Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict over control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif appears over. It ended well short of its worst possible outcome, but without any finality — again.

By “worst possible outcome,” I mean a terribly bloody escalation. By “without any finality,” I mean that sooner or later the situation will again heat up because the core of the conflict -- which side has the final word on physical control of the site -- remains unsettled.

But that’s how both sides want it for now -- save for each camp’s most radical elements who would relish an explosive fight to the finish. That’s because neither side's leadership Is capable of making the tough political compromises necessary to really defuse the situation.

So this slow-boiling tribal war over land continues. (Need to catch up with recent events?  If so, read this piece from The Economist, written part way through the episode.)

Religion reporters: Jews this week observed the solemn commemoration of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destructions of the First and Second Jewish temples (plus other Jewish tragedies across history) that stood on the Old City esplanade from which the site takes it Jewish name.


While the commemoration ran from Monday evening to Tuesday evening, it's not too late to tie Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of the Hebrew calendar’s month of Av)  to the current state of affairs. You might want to refer to this handy Religion News Service “‘Splainer."

I'm not qualified to speak definitively about just how the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif dispute breaks down along religious, nationalistic and political lines among ordinary Palestinians and other Muslims that support them -- as opposed to the statements of Palestinian leaders who always stress religious claims in rallying global Muslim support.

Suffice it to say that traditional Islam, far more than do contemporary Christianity or rabbinic Judaism (rabbinic, meaning post-Temple), makes little differentiation between the religious and political realms, and that for many Muslims living under undemocratic governments religion is the only outlet for political expression on any level.

However, I do know enough about the Jewish side to suggest that reporters consider the following.

For doctrinally non-Orthodox Jews who remain religiously connected to their heritage -- I'm referring to members of Judaism’s Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist synagogues, most of which are in North America -- the Temple Mount is, doctrinally speaking, not so much a religious issues as it is a political one.

What do I mean? Why might theologically liberal American Jews say the Temple Mount isn't really an important religious issue for them?

Because while Orthodox Jews continue to pray daily for construction of a third temple on the mount -- not to mention restoration of the animal sacrifices that once occurred there -- the liberal movements have largely removed such language from their prayers and, hence, their thinking. (A tip of the hat to Rabbi Philip Pohl of Annapolis, Maryland, for pointing this out to me, though any errors here are wholly mine.)

When I say the Temple Mount is not a religious hot button for liberal Jews, I do not mean that control of the site is also of no importance to them. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict still resonates deeply for the majority of American Jews, even if they're secular, and despite repeated surveys showing that support for Israeli government policies is continually dropping among liberal Jews. (The liberal Jewish denominations account for all but about 10 percent of all synagogue-aligned American Jews.)

For these Jews, it's about Jewish pride and tribal history, and perhaps most importantly, the memory of the Holocaust and the psychological safe space from anti-Semitic forces that Zionism promised, though that's certainly not how it's played out so far.

Religion-beat scribes: If you interview liberal synagogue-affiliated Jews on the Temple Mount’s significance to them, be sure to ask specifically whether the issue is political or nationalistic or simply religious for them. Remind them what their denominations say about this. I bet many won't be clear on it

This latest flare up over new Israeli security arrangements for the Jerusalem site ended in what appeared to most observers as a political defeat for Israel and, in particular, the current Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli press was highly critical of the Netanyahu government's actions, and so was the general Israeli population, one TV poll found.

Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim worlds considered Netanyahu’s removal of all the newly installed security technology a great victory.

But as I said, it's all another temporary state affairs, to be upended the next time violence intrudes on the site -- as it almost surely will the next time Palestinian leadership senses the Israeli government is seeking to assert any new authority over what is considered Islam’s third holiest site, even if it's a defensive move, as was the one that set off this latest uproar.

This Wall Street Journal analysis lays out why creating upheaval on and around the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif seems to work for the Palestinians. The writer often takes hardline right-wing positions on the conflict that I do not agree with, but I think he’s nailed the main points in this piece.

Stay tuned for the next turn of this exasperating screw.

FIRST IMAGE: Artistic rendering of Herod's Temple.

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