On Sunday, a group of Jews went to the Temple Mount and were disturbed when they saw a group of Arab boys playing soccer at the site. The group asked the police to stop the game, which they did. However, later in the day, the soccer game resumed, raising tensions at the site which only one month ago was a major focus of Arab-Israeli conflict.
Yaakov Hayman, Chairman of the United Temple Mount Movements, told Breaking Israel News that soccer games are very common on the Temple Mount.
“The Arabs do not act respectfully because they don’t respect it,” Hayman said. “There is no concept of holiness. Their only interest is to keep the Jews from praying there. They know that Jewish prayer works, and that if we were allowed to pray at our holiest site, it would bring powerful results.”
Soccer playing at the site is, in fact, a matter for the police and violates Israeli law pertaining to holy sites. The law, enacted shortly after the Six Day War in 1967, is simple and direct:
The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places. Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.
“The fact that we allow them to play soccer at our holy site is a disgrace,” Hayman said.
Phillip Gordon Lavine, a tour guide who frequently takes groups to the site, had a slightly different approach to the issue. Lavine is not religious but follows some Jewish traditions. He has witnessed soccer games on many occasions but does not see it as an act of Arab disrespect.
“The Old City is and intense urban environment and very crowded,” Lavine told Breaking Israel News. “I can understand that these children, who have no open fields, choose to play there.”
But Lavine is still distressed at the situation.
“It is entirely disrespectful for the Muslim women to scream Allahu Akhbar (Allah is greater) at the Jews who go there,” he said. “That is the greatest disrespect.”
The Sunni Muslims claim the site as their third-holiest, after Mecca and Medina. This status is based on a story in the Koran of a night journey taken by Muhammed. Though neither the silver-domed Aqsa Mosque nor the gold-domed Haram As Sharif existed at the time of Muhammed, recent interpretations identify the Temple Mount as the location of Muhammed’s mythical journey. This is not universally accepted within Sunni Islam nor is it accepted in other branches of Islam.
Jews revere the site as the location of the First and Second Temples, making it the holiest place in Judaism. Jews also believe the Third Temple will be built on the Temple Mount in Messianic times.
Though Arab children have always played soccer on the Temple Mount, the situation has improved. A similar situation in February 2014 ended differently: a Jew who requested that the police intervene and stop the soccer game was arrested.
The situation promises to intensify as more Jews visit the site. Last month, approximately 3,200 Jews ascended to the Temple Mount, the greatest number since the Holy City was united after the Six Day War in 1967. Last month also saw the Arabs using the site as the base for a terror attack, killing two Israeli policemen.