On Monday, Beyadenu, a Temple Mount activist group, posted a video to their Facebook page showing a group of tourists on the Temple Mount. When the group arrived at the base of the stairs leading up to the gold Dome of the Rock, a man ascended one step in order to take a photo of the group. He then ascended to the second step when the Israeli policeman accompanying the group stopped him and ordered him to descend. The policeman expressed in stern terms that ascending the steps was forbidden.
A new prohibition
Michael Miller, a Temple Mount guide and activist, told Israel365 News that this was a new prohibition.
“Up until last November, Jews were permitted to go up the steps, at least part of the way, and I saw some Jews who were permitted to stand under the arch at the top of the stairs,” Miller said. “In November, the officer took me aside to tell me some new restrictions that were in place, including the stairs.”
“Everyone talks about the status quo but on the Temple Mount, there is no status quo. No matter what the High Court ruled about equality, the law is whatever the police decide that morning.”
Motives behind the changes
Miller speculated about the motives behind the changes.
“It seems to coincide with the new government,” Miller said. “It would be impossible for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to hold his coalition with a member of the Islamic Movement if there are complaints from the Muslims about the Temple Mount.”
Rabbi Mordechai Makover, the former director of the Temple Institute and head of the Mikdash (Temple) Educational Center, noted that even though there is no Biblical significance to the stairs, the prohibition has a troubling precedent.
A Mamluk connection
In 1260, the Mamluks, an Egyptian Muslim group, captured the Land of Israel. In Hebron, they re-branded the Tomb of the Patriarchs, calling it the Mosque of Ibrahim, altered the building by adding two minarets to the top, and added Islamic decorations inside. Seven years later, Jews were prohibited from ascending further than the seventh step leading up to the entrance of the building. This prohibition was strictly enforced until the IDF liberated the city in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The flight of stairs remained in place until the Succot holiday of October 1968 when a terrorist threw a grenade into a crowd of Jewish people wounding 47 people. Following the incident, the Israel Defense Forces demolished the structures next to the Tomb of Machpela — including the stairway — from where the attack emanated.
A constant tug of war
“Those stairs were built from a period much later than the destruction of the Second Temple in an area that was a Temple courtyard,” Rabbi Makover said. “But, unfortunately, we are in a constant tug of war over every inch of the Temple Mount. There are gains and losses. Two years ago, we couldn’t pray on the Temple Mount. The police prevented Jewish prayer in violation of the law. We can pray now, thank God, but it still must be done carefully and without tallit, tefillin, prayer books, or a Torah scroll. And the police occasionally stop us from praying for no apparent reason.”
“The Arabs play this game well, the rabbi added. “In 1967, when the IDF conquered the Temple Mount, there was only one mosque the site; the neglected grey-domed Aqsa Mosque at the southern end of the mount. Now, there are five locations the Muslims claim as holy, including the Gate of Mercy (the Golden Gate).”