Freedom to Pray Is Being Met by Incitement to Violence | Opinion

In the last few weeks, there has been much ado about the "status quo" in Jerusalem.


It is the holy city where the faithful of the world's three great Abrahamic Faiths still draw inspiration from the ancient streets where the towering prophetic words of Isaiah and Jeremiah were first proclaimed, where Jesus walked, and from where Mohammed ascended to heaven.

For all the hand wringing about the "status quo" in 2023, there are nearly forgotten but relevant historic facts worth remembering.

Jerusalem, Old and New
This picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows a view of the al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem's Old City, on Jan. 28. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Fact: Since taking control of Jerusalem's holy sites in June 1967, the State of Israel has, in word and in deed, guaranteed that millions of citizens, and pilgrims, alike can pray to God in Jerusalem in a way that would bring a smile to our forefather Abraham/Ibrahim.

Fact: Hoping to allay fears of local Muslims, the Jewish state authorities, had in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, voluntarily ceded control of religious activities in al-Aqsa, situated on the grounds of Solomon's Temple Mount, to the Jordanian controlled-Waqf.

Yet too many diplomats and media pundits have forgotten about an earlier "status quo" in the Holy City, established by the Jordanians preceding the Six Day War.

In 1948, during the fledgling Jewish state's struggle to survive the onslaught of Arab armies, invading Jordanian soldiers captured the Old City of Jerusalem.

They then promptly deported residents of the Jewish Quarter, many of whose families had lived there for centuries, and destroyed every single synagogue.

The ancient Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated. Worst of all, Jews were barred from praying at the Western Wall. That was the status quo for 19 years!

How often have you read this fact in reporting on the region?

Rarely—if at all.

The Jewish people have not forgotten.

Perhaps, it was the daily memory of what it felt like to be barred from the foundations of your faith and history for 19 years that inspired the Jewish state to forge a new "status quo" which aspired to provide freedom of worship for all.

For 19 long years, the Waqf had imposed a "status quo" that ensured people of all faiths could pray on Al-Haram Al-Sharif, unless you were a Jew who wanted to pray where King Solomon and generations of the people of Israel had gathered in celebration and prayer during the First and Second Temples.

But the one thing that Muslims understood and recognized was that the Temple Mount was indeed also holy to Jews.

In A Brief Guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif published by the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem, the authors wrote in 1924, "the site is one of the oldest in the world...its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute."

That was before the serial denial of that historic fact would be led by the late Yasser Arafat as a cynical, political tactic.

Instead of swallowing whole the Palestinian's false narrative, it is time for Muslims from the Gulf, and around the world, to simply come to Jerusalem and to experience religious freedom in the Holy City for themselves.

They will be surprised as the religious rights of all are protected by law and in deed.

Then, the Arab and Muslim nations, who've given billions to the Palestinians, should tell the Palestinian Authority to stop their habitual incitement, to give the old tropes a rest, and to pursue peace finally, actively.

Remarkably, some of the most incendiary provocations in recent days have come from some in the Kingdom of Jordan.

Jordan is the recipient of more than $1 billion in U.S. taxpayer benevolence every year, not because of their despicable 1948-67 record in Jerusalem but due to the courageous, late King Hussein who signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state.

Now, however, Jordan may be ceding ground to extremists.

Just take rhetoric from Jordanian parliamentarians last month; the rants could be mistaken for Al Qaeda or Hamas. Jews were referred to as "sons of apes and pigs" and multiple parliamentarians openly called for Muslims to kill Jews.

Is it any wonder then that there have been multiple terrorists who have answered similar calls of incitement in recent days by murdering Jewish civilians exiting a synagogue or while they walked in the streets of Jerusalem? One of those terrorists was a child whose demented Palestinian education led him to leave his mother a note before he went to murder Jews saying, "you are going to be proud, mom, I will be a martyr."

Amman continues to turn a blind eye when some of its staff at land crossings between Israel and Jordan have confiscated prayer shawls, phylacteries and other private religious items from Jews crossing over to see the wonders of Petra. The Kingdom also provides safe harbor to one of the only women on the United States government's Most Wanted List for her role in a terrorist attack that killed a 16-year-old American.

The real 2023 status quo is one where Israel, because it promised to do so, endorses Jordan's "custodianship" of al-Aqsa despite the fact that it routinely has served as a safe haven for those who abuse religious Jews praying at the Western Wall below (throwing rocks at visitors—Including the Christian co-author of this editorial—and flinging hate speech) or defile them (tolerating all kinds of revelry within the perimeter of the mosque).

Would the Saudis ever tolerate this kind of behavior in Mecca?

More than a decade ago, the Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted seven religious Muslim activists from Indonesia during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Israel. They traversed the Holy Land, danced, and prayed at a yeshiva in northern Israel, prayed twice at al-Aqsa and inserted written prayers in the cracks of the Western Wall.

On a Shabbat dinner at the home of a local rabbi in Jerusalem, the group's leader was asked about their experiences.

He said, "please understand, that almost every news report from Jerusalem or Gaza features statements from Palestinian leaders broadcast against the backdrop of al-Aqsa."

He continued, "that is a signal to every Muslim that there is a religious war here and that the Palestinians are protecting all Muslims [but] what we discovered here is that there isn't a religious war but a political dispute...we have plenty of those back home in Indonesia."

Peace with Israel doesn't negate full-throated criticism when its policies and actions cross the line. Reckless provocations by certain Jewish political figures deserve criticism, for sure, but not threats of intifadas tolerated by American allies.

As co-authors of this piece, we have on occasion had slightly different views on Jerusalem.

That's normal.

What isn't normal is when allegedly sensible people turn a blind eye to provocations of violence.

As a rabbi and a reverend, we have journeyed the world advocating for peace among the children of Abraham. We once welcomed religious leaders from Bahrain to Jerusalem as our personal guests two years before the Abraham Accords, we have helped build bridges of understanding between religious leaders from Baku to Bali and we have met with senior government officials repeatedly in countries currently at peace with one another and sometimes not at peace at all.

One of the best parts of our work together, promoting peace, is when some of the most famous mosques or Muslims leaders in the world have welcomed us—a Jew and a Christian—into their place of worship as a gesture of peace.

This should be the global "status quo" we seek in 2023: where religion is where we find common ground, not fodder for a holy war.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Rev. Johnnie Moore is president of the Congress of Christian Leaders.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.