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Sunday, June 25, 2000
Moshe Dayan on handling of Temple Mount and Cave of the Patriarchs

Aaron Lerner Date: 25 June 2000

[IMRA: The following appeared in "Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life"
pages 387-390.Moshe Dayan on handling of Temple Mount and Cave of the Patriarchs

Aaron Lerner Date: 25 June 2000

[IMRA: The following appeared in "Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life"
pages 387-390. It is noteworthy that while each Friday Moslem
religious leaders indulge in rabble-rousing sermons that would incite
some of their followers, Israel has yet to take appropriate action.]

I thought that the first unequivocal decision that had to be made
concerned the direction and supervision of the compound of the
mosques and the Moslem offices. On the morning of the first Saturday
after the war, I visited the El Aksa Mosque and met the Moslem
religious personnel responsible for it. I reached the court of the
mosque by way of the Western (Wailing) Wall. Access to the Wall had
been denied to Jews for the previous nineteen years, and now as we
passed it, thousands of Jewish worshipers crowded against its ancient
stones in ecstatic celebration. As we continued through the Mograbi
Gate above to reach the mosque compound, it was though we were
suddenly cut off from a world filled with joy and had entered a place
of sullen silence. The Arab officials who received us outside the
mosque solemnly greeted us, their expression reflecting deep mourning
over our victory and fear of what I might do. The group was headed by
Sheikh Abdel Hamid Sa'iah, the chief Moslem judge, and with him were
the mufti of Jerusalem and the guardian of the mosque compound, who
was responsible for the religious services.

Before entering the mosque, I asked the Israeli officers who we with
me to take off their shoes and leave their weapons behind them. After
hearing explanations about the mosque and the customary arrangements
for worshipers and visitors, I asked my hosts to talk of the future.
At first they refused, but when I sat down on the carpet and folded
my legs Arab fashion, they felt it necessary to do the same, and
inevitably we engaged in talk. As a consequence of the battle for
Jerusalem, their water and electricity had been cut off. I promised
that both would be restored within forty-eight hours. I then plunged
directly into the main issue. I said that the war was now over and we
had to return to normal life. I asked them to resume religious
services in the mosque on the following Friday. I said I had no wish
and no intention of continuing the practice which the Jordanians had
instituted of censoring Friday's sermon before it was broadcast.

Under Jordanian rule, Friday's sermons, which were broadcast over the
radio, were subjected to strict censorship. I questioned in my own
mind whether such a practice was proper for a Moslem ruler, but a
Jewish ruler should certainly refrain from acting in the same

I added my hope that the Moslem religious leaders would not take
advantage of such freedom by indulging in rabble-rousing sermons that
would incite some of their followers. If they did, we would of course
take appropriate action.

I said that Israeli troops would be removed from the site and
stationed outside the compound. The Israeli authorities were
responsible for overall security, but we would not interfere in the
private affairs of the Moslems responsible for their own sanctuaries.
These were two Moslem places of worship, and they had the right to
operate them themselves. My hosts no doubt knew that on the day we
had captured this site, I had given orders that the Israeli flag be
removed from the Mosque of the Dome, where it had been hoisted. We
had no intention of controlling Moslem holy places or of interfering
in their religious life. The one thing we would introduce was freedom
of Jewish access to the compound of Haram esh-Sharif without
limitation or payment. This compound, as my hosts well knew, was our
Temple Mount. Here stood our Temple during ancient times, and it
would be inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to visit this
holy place now that Jerusalem was under our rule.

My hosts were not overjoyed at my final remarks, but they recognized
that they would be unable to change my decision. They would have
wished the entire area, not just the mosques, to remain under their
exclusive control, with the continued ban on Jews. But they also
realized that Israeli troops had been removed from the compound and
that we had recognized their rights to control their own holy places.

A sticky problem cropped up on August 16. This date coincided with
the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, a millennia-old Jewish fast
day in commemorative mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the chief army chaplain, and several minyanim
(religious quorums) decided to pray on that day on the Temple Mount,
namely, the Haram esh-Sharif. They brought with them a Torah (Scroll
of the Law), an Ark of the Law, and a pulpit. I learned about the
incident only later, when Maj. David Farhi, the military government's
liaison officer with the Arab leaders, failed to prevent the rabbi
and those with him from praying there. The matter came up for
consideration by the government. Although, understandably, no
minister wished to take a formal position stating baldly that Jews
were forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount, it was decided
to "maintain the current policy," which in fact banned them from
doing so. It was evident that if we did not prevent Jews from praying
in what was now a mosque compound, matters would get out of hand and
lead to a religious clash.

Rabbi Goren fought determined against the de facto ban, but he
eventually accepted the verdict and tempers were calmed. As an added
precaution, I told the chief of staff to order the chief army
chaplain to remove the branch office he had established in the
building which adjoins the mosque compound.

I was convinced that precisely because control was now in our hands
it was up to us to show broad tolerance, so rare an attitude among
the regimes of the preceding decades and centuries. We should
certainly respect the Temple Mount as an historic site of our ancient
past, but we should not disturb the Arabs who were using it for what
it was now-a place of Moslem worship.

The arrangement we made for the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron had
a different purpose from the one in Jerusalem. The aim here was not a
division of authority and rights but harmonious coexistence.

According to Jewish tradition, the Cave of the Patriarchs is the most
ancient Hebrew burial place. The first Hebrew was Abraham, and he,
his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob were buried there. So were the
Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. (The tomb of Jacob's favorite
wife, Rachel, is a few miles to the north, "in the way to Ephrath,
which is Bethlehem," as the Bible puts it.) The Moslems also
respected this tradition, for Abraham was their "Friend," father of
their forebear Ishmael, so that for them, too, the Cave of the
Patriarchs holds a special reverence.

During the four hundred years of Ottoman rule and thirty years of
British Mandatory control, the Moslems forbade any Jew from entering
the cave or even the building erected over it, which had been
converted into a church and later still into a mosque. The closest
the Jews had been allowed to approach their ancient shrine was the
seventh step of the outside staircase leading to the building. We
were now in a position to lift this shameful ban, but I wished to do
so without causing the Moslems to suffer, as they had caused our

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