On January 8, 2001, former Shin Bet secret service chief Carmi Gillon and former police commissioner Assaf Hefetz together with leading Israeli academics delivered a report to the then, Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, detailing their concerns regarding plots by several Jewish extremist groups, to blow up the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Gillon and Hefetz founded Keshev, the Centre for the Protection of Democracy, based in Tel Aviv, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. Their report, entitled, ‘Target Temple Mount’ examined current threats to the Temple Mount from extreme militant and Messianic groups. It concluded,
‘The Temple Mount is like a smouldering volcano that is bubbling and threatening to erupt – a threat that is liable to endanger Israel’s existence.’
Six months later, in July 2001, the Rabbinical Council of Judea, Samaria and Gaza reversed the position taken for nearly 2000 years. They called upon all rabbis to take their communities to visit the Temple Mount. This was the first time a group of rabbis representing a significant proportion of the religious Jewish community had ruled it permissible for Jews to ascend the Temple Mount. Previously this had been forbidden because Jews might walk on the area what used to be the sacred holy of holies.
The rabbis also called upon the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements to organise mass visits to the Temple Mount from the settlements. As a result around 500,000 secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered near the Temple Mount at the Western Wall ‘and swore faithfulness to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem.’ In the same month, July 2001, the Israeli Supreme Court made an equally momentous decision. For the first time ever they gave permission to Gershon Saloman and the Temple Mount Faithful to hold a symbolic cornerstone laying ceremony for the Third Temple near the Dung Gate adjacent to the Western Wall. Every year on Tisha B’Av (29th July), the day when Jews mourn the destruction of the first and second Temples, Salomon and his Faithful drive a lorry carrying three ton corner stones as near as possible to the Temple Mount. In 2006, despite police objections, the Israeli Supreme Court gave them permission to actually enter the area of the Haram Al Sharif on the festival of Tisha B’Av. To pre-empt a massacre, the police closed the site to Jews as well as Muslims for the whole day. Intelligence reports revealed that thousands of Muslims were planning to flock to the site to protect it. On Tisha B’Av in July 2007, in 2008 and yet again this July, Salomon and his disciples have asserted their legal right to hold a ceremony nearby. Salomon’s agenda is clear and unambiguous.
“The Israeli Government must do it. We must have a war. There will be many nations against us but God will be our general. I am sure this is a test, that God is expecting us to move the Dome with no fear from other nations. The Messiah will not come by himself, we should bring him by fighting.”
Since 1967, when Israel took the Temple Mount by force, there have been no less than 100 armed assaults on the Haram Al Sharif often led by Jewish rabbis. An Israeli Arab MP, Mohammed Barakeh described the Israeli High Court’s decision as like putting ‘petrol in the hands of declared pyromaniacs.’ And it seems some Christians too are convinced the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt. So much so, they are funding Jewish groups committed to removing the Dome of the Rock and replacing it with a Jewish Temple.
But aren’t we just dealing with a small bunch of religious fundamentalists and radical extremists? If only. Millions of Orthodox Jews worldwide pray three times a day “may the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days”. And millions of Christians readily buy books on prophecy that predict it. And it seems, most Israelis, religious and secular, apparently agree.