A conference on Wednesday brought together religious Jews and Christians to discuss a topic that had never before been addressed in a multi-faith forum: the past and the future of the Temple Mount as it related to their respective religions.
As participants entered the conference, they were greeted by the sight of a 20-foot model of the Second Temple and much of the discussion focused on the subject of the Third Temple. Though the conference was a religious forum, avoiding politics, the political implications of any discussion about the future of the Temple Mount, a location frequently described in mainstream media as a “flashpoint,” bears dire political consequences.
Doron Keidar, one of the conference organizers and founder of Cry for Zion, an NGO advocating for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, was aware that he would likely be accused of incitement when he set out. This point was driven home during the press conference when Keidar was confronted by reporters who asked him several times if speaking about a Third Temple implied an agenda to destroy the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount.
Keidar rejected that claim, telling reporters that Cry for Zion’s main goal was to bring Jewish sovereignty to the Temple Mount.
“Our main goal is not to build the Temple and we are not a Temple organization,” he said. “We are advocating for Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount, petitioning the government to express stewardship of the site.”
This raised concerns among journalists who asked if sovereignty meant oppressing the Muslims or restricting them religiously.
“Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount would benefit everyone,” Keidar replied. “At the Western Wall, there is total freedom of worship for all religions. Muslims are free to pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) as are Christians. Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount would bring equality of religion to the site.”
Keidar pointed out that the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel ensured freedom of religion for all faiths at the holy sites.
“Freedom of worship is also established in international law as described by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights,” Keidar said. “The right for all faiths to pray on the Temple Mount was upheld by the Israeli Magistrate’s court. Right now there is illegal discrimination taking place where only Muslims can pray.”
John Enarson, the organization’s Christian Relations and Creative Director, echoed this assertion.
“Allowing the Jewish flag on the Temple Mount would guarantee that this freedom of religion will exist, just as it does at every other holy site that is under Israeli sovereignty,” Enarson said. “Many Christians believe that there will be a Third Temple but that is not relevant to what our organization or this conference do. We want equality of religion on the Temple Mount, plain and simple. How the Third Temple comes about and what form it takes is in God’s hand.”
“I would prefer that the Muslims would welcome other religions and encourage this, but in any case, it should not be tolerated by the international community or by the Israeli government,’ Enarson declared.
Keidar compared their initiative to the civil rights movement in America, petitioning for equality for blacks.
“Christians can’t take their Bibles with them or pray or wear crosses on the Temple Mount,” Keidar pointed out. “Anywhere else in the world, that would be religious oppression and not tolerated.”
“We are trying to educate the Christian world about the Jewish perspective on their holiest site,” Enarson said. “There has been a lot of mistrust between the Jews and the Christians. This will increase peace, not lead to war.”
The main focus of the conference was on theories that the Jewish Temples stood in an area identified as the City of David.
“There is a mistaken belief that this would enable a peaceable solution in which the Jews could build a Temple in another location, a small distance from the Temple Mount,” Keidar said. Keidar, who works in security in the Old City, rejected that perception. “That area, referred to in the Bible as Shiloah, is known as Silwan. It is a hotbed of hatred and some of the most hotly contested territory in Jerusalem.”