On Tuesday morning July 12, 2016, the family of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, the 13-year-old Israeli girl who was brutally stabbed to death on June 30th as she lay asleep in her bed, was granted special permission to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem—the most sacred site in Judaism.

Hallel’s anguished parents, Rina and Amihai Ariel, had reportedly requested permission to ‘pray for the ascent of Hallel’s soul’ at the holy place that was dear to her and their hearts.

Credit: The Times of Israel

Credit: The Times of Israel

Rina Ariel had written directly to PM Netanyahu asking him to personally intercede. Via a YouTube video that went viral over the last few days, they also invited their fellow Israeli citizens to join them in the special prayer service:

Hundreds came to pay their respects and offer support.

But on Tuesday, as noted in several media reports (see here, here, and here), only the deceased teen’s immediate family and a few dozen close friends were ultimately authorized to go up to the Temple Mount.

Escorted by a ‘heavily armed police detail’, they were reportedly whisked through the site in less than 15 minutes. Even in that short time they were harassed by the always-present ‘Temple Mount screamers’.

While it’s been difficult to confirm it (see below), they may have been able to utter a few hurried prayers before the Temple Mount once again became a no-go zone for Jews.

Hundreds Attend Ceremony for Terror Victim at Temple Mount Entrance

At the event, Rina Ariel, mother of the murdered teen, delivered a powerful speech:

The heart of our daughter was stabbed and killed, and this is the heart of the Jewish nation…We have to empower it. We need to help strengthen it, and to strengthen the whole nation…”

Credit: The Times of Israel

Credit: The Times of Israel

Also speaking were “a veritable who’s who of Temple Mount activists”, many of whom demanded equal rights for Jews on the sacred space.

Yishai Fleisher speaks at rally

Oren Hazan, the youngest Knesset member of the Likud party, noted that restricting Jewish visitation to Judaism’s holiest site was “unacceptable”:

I think it’s about time that Jews should be able to go up to the Temple Mount every day, around the clock…This is the heart of the Jewish people, so look at it this way: if you took any place in the world and said Jews cannot pray here or walk here, that’s anti-Semitism. So this is anti-Semitism”.

But Hazan, and Yehudah Glick, a long-time activist for religious freedom and equality who recently joined Likud as its most recent MK and also spoke passionately at the event, weren’t permitted to join Hallel’s family on the site.

Credit: The Times of Israel

Credit: The Times of Israel

Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel, a family member, was also barred from going along.

So too were some 400 others, who patiently waited in the hot sun for the police to give them the chance. Instead, they had to make do with the ceremony at the Western Wall plaza. That’s where they were later joined by the Ariel family after their Temple Mount visit.

As I’ve highlighted in several prior posts (see here, here, here), Jewish access to the Temple Mount is severely restricted on account of a discriminatory “status quo arrangement” between Israel and Jordan that dates back to June 1967. Over the years it’s been reinforced and upheld by Israel’s courts as well.

Basically, these days Jews can only visit the Temple Mount during a very few select hours and Jewish religious displays of any kind are banned.

Whispering a prayer, bowing before G-d, singing, reading from a siddur (prayer book), or even visiting the compound wearing a Jewish Star of David can lead to a run-in with the police. Jewish visitors are routinely thrown off the site, detained, arrested, or barred from further entry for the slightest infraction.

Devout Jews know all this. So most are willing to abide by the stringent and frankly bizarre visiting rules simply for the opportunity to tour the place in peace and quiet—even if it’s just for a few brief minutes.

That was the case on Tuesday morning too.

As best I could tell from reading the media reports, the vast majority didn’t come to be provocative or disrespectful of Muslims on the site.

Credit: Breaking Israel News

Credit: Breaking Israel News

Rina and Amihai Ariel were adamant that the event “not be carried out in any manner of confrontation”. They wanted people to come to the Mount to support, comfort, and “strengthen their heart”—but “not through war and not through hate”.

The Ariel Family May Have Been Able to Recite a Few Quick Prayers

I was happy to hear that the Ariel family and some of their friends were permitted to ascend the Temple Mount.

Their visit was especially meaningful to me because, as I noted in a recent post, I had also attempted to visit the Temple Mount a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately for me though, my stay in Jerusalem coincided with the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan.

As I wrote in my post, during that period, Israel’s national police made the decision to close the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims after Jewish worshippers were attacked there during three days of rioting by armed and masked Muslim hooligans. They had stored rocks and metal pipes in al-Aqsa mosque, intending to cause harm to innocents.

So on June 29th my hope of touring Judaism’s holiest of holies was dashed.

But on that day, and the days that followed, hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers were granted unfettered access. Apparently great fun was had by families celebrating the conclusion of Ramadan:

Basically, Muslims were able to worship there as they saw fit—non-stop and around the clock.

Whether the Ariel family and their entourage could do the same on Tuesday was unclear.

A report in Haaretz suggested that the group was permitted to pray. Protected by dozens of armed police, their “uttered blessings were answered by calls of ‘Amen’”. Here’s the article headline and the Tweet:

Haaretz header

But, as pro-Israel blogger ‘Israel Matzav’ rightly notes, the accompanying image isn’t of a religious service on the Mount:

And coverage of the event in The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel dispute the account in Haaretz. In them, it’s explicitly noted that ‘prayers were forbidden’.

In fact, according to the TOI article, four Jewish visitors who went on the tour were detained for doing so (they were reportedly released from police custody a short while later, according to the police).

I attempted to clarify the matter with Jack Brook, currently an intern at JPost.

He wrote about the event for the newspaper and also helpfully documented it on his Twitter timeline.

Brook replied to my query via Twitter. He’s under the impression that the family did say a few prayers during the 15 minutes or so that they were on the Mount:

If so, it would’ve been a striking departure from previous police policy and an unheard of demonstration of Jewish worship on Judaism’s most sacred site—one that, if it did occur, was undoubtedly authorized only due to the unique circumstances pertaining to the Ariel family.

If it happened, it was a one-off.

Given the past policies of the police, who as I’ve noted in prior posts generally cater to the Islamic Waqf on the site, the chance that other Jews will be guaranteed similar police protection remains remote.

UNESCO Postpones Voting on Jewish Attachment to the Temple Mount

On the same day that a murdered child’s family was granted permission to briefly honor her memory by ascending to the Temple Mount, the 21-member UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Committee was due to vote on whether the Jewish people had any connection to the sacred site.

Several speakers at the rally mentioned the coincidence.

This latest UNESCO resolution attacks Israel’s archeological and restoration work in the Old City and ignores Jewish ties to the Temple Mount. Unbelievably, it even refers to the Western Wall plaza in quotation marks, using the Arabic term for it—Al-Buraq Wall.

As noted by Itamar Eichner for YNet,

The [resolution’s] recommendations constitute another attempt to remove any Jewish presence on the Temple Mount”.

However, the vote didn’t take place.

The Palestinians, who as a recognized member state of UNESCO had submitted the document to the committee, decided to pull it at the last minute, ostensibly because they feared it wouldn’t pass.

They probably made the right calculation.

UNESCO is a deeply anti-Israel body—of all UN agencies, it’s widely regarded as the one that’s the most prejudiced against the Jewish state.

But as Herb Keinon correctly notes in a recent article that addresses this UNESCO resolution, the Palestinians can no longer be assured of a slam-dunk there. According to Keinon, that’s because many African and Asian member-states are in the process of recalibrating their relationship with Israel, so any diplomatic pressure brought to bear is now more likely to have an impact.

Keinon’s right.

Last April a resolution that condemned Israel’s “aggression” on the Temple Mount and sought to reclassify it as an exclusively Muslim religious site sailed through the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board (it was approved by 33 states; France and Brazil have both subsequently backtracked calling their affirmative votes a mistake).

So this time Israel’s diplomats pulled out all the stops and worked hard to stymie the draft’s passage.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold issued a scathing letter accusing UNESCO of being “malicious, dishonest, misplaced, hypocritical…disconnected from reality”.

PM Netanyahu also condemned the resolution and Israel’s ambassador at UNESCO, Carmel Shama Cohen, called on the Palestinians and UNESCO to “come to their senses”.

All these efforts apparently paid off.

But this won’t be the last of such scandalous UN documents.

Because the Palestinian denial and denigration of Jewish affinity to the Holy Land is an ingrained part of their anti-Israel narrative.

So one minor set-back is unlikely to put them on any new course.

Conclusion

For Jews eager to see their religious freedoms respected on the Temple Mount, Tuesday was a good day.

UNESCO—one of the most anti-Israel organizations on the planet—shelved a resolution that would have repudiated 3,000 years of Jewish connections to the sacred place. Then, the bereaved family of an Israeli terror victim was granted their wish to memorialize their loved one there.

But there’s no reason to uncork the champagne bottles just yet.

The UNESCO resolution was merely postponed for review—not rescinded. And while the Ariel family and a few of their closest friends could pay their respects on the Temple Mount, they could only do so under heavy armed guard. If they were allowed to pray, it was only for a few minutes.

To some observers this absurd and degrading situation is what necessitates an Israeli-Palestinian peace:

Asaf Ronel tweet

I appreciate and respect this position. But to my mind, the causal arrow runs in the opposite direction.

Elman tweet, no peace until no armed guards

Bottom line: a just and lasting peace will remain elusive until such time when the Palestinians no longer deny the Jewish people’s connection to their heritage and families like the Ariels can freely worship at the Temple Mount without worrying about death threats.

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Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the co-editor of Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City, published by Syracuse University Press. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman