of Haifa.

Mainstream Jewish belief says rebuilding the Temple is up to God. However, a few at the fringes say Israel should raze the mosques. …

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