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Did Jews Abandon the Temple Mount?

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The claim that no Jewish temple ever existed in Jerusalem and that Jews have no rights whatsoever on the Temple Mount is part of the “temple denial” doctrine that has been increasingly internalized in Palestinian academic, religious, and political circles since the 1967 Six-Day War

.[1] Others, both Jews and non-Jews, believe that a temple did exist but indicate that the Jews abandoned the area soon after the destruction of the Second Temple nearly two thousand years ago. From that time onward, Jews lost all direct contact with the Temple Mount and relocated their central worship site to other locations, such as the Mount of Olives and later the Western Wall.[2]

The facts do not support either of these claims. The destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E. did not spell the end of Jewish activities on the Temple Mount. For many centuries, Jews continued their attachment to the site by maintaining a physical presence on the mountain. And when they were prevented from doing so, they prayed three times a day for the speedy renewal of the sacrificial service in a restored temple.

Both the first and second temples were located in a mountainous portion of Jerusalem that Jewish tradition identified with the biblical Mount Moriah, site of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac.[3] Over time, the site was referred to as the Temple Mount (Har Habayit), and it was here that Herod (r. 37-4 B.C.E.) transformed a relatively small structure into a wonder of the ancient world. However, the magnificent edifice he built stood for less than a hundred years; it was destroyed in 70 C.E., three years after a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule broke out.

The Jewish people’s response to this cataclysmic event is in some sense the entire post-70 history of the Jews as they built institutions and created an entire culture that kept the people alive for millennia. But what role did the actual Temple Mount play in their lives after its physical destruction? Despite the conventional wisdom that the Jewish people were banished from this holy site, the evidence suggests that Jews continued to maintain a strong connection to and frequently even a presence on the Temple Mount for the next two thousand years. Even when they were physically prevented from ascending the site, their attachment to Har Habayit remained strong and vibrant.

Roman Rule (70-300)

Once the Jewish revolt had been put down, Jews were again permitted to visit the site of the former temple since the Romans generally did not object to the worship of local gods. As far as they were concerned, once the rebellion was suppressed, there was no longer any impediment to Jewish worship on the mount. Many stories in the Talmud testify to the fact that leading rabbis continued to pray on the now desolate Temple Mount.[4]

Ascent to the Temple Mount was not limited to rabbis; the people’s attachment to the former sanctuary also remained very strong. One story relates that “Ben Zoma once saw a [large] crowd on one of the steps of the Temple Mount.”[5]

The people continued to bring sacrifices that were offered on a Temple Mount altar that had survived the destructive fire by the Romans. The Mishnah, a central code of Jewish law codified in the early third century C.E., states that “one may offer sacrifices [on the place where the temple used to stand] even though there is no house [i.e., temple].”[6] Some rabbis held that the sacrificial services continued almost without interruption for sixty-five years following the temple’s destruction while others suggest that sacrificial services ceased in 70 C.E. but were resumed for the 3-year period when Bar Kochba controlled Jerusalem.[7]

Not only did the Jews continue to offer sacrifices and prayer on the mount, but at least once in the half-century following the temple’s destruction, they began to build a new edifice for a third temple. Emperor Hadrian (76-138), eager to gain the cooperation of the Jews, granted them permission to rebuild their temple. The Jews started to make the necessary preparations, but before long, Hadrian, at the instigation of the Samaritans, went back on his word and the project was stopped.[8]

Following the defeat of the Bar Kochba rebellion in 135 C.E., Jews were barred for the first time from the Temple Mount. The victorious and vindictive Emperor Hadrian ordered that the Temple Mount be ploughed under and issued strict orders prohibiting Jews from living in Jerusalem and from praying on the Temple Mount. As an alternative, Jews assembled for prayer on the Mount of Olives from whence they had an unobstructed view of the temple ruins. While this prohibition was strictly enforced during Hadrian’s lifetime, Jews did pray on the Temple Mount at various times during the second and the third centuries because the prohibition was not always fully enforced. Some scholars question whether Hadrian’s decree was ever legally formulated, but all agree that a policy of prohibiting Jews in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount was in effect.[9]

Byzantine Period (300-618)

The transformation of the pagan Roman Empire into a Christian realm early in the fourth century marked a decisive turning point in the history of the Western world. Under pagan rule, Jerusalem had become a relatively insignificant provincial city, but now it attracted many pilgrims who came to worship at Christian holy sites. A new church, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, was built on the purported site of Jesus’ crucifixion and became the city’s central religious site. Until the Crusader conquest of the city eight centuries later, the importance of the Temple Mount was deliberately de-emphasized. Though many churches and other religious buildings were erected throughout the city at sites associated with the life of Jesus, only one or two were built on the Temple Mount. Until recently, it was widely believed that in the Byzantine period the Temple Mount was deliberately abandoned by Christians and turned into the local garbage dump[10] in order to fulfill the New Testament prediction that the temple would be totally destroyed and “not one stone will be left here upon another.”[11] These views were challenged by the recent publication of suppressed archeological findings. The excavations, the only ones ever permitted on the Temple Mount by the Muslim waqf in modern times, were conducted by British archeologists in the 1930s. Under al-Aqsa mosque, they found evidence of a mosaic floor, dated to the fifth to seventh centuries, that was quite similar to floors of churches found in Bethlehem. Most likely they are remnants of a Byzantine church that was built on the Temple Mount—contrary to the accepted theories.[12]

Emperor Constantine (272-357) renewed the laws that prohibited Jews from living in or even visiting Christian Jerusalem, allowing access to the Temple Mount once a year on Tisha b’Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, the anniversary of the day the temples were destroyed).[13] In 333, the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux described in some detail the desolate Temple Mount, noting a “perforated stone” (perhaps today’s Foundation Stone found in the Dome of the Rock), which the Jews anointed with oil once a year on Tisha b’Av. On this day, he heard the Jews recite the Book of Lamentations on the Temple Mount and saw them tear their clothes as a sign of mourning.[14] Later Byzantine writers, including Jerome, corroborate that Jews continued these mourning practices on the actual Temple Mount.[15]

Constantine’s nephew Julian, who became emperor in 361 C.E., turned his back on Christianity and issued an edict of universal religious toleration for all—pagans, Jews, and Christians. He reversed the ban against Jews in Jerusalem early in his reign.

In 363 C.E., Julian promised to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem; among Diaspora Jews, his pledge was greeted with great enthusiasm[16] although some rabbis were apprehensive about the undertaking, hesitating to engage in building the Third Temple prior to the arrival of the messiah.[17] Julian, nonetheless, went ahead with the project and ordered the imperial treasury to make available large sums of money and building materials. Many Jews came to Jerusalem to assist the skilled craftsmen and masons in the removal of the existing foundation, the first step in the rebuilding project.

Christian residents of the city were vigorous in their opposition to any attempt to rebuild the temple. Many gathered in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to pray for the termination of the project. It would seem their prayers were answered since all work halted abruptly in the summer of 363; whether this was due to arson, an earthquake, or merely Julian’s death on the Persian front is a matter of some dispute. Julian’s successor, a devout Christian, immediately canceled the temple-rebuilding effort.[18]

By the latter part of the fourth century, the Temple Mount had disappeared completely from the landscape of Christian Jerusalem. The pilgrim Egeria who visited Jerusalem in the early 380s provided a detailed description of the city in letters to her friends, but she made no mention of the Temple Mount.[19] Similarly, the mosaic world map of Medaba from the mid-sixth century depicts Jerusalem in great detail but omits the Temple Mount altogether as does a seventh-century Armenian account of the city’s holy places.[20]

Jews, on the other hand, never forgot the Temple Mount even when none of the original temple buildings remained standing. Wherever they lived, they faced Jerusalem three times every day and prayed for the restoration of the temple and the renewal of the sacrificial service.[21] Furthermore, there are indications that despite imperial bans, some Jews continued to pray on the Temple Mount. The late fourth-century sage Rabbi Bibi offered instructions to those who went to the Temple Mount to ensure their behavior would not degrade the holiness of the place.[22] A sixth-century aggadic work, Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabba, includes an instruction for Jews everywhere to face in the direction of the Temple Mount when praying, adding that “and those who pray on the Temple Mount should turn to the Holy of Holies,”[23] an injunction that only makes sense if the ban was not strictly enforced.

The Jewish people’s continued attachment to the Temple Mount is exemplified by an event that occurred during the reign of the Roman Empress Eudocia (401-60). When she went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 438, she was greeted warmly by Jews everywhere, probably as a result of her policy of supporting non-Christians. When the leading rabbis asked her for permission to once again ascend the Temple Mount, she immediately agreed. Great excitement gripped the local Jewish leaders who sent letters to other communities throughout the world informing them of the good news and asking them to come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the coming Sukkot festival. More than 100,000 Jews came to Jerusalem that year, but once again, Jerusalem’s Christians launched a violent protest and blocked access to the mountain.[24]

For almost two centuries after this incident, Jews were forbidden to live in Jerusalem. Until the Persian conquest in 618, Jerusalem was officially a city without Jews. This would change dramatically under the brief period of Persian rule and the subsequent, and far lengthier, era of Muslim hegemony.

For centuries, Persian and Roman (later Byzantine) armies had battled each other over the fringes of their respective empires. The invasion of Palestine by King Khosru II of Persia in 613-14 C.E. succeeded in briefly wresting control of Jerusalem from Constantinople. Khosru was aided by Babylonian Jewry who supplied 30,000 Jewish soldiers in return for a promise that they would participate in the capture of Jerusalem and that a Jewish governor would be appointed to rule over the city.[25] Once the city was captured, the Persians appointed Nehemiah ben Hushiel as governor, and the new governor lost no time in reestablishing the sacrificial service on the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Elazer Kalir, one of the earliest and most prolific of Jewish liturgical poets, confirms the restoration:

When Assyria [Persia] came to the city … and pitched his tents there / the holy people [Jews] were a bit relieved / because he permitted the reestablishment of the Temple / and they built there the holy altar / and offered upon it holy sacrifices / but they did not manage to build the Temple / because the Messiah had not yet come.[26]

But once again, this return to the Temple Mount was short-lived. Nehemiah was soon executed either out of fear of his messianic pretensions or because the support of the city’s larger Christian population was preferred over that of the smaller number of Jews. In any event, in 629, only ten years after the conquest, the Persians lost control of the city to the Byzantines who were subsequently defeated by victorious Arab forces sweeping out of the desert.

Early Muslim Rule (638-1099)

Jerusalem was conquered by Arab forces in May 638, an accomplishment ascribed by Muslim sources to the Caliph Umar. In return for assistance in the taking of the city, the Jews received the right to reside in Jerusalem and to pray on the Temple Mount without interference.[27]

In 680, fifty years after Umar’s conquest of Jerusalem, the Damascus-based Umayyad dynasty engaged in a struggle for control of the Muslim world with a rebel dynasty based in Mecca. The Umayyads opted to fight the rebels by damaging Mecca’s economy, which was based almost entirely on revenues from Muslim pilgrims. Their secret weapon was to create a competing pilgrimage site by building a magnificent edifice, the Dome of the Rock, on the site of the destroyed Jewish temple and hoping that this mosque would weaken Mecca’s economy by siphoning off pilgrims from Mecca. Thus, a political strategy designed to fight mutineers in far-off Mecca transformed Jerusalem’s Temple Mount into a Muslim holy site with far-reaching implications to this day.

But the metamorphosis of the Temple Mount into Islam’s third holiest site did not result in a total exclusion of Jews from the location. Soon after the Muslim conquest, Jews received permission to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount. Perhaps the wooden structure that was built over the Foundation Stone was first intended for a synagogue, but even before it was completed, the site was expropriated by the city’s rulers. The Jews received another site on the mount for a synagogue in compensation for the expropriated building.[28] Most probably there was an active synagogue on the Temple Mount during most of the early Muslim period.[29] Solomon ben Jeroham, a Karaite (a medieval Jewish sectarian) exegete who lived in Jerusalem between 940 and 960, affirmed that Jews were permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, noting that “the courtyards of the Temple were turned over to them and they prayed there [on the Temple Mount] for many years.”[30]

Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Furthest Mosque), the second mosque on the Temple Mount, was built in 715 and was linked to a Muslim legend, based on an ambiguous verse in the Qur’an concerning Muhammad’s night journey to heaven.[31] In this way, the Umayyads cleverly associated Muhammad’s life with Jerusalem even though the prophet died years before the city’s capture by the Muslims. This construction further cemented the site’s holiness to Islam. Nonetheless, during this first phase of Islamic governance, Muslim rulers were generally tolerant of Jewish activities on the mountain. Whenever a more intolerant ruler assumed control of the city, Jews were forbidden from praying on the mount but instead worshipped at one of the many Temple Mount gates; an eleventh-century document found in the geniza or storeroom of a Cairo synagogue describes the circuit followed by the pilgrims and the prayers they recited at each of the gates.[32]

After the conquest of Jerusalem by the army of the Fatimid dynasty (969), a Temple Mount synagogue was rebuilt and used until the Jews were banished by Caliph al-Hakim in 1015. When a subsequent ruler canceled Hakim’s eviction order, the Jews again returned to this synagogue on the Temple Mount and worshipped there until the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. Hebrew writings found on the internal walls of the Golden Gate are believed to have been written by Jewish pilgrims at least one thousand years ago,[33] thus testifying once again to the continued Jewish attachment to and presence on the Temple Mount in this era.

Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1187)

The early Arab rulers of Jerusalem for the most part did not destroy or confiscate any of the city’s churches. Although charged an entrance toll, Christian pilgrims continued to visit their sacred shrines. This religious tolerance came to an end when the Seljuk Turks swarmed out of Central Asia in the latter part of the eleventh century and captured Jerusalem in 1071. Assaults on pilgrims and attacks on churches became commonplace. As reports of these anti-Christian activities reached Europe, Pope Urban II in 1095 demanded that Christians rescue the Holy Land from the “infidel,” an appeal that resulted in the First Crusade.

Within hours of breaching the walls of Jerusalem in 1099, the victorious Crusaders had massacred almost all of the city’s Jewish and Muslim inhabitants.[34] The Crusaders ascended the Temple Mount and after giving thanks to God for their victory, converted the mosques into churches, renaming the Dome of the Rock the Temple of God (Templum Domini) and al-Aqsa Mosque, the Temple of Solomon (Templum Solomnis). The mount was declared off-limits to all non-Christians and became the center of religious and civil life in Crusader Jerusalem.[35]

Despite the prohibition, Jews continued to ascend the mount even during the Crusader period. The prominent medieval Jewish commentator and leader Maimonides (1135-1204) wrote in a letter in 1165 that he “entered the Great and Holy House [and] prayed there.”[36] The Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Jerusalem sometime between 1159 and 1172, also recorded Jews praying “in front of the Western Wall [of the Dome of the Rock],[37] one of the [remaining] walls of what was once the Holy of Holies.”[38] Thus, even in one of the darkest and most intolerant periods of Jewish history, the faithful did not abandon the Temple Mount.

A Medieval Dispute

Less than a century later, the Kurdish Muslim warrior Saladin regained control of the city, thus putting an end to the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in October 1187. Even though the Temple Mount was re-consecrated as a Muslim sanctuary, Saladin permitted both Jews and Muslims to settle in Jerusalem and to worship on the Temple Mount. The Muslim authorities permitted Jews to erect a synagogue on the site[39] although the situation vacillated over the next few centuries. For example, Saladin, who at first had urged Jews to come back to Jerusalem, a few years later forbade them to go on the Temple Mount. From the late thirteenth century to the mid-nineteenth, the mountain was, for the most part, off-limits to Jews with occasional interludes of access.

During the first millennium following the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews did not hesitate to ascend the mount, but by the Middle Ages, two distinct halakhic (Jewish religious law) views on the permissibility of doing so had crystallized. The dispute centered largely on issues of the degrees of holiness associated with the areas where the temple once stood and on whether Jews who could no longer attain ritual purity might inadvertently enter the location of the former temple. According to most rabbinic authorities, in the first centuries after the temple’s destruction, it was permissible to walk on the Temple Mount because the ashes of the Red Heifer, which were necessary for attaining ritual purity, were still available.[40] But by the medieval period, these ashes were no longer available, and thus prevented Jews from achieving ritual purity. Under these circumstances, Maimonides taught, “Even though the Temple is in ruins today due to our sins, everyone is obligated to revere it like when it was standing … one is not permitted to enter any place that is forbidden.”[41] On the other hand, Rabbi Avraham ben David of Provence [Raavad] (c.1125-98), the author of critical glosses on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, concluded that “one who enters [the Temple Mount] nowadays does not receive the penalty of karet [literally, cutting off].”[42] Though there are various interpretations of the meaning of Raavad’s gloss, he probably held that the Temple Mount without a temple no longer had its original holiness.

In the subsequent halakhic literature, the vast majority of rabbinical authorities “built a fence around” Maimonides’ conclusion and forbade entering any part of the Temple Mount, fearing that some might inadvertently enter a forbidden area. Of the classical authorities, only Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1316), a noted French Talmudic scholar, expressed the view that in his days it was permissible for Jews to enter the Temple Mount.[43]

And yet Jewish attachment to this ruined site persisted. In 1211, three hundred European rabbis, mostly from England and France, embarked for the Holy Land. One, Rabbi Shmuel ben R. Shimshon, wrote about his visit to the Temple Mount.[44] Early in the fourteenth century, Rabbi Ishtori Haparchi (1280-1366) wrote in his halakhic and geographic book Kaftor ve-Ferah about an earlier rabbinic ruling that urged people to come to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices on the Temple Mount.[45] While nothing apparently came of these plans, it is significant that a noted authority of the period could contemplate such an act, despite the self-imposed rabbinic ban. Toward the end of the Mamluk period, there is evidence from the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, David ben Shlomo Ibn Zimra (1479-1573), who wrote that the city’s Jews regularly went to the Temple Mount in order to view the entire temple ruins and pray there. He added that “we have not heard or seen anyone object to this.”[46]

The Ottoman Empire (1516-1856)

With the Ottoman conquest of Jerusalem in 1516, the relationship between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount entered a new phase. Sultan Suleiman I (the Magnificent, 1494-1566) ordered the rebuilding of the city’s walls and encouraged many European Jews, especially those who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal a generation earlier, to settle in the Holy City. Suleiman also instructed his court architect to prepare a place for Jewish prayer in an alley at the bottom of the Western retaining wall of the Temple Mount because he had prohibited all non-Muslims from entering any part of the Temple Mount. A royal decree was issued that guaranteed for all times the right of Jews to pray at this Western Wall in compensation for the Jews’ relinquishing their legal rights to pray on the mount itself.[47]

Subsequent Ottoman rulers invested little effort in the upkeep of the Dome of the Rock or al-Aqsa Mosque. There are no records of important Muslim clerics or kings or even large crowds of ordinary Muslims praying on the Temple Mount.[48] Even those rabbinical authorities, who agreed in theory with the precedents that permitted ascent, hedged their rulings in view of the actual situation on the ground. Rabbi Yosef Di’Trani, who visited Jerusalem during the 1590s, noted that there were locations on the southern and eastern sides of the Temple Mount where Jews could walk freely without any concern of entering a prohibited area, but he ruled that Jews should, nonetheless, avoid going there because they were not ritually clean. In the nineteenth century, students of the rabbinical giant, the Vilna Gaon, arrived in Jerusalem and became the prototype of today’s ultra-Orthodox haredi community. The leader of this group, Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov (d. 1839), held that though there were areas on the Temple Mount that they were allowed to enter, Jews were, nevertheless, forbidden to ascend as the exact location of these permitted areas was in some doubt.[49] This ruling became the normative position of the Orthodox world for the next 150 years. Despite rabbinical decrees prohibiting access to the mountain and the death penalty threat for any Jew caught on the mountain, the deep-seated Jewish attachment to the Temple Mount remained strong. An unknown number of Jews ascended the mountain surreptitiously during these centuries. No records were kept of these visits because of their clandestine nature, but occasional references in Muslim court records and travelers’ accounts give evidence of their occurrence.[50]

Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

In the aftermath of the Crimean War (1853-56), the Temple Mount was opened daily (except on Fridays) to all visitors, regardless of their religion—a concession demanded by the victorious British. Nevertheless, the Jerusalem rabbis again issued a decree prohibiting Jews from going up, threatening to put any Jew who ignored their ruling under the ban, a form of rabbinical excommunication from the community. While the vast majority of Jews abided by the decree, many ignored it, including prominent visitors, such as Sir Moses Montefiore and Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Many of the new secular settlers also disregarded the rabbinical instructions and visited the site.[51]

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, repeatedly prohibited entering any part of the Temple Mount, a position also reiterated by his successor Rabbi Isaac Herzog (1888-1959). Herzog testified in 1938 before the British Partition Committee that Jews were not allowed to go onto the Temple Mount until the coming of the messiah.

Just before the outbreak of the 1948 War of Independence, Herzog instructed Gen. David Shaltiel, the Jerusalem sector commander of the Jewish underground forces, that should his forces capture the Temple Mount, they should make every effort to expel all enemy soldiers, but once they had accomplished this task they were to leave the Temple Mount as quickly as possible because of the holiness of the place. These instructions became moot since the Jordanian army succeeded in occupying all of the Old City, including the Temple Mount. For the next nineteen years, no Jew was allowed to approach the Western Wall or the Temple Mount despite provisions in the Jordan-Israel armistice agreement that called for free access to all holy places.

Post-1967

In June 1967, on the second day of the Six-Day War, Israeli paratroopers entered Jerusalem’s Old City and made their way to the Temple Mount; Col. Mordechai Gur, the brigade’s commander, soon broadcast a momentous message to the Israeli nation: “The Temple Mount is [again] in our hands.” For the first time in almost two thousand years, the Temple Mount was under the control of a sovereign Jewish people.

Gur ordered three paratroopers to climb to the top of the Dome of the Rock and unfurl an Israeli flag over it; four hours later Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordered the flag taken down. This order initiated a schizophrenic diplomatic and political state of affairs that continues to this day.

Dayan proclaimed that, henceforth, there would be unrestricted Jewish access to the Temple Mount.

This compound was our Temple Mount. Here stood our Temple during ancient time, and it would be inconceivable for Jews not to be able freely to visit this holy place now that Jerusalem is under our rule.[52]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Israel Defense Forces chief rabbi at that time, was among the first soldiers to appear on the Temple Mount and described his activities on that historic day:

When we arrived on the Temple Mount, I blew the shofar, fell on the ground and prostrated myself in the direction of the Holy of Holies, as was customary in the days when the Temple still stood. … [Later] I found General Moti Gur sitting in front of the Omar Mosque. He asked me if I wanted to enter, and I answered him that today I had issued a ruling permitting all soldiers to enter because soldiers are obligated to do so on the day when they conquer the Temple Mount in order to clear it of enemy soldiers and to make certain that no booby traps were left behind. … I took along a Torah scroll and a shofar and we entered the building. I think that this was the first time since the destruction of the Temple almost two thousand years ago that a Torah scroll had been brought into the holy site which is where the Temple was located. Inside I read Psalm 49, blew the shofar, and encircled the Foundation Stone with a Torah in my hand. Then we exited.[53]

Some weeks later Rabbi Goren established a synagogue and study hall, as well as his office, on the Temple Mount and held organized study and prayers on the site. But within days, Goren’s efforts were brought to a halt. At the behest of Dayan, the Israeli government prohibited Rabbi Goren from undertaking any further activities on the mount.[54]

As a result of another government decision that same year, the general public, including Jews and Christians, was allowed to visit the Temple Mount without hindrance but not to pray there. Many visitors have taken advantage of this permission, but most observant Jews continued to follow the instructions of the chief rabbinate, which prohibit Jews from entering the mount because of the issue of ritual impurity. A small number of rabbis have followed Rabbi Goren’s plea to permit and encourage Jews to visit those areas on the Temple Mount that do not require complete ritual purity.

At the outbreak of “al-Aqsa intifada” in September 2000, the Temple Mount was closed to all non-Muslims because it was feared that the area might become a tinderbox of clashes with Palestinians. The mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003, but visiting hours were severely curtailed with the authority of the waqf (Islamic religious endowment), the Muslim custodians of the Temple Mount, increasing in significance. During certain hours, Jews and Christians are allowed to go up to the mount but only if they conform to a strict set of guidelines, including a ban on prayer and bringing any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are forbidden from entering any of the mosques without direct waqf permission; rules are enforced by waqf agents, who watch tourists closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any infractions. Thus despite the fact that the Israeli parliament passed laws ensuring freedom of worship to all at every holy site, Jewish prayer on any part of the Temple Mount continues to be prohibited.

Conclusion

Even after the Roman armies destroyed the temple in 70 C.E., the Jews never abandoned the site. No matter what obstacles or decrees others placed in their way, Jews continued to ascend and pray at or near the area where their temple once stood.

Whenever their physical presence on the mountain was outlawed, they selected alternate prayer sites, such as the Mount of Olives from where the Temple Mount could be seen. In more recent times, the Western Wall served as such an alternative. But even during those periods, Jews attempted, legally or otherwise, to go up unto the mountain to pray. In recent decades, despite the opposition of the Muslim waqf and the Jewish chief rabbinate, the number of Jews going up on the Temple Mount in order to pray has increased year-by-year.[55]

Against this backdrop, the continued denial that Jews have any connection with the Temple Mount cannot but pose a formidable obstacle to a settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict.

F. M. Loewenberg is a professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan-University and lives in Efrat, Israel.

[1] David Barnett, “The Mounting Problem of Temple Denial,” Meria Journal, June 2011.
[2] Eli Schiller, Kipat ha-Sela Even Hash’tiya (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1976), pp. 19-28.
[3] Rashi’s comment on the Babylonian Talmud (hereafter, BT), Pesachim 88a.
[4] See BT, Makkot 24b; BT, Shabbat 15a; BT, Rosh Hashanah 31a; BT, Sanhedrin 11b; BT, Avoda Zara 20a.
[5] BT, Berakhot 58a; see, also, Mordechai Fogelman, Beit Mordechai (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 2009), p. 205.
[6] Mishnah (M) Eduyot 8.6; see also Maimonides, Hilkhot Bet Ha-bechira 6.15.
[7] M Eduyot 8.6; Maimonides, Hilkhot Bet Ha-bechira 6.15; Ha’emek Davar commentary on Leviticus 26.31.
[8] Genesis Rabba 64.10.
[9] Oded Irshai, “Ha-issur shehetil Konstantinus Hagadol al k’nissat Yehudim Lirushalayim,” Zion, 60 (1996), pp. 129-78; J. Rendel Harris, “Hadrian’s decree of expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem,” Harvard Theological Review, 19 (1926), pp. 199-206.
[10] Galyn Wiemers, “Jerusalem 101: An introduction to the city of Jerusalem,” Generation Word, West Des Moines, Iowa., accessed Apr. 24, 2013.
[11] Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2, Luke 21:6.
[12] Etgar Lefkovits, “Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church?” Jerusalem Post, Nov. 16, 2008; Leen Ritmeyer, “Third Jewish Mikveh and a Byzantine Mosaic Floor Discovered on the Temple Mount,” Ritmeyer Archeological Design, Nov. 17, 2008; Israel Hayom (Tel Aviv), June 29, 2012.
[13] Irshai, “Ha-issur shehetil Konstantinus Hagadol al k’nissat Yehudim Lirushalayim,” pp. 129-78.
[14] Michael Avi-Yonah, The Jews of Palestine: A Political History from the Bar Kokhba War to the Arab Conquest (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1984), p. 81; Menachem Elon, Temple Mount Faithful-Amutah et al v. Attorney-General, et al., in the Supreme Court Sitting as the High Court of Justice, Sept. 23, 1993, in Catholic University Law Review, Spring 1996, pp. 890-2.
[15] Jerome’s commentary on Zephaniah 1.6.
[16] Ephraem the Syrian, Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, A. Rücker, trans., 20 (1919), First Song, p. 16; Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio V contra Julianum, 4 (GCS 35), c. 668.
[17] Philostorgius, Historia ecclesiastica, Joseph Bidez, ed. (Berlin: Winkelman and Friedhelm, 1972), p. 297.
[18] Avi-Yonah, The Jews of Palestine, pp. 196-200; Gunter Stemberger, Jews and Christians in the Holy Land—Palestine in the Fourth Century (Edinburgh: Clark, 2000), p. 208; Robert Panella, “The Emperor Julian and the God of the Jews,” Koinonia, 23 (1999), pp. 15-31; Kenneth W. Russell, “The Earthquake of May 19, AD 363,” The Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Spring 1980, pp. 47-64; David B. Levenson, “The ancient and medieval sources for the Emperor Julian’s attempt to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple,” The Journal for the Study of Judaism, 4 (2004), pp. 409-60.
[19] M. L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans., The Pilgrimage of Etheria (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919).
[20] E. W. Brooks, “An Armenian Visitor to Jerusalem in the Seventh Century,” English Historical Review, 11(1896), pp. 93-7.
[21] JT, Berakhot 2.4(17a), Midrash Tanchuma Ki Tavo 1.
[22] BT, Berakhot 62b.
[23] Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabba 4.
[24] Michael Gaddis, There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. 246; Kenneth Holum, Theodosian Empresses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 217.
[25] Some scholars question the existence of this treaty. See, Elisabeth Campagner, “Eine jüdische Apokalypse des 7. Jahrhunderts? Kaiser Heraklius als Antichrist?” Internet Zeitschrift fur Kulturwissenschaft, Sept. 5, 2002, pp. 1-43.
[26] Ezra Fleischer, “L’pitaron sh’elat z’mano u’makom p’ulato shel R’ Elazar Biribi Kilir,” Tarbiz, 54 (1985), p. 401.
[27] Jacob Mann, The Jews in Egypt and in Palestine under the Fatimid Caliphate (Ithaca: Cornell University Library, 1920), vol. 2, pp. 188-9; Ben-Zion Dinor (Dinaburg), “Bet Tefila u’midrash l’yehudim al har habayit bi’mey ha’aravim,” Zion, 3 (1929), pp. 54-87.
[28]The riddle of the Dome of the Rock: Was it built as a Jewish place of prayer?The Voice of the Temple Mount Faithful (Jerusalem), Summer 2001; Abraham Benisch, trans., Travels of Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon (London: The Jewish Chronicle Office, 1856); Robert Bedrosian, trans., Sebeos’ History of Armenia (New York: Sources of the Armenian Tradition, 1985), chap. 31.
[29] Dinor, “Bet Tefila u’midrash l’yehudim al har habayit bi’mey ha’aravim,” pp. 54-87; for another view, see Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature (New York: Ktav Publisher, 1970), vol. 1, pp. 313-5.
[30] Solomon ben Jeroham, comment on Psalm 30, cited by Shlomo Goren, Sefer Har Habayit, rev. ed. (Jerusalem: Ha-idra Rabba, 2004), p. 314.
[31] Qur. 17.1.
[32] Dan Bahat, “Identification of the Gates of the Temple Mount and the ‘Cave’ in the Early Muslim Period,” Catedra, 106 (2002), pp. 61-86; Abraham Ya’ari, ed., Igarot Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv: Gazit, 1943), pp. 48-53.
[33] Shulamit Gera, “Ha-ketuvot b’otiot ivri’ot b’sha’ar harahamim,” Catedra, 61 (1991), pp. 176-81.
[34] Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1957), vol. 4, p. 109; Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb, The Damascus Chronicle of the Crusades: Extracted and Translated from the Chronicle of Ibn Al-Qalanisi (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2003), p. 48.
[35] Thomas Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), p. 212; Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, p. 109.
[36] R. Elazar Ezkari, Sefer Haredim (Mitzvah 83); Yitzhak Shilat, “B’niyat Bet Knesset b’Har Habayit B’yameinu,” Tehumin 7, 1986, pp. 489-512.
[37] The Western Wall Benjamin described was not the present Western Wall (which did not become a site for prayer until the sixteenth century) but the ruins of the western wall of the Second Temple building on the Temple Mount.
[38] Benjamin of Tudela, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1960), pp. 20-4.
[39] Emil Offenbacher, “Prayer on the Temple Mount,” Jerusalem Quarterly, 36 (1985), p. 134.
[40] Eliezer Brodt, “Eimatai paska taharat afar para aduma,” Tradition Seforim Blog, 2009.
[41] Maimonides, Hilchot Beit Habechira 7:7.
[42] Raavad’s gloss on Maimonides, Hilchot Beit Habechira 6:14.
[43] Menachem Meiri, Beit Habechira on BT, Shavuot 16a.
[44] Ya’ari, Igarot Eretz Yisrael, p. 78.
[45] Ishtori Haparchi, Kaftor v’Ferah, J. Blumenfeld, ed. (New York: Beit Hillel, 1958), p. 214, n. 17.
[46] Responsa of the Radbaz, vol. 2, no. 691; Tuvya Sagiv, “Ha-knissa l’Har Habayit—T’shuvat Haradbaz,” in Yehuda Shaviv, ed., Kumo v’Na’aleh (Alon Shvut: Machon Tzomet, 2003), pp. 46-81.
[47] Joseph Schwartz, Geography of Palestine, I. Leeser, trans. (Philadelphia: A. Hart, 1850), p. 260.
[48] Manfred R. Lehmann, “The Moslem Claim to Jerusalem Is False,” Algemeiner Journal, Aug. 19, 1994.
[49] Israel of Shklov, P’at Hashulchan, H. Eretz Yisrael (Ramat Gan: Re’ut, 2000), sect. 3:11-12; idem, Bet Yisrael commentary (Safed: n.p., 1836), subsec. 26.
[50] Amnon Cohen, Jews in Moslem Religious Courts: 16th Century (Jerusalem: Ben Tzvi, 1993), doc. 104, May 4, 1551, pp. 114-5, doc 107, May 19, 1554, p. 117; Schwartz, Geography of Palestine, pp. 417-8.
[51] Dotan Goren, “Ha-aliya l’Har habayit ul’Makom ha-Mikdash b’tram ha-medina,” E-mago, 2007.
[52] Moshe Dayan, Story of My Life (New York: Morrow and Company, 1976), p. 390.
[53] Shlomo Goren, “Selection from Personal Diary on the Conquest of Jerusalem,” cited in Shabbaton, no. 422, May 29, 2009.
[54] Yoel Cohen, “The Political Role of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate in the Temple Mount Question,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 1999, p. 108; Goren, Sefer Har Habayit, pp. 30-3.
[55] Matti Friedman, “On the Temple Mount, a battle brews over Jewish prayer,” Times of Israel, Mar. 12, 2013.

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Middle East

Syria’s difficult rebirth

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It is now ten years since a peaceful demonstration against Bashar al-Assad’s regime organised by students in Deraa was brutally repressed by police and government forces, thus triggering a chain of events that plunged Syria into a terrible civil war.

The fighting – which saw the total destruction of historic cities such as Aleppo and Raqqa, the UNESCO heritage site of Palmyra and a large part of the capital Damascus – caused the death of some 250,000 fighters of all sides of the conflict (loyalist soldiers, ISIS guerrillas, Kurdish irredentist fighters, Islamist militants of the Syrian Liberation Army, militiamen of the Syrian Democratic Forces), as well as the death of at least 230,000 civilians, victims of the brutal occupation by the troops of the Islamic Caliphate or “collateral victims” of the fighting and bombing of villages and towns.

The civil conflict quickly turned into a “small world war”, with the armed intervention of various extra-regional players: Turkey on the side of Islamist rebels; Russia and Iran supporting the government in Damascus, and the United States

supporting the Kurds and the “democrats” of the “Syrian Democratic Forces”.

Over the last ten years, 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country and are living precariously in refugee camps in the neighbouring countries of the Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

6.7 million people have had to leave their homes and are considered “internally displaced”, i.e. refugees within Syria’s borders, while at least 5 million people – trapped in the north-west of Syria and in the Idlib region, where scattered troops of the Islamic Caliphate are still operating – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

According to data from the UN Refugee Agency, over 13 million Syrians have lost everything and are surviving on government aid and international charity.

Besides this humanitarian catastrophe, the government of Assad (who has been confirmed as President of the Republic for a fourth term) is facing an economic emergency that began after the first clashes in 2011 and has progressively worsened during the civil war.

According to the World Bank, the loss in terms of GDP between 2011 and 2016 was around 226 billion dollars, while the cost of destroying civilian housing and infrastructure exceeded 117 billion dollars.

The prices of basic necessities, such as food and fuel, have increased 20-fold compared to the period before the conflict, while the Syrian pound has progressively depreciated.

It is estimated that at least 70 per cent of the population currently lives below the poverty line and has limited food supply. According to World Vision International, life expectancy for Syrian children in 2021 has fallen by thirteen years.

The situation is further worsened by a huge water emergency: since last January, the water level of the Euphrates has dropped to the point that, due to the lack of water, the Tabqa and Tishreen dams risk closure, with severe damage to agriculture, electricity production and the supply of running water to the populations of the entire north-east region.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not spared this unfortunate country, although the official estimates of infected and dead people – albeit high – are not very reliable due to the impossibility for the health authorities to carry out the mass screening necessary to know the real extent of the contagion.

On the military front, the situation is still rather confused.

Government troops, with Russian and Iranian help, managed to inflict an almost definitive defeat on the ISIS militia.

The men of the Caliphate – after having been expelled from Aleppo, Palmyra and Raqqa (which had even been designated by Al Baghdadi as the capital of the Islamic State) – have partly fled to the Iraqi desert, from where they continue to carry out actions against the Iraqi forces, and have partly dispersed in small groups in the desert and mountainous area of Idlib and Deir Es Zor, in the so-called Aleppo-Hama-Raqqa triangle, where they continue a troublesome and sometimes bloody guerrilla warfare that has nothing to do with the overwhelming victories that brought them close to definitive military victory in 2014-2015.

Today ISIS is content with ambushing government military convoys and perpetrating extortion against the population trapped in the region, in view of self-financing for reasons of mere survival.

The Syrian army, however, is finding it increasingly difficult to definitively get rid of ISIS from the Syrian territory, both because of the difficulties connected with the need to effectively control a vast desert and mountainous area, and because it has not yet managed to completely defeat the Kurdish guerrillas of the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, still supported by the United States, and because it must also deal with the scattered Islamist armed formations of the “Syrian Liberation Army” supported by Turkey.

Therefore, despite having avoided the definitive defeat that seemed close between 2013 and 2015, Bashar al-Assad’s regime cannot easily and calmly tackle the problem of rebuilding the country.

After having secured his fourth term in office through elections (the outcome of which was a foregone conclusion because only Alawites and Christians voted massively for him, while the Sunnis mostly abstained or were “dissuaded” from taking part in the election), the Syrian President is trying to strengthen his government by reorganising his security apparatus with fully trusted and loyal men.

Last May the President appointed his loyal General Jamal Mahmoud Younes as Head of the Committee for the Security of the Eastern Region, who is also responsible for the security of the Homs Governorate.

Younes, who comes from the Assad family’s “fief” of Latakia, is considered to be very close to the President’s brother, Maher al-Assad, under whose orders he served in the Fourth Armoured Division from 2012 to 2013. Maher is considered to be very close to Iran and Russia.

Another prominent member of the new Syrian security apparatus is General Ramadan Yusef Al Ramadan, also an Alawite and subject to personal sanctions by the European Union – together with his colleague Younes – for his role in the repression of the first incidents in Deraa in 2011.

Ramadan has been appointed Head of the Security Committee of the Latakia Governorate, an extremely sensitive area because it is actually under Russian military control.

Assad therefore finds himself in the need to reconcile the difficult requirements of definitively defeating the insurgency, resolving the very severe economic situation and coexisting – as reasonably as possible – with the presence of two cumbersome allies, Russia and Iran, which – after having ensured his survival – seem determined to permanently establish themselves on Syrian territory.

Russia, whose help has been fundamental in preventing the collapse of the Damascus regime, continues to provide air and ground military support to the fight against the insurgents still active and to exploit the credit it has acquired with the regime to strengthen its presence in the region on a permanent basis.

In early June, the Russian Defence Minister authorised the start of works for the renovation of the Khmeimim air base in the Latakia region, after the runway had already been lengthened to support the fast traffic of Russian military vehicles (one aircraft per minute). The new airport was even used a few days ago for a mysterious mission that took a Russian aircraft to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

This mysterious episode shows that Russia’s presence in the area could even be functional to the search for a stabilisation of relations between Israel and Syria (President Putin has never made a secret of his sympathy for Israel).

The Iranian military presence in Syria is of a very different calibre and dangerousness for Israeli security.

Iran already has a strong military presence in the region: from the Lebanon – where Hezbollah politically and militarily controls the whole south of the country and the sensitive area bordering the Galilee – to Iraq, handed over to the pro-Iranian Shiites by George W. Bush with the 2003 war.

While, as reported by Israeli intelligence sources, the Iraqi nuclear programme has resumed at full speed at the same time as the development of the capacity to construct modern ballistic missiles – effective also as carriers of nuclear warheads – over the next few years Syria could become – against its will – a dangerous nuclear outpost on the Israeli border.

A nightmarish prospect made even more worrying by the very recent election of a hardliner like Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi as President of the Republic of Iran. A prospect that would not help Syria to get out of its decades-long crisis, but would bring it back to the front line in the confrontation with Israel, if Russia did not make its voice heard.

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Intelligence and Evolution of Democracy in Jordan

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The relationship between democracy and the character of secret intelligence presents an interesting puzzle. The very concept of democracy demands that an intelligence agency serves democratic interests by providing one country’s security and preparedness against potential threats both internal and external. The core notion is that a stronger and safer country can turn itself into a heaven where democracy can continue to be practiced.

The role of intelligence in the building of democracy and political stability in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is crucial. Jordan, strategically located in the Middle East, presents a long-run import-export relationship.

On the one hand, Jordan, a country of few natural resources, imports oil products and natural gas to meet its energy needs. On the other hand, Jordan exports a valuable resource which is security in terms of intelligence, geographic security, and stability. Jordanian General Intelligence Department’s (GID’s), Dairat al Mukhabarat, primary objective is to defend Jordan from internal and external threats that target its political stability, violate its sovereignty, or undermine the security of its people.

The focus of GID’s operations is the collection of intelligence pertaining to security issues within the Middle East, including surveillance of paramilitary groups and guarding borders to prevent an influx of terrorists from the wider region. The agency is accountable to ministerial control, but in practice reports to the King briefing him on matters of national security. The GID also provides the Prime Minister with regular analyses of the kingdom’s political climate, and it is committed to preserving the power of the Jordanian constitution when executing its duties.

Justice, Human Rights and Transparency

Justice, transparency, the respect of human rights and security are key ingredients to build accountability, trust, and stability, which are necessary for the functioning of democracies and market economies. The GID has been at the forefront of efforts to consolidate Jordan’s architecture of democracy making the safeguard of these ingredients a cornerstone of its mission.

Practically, Jordan’s intelligence agency fully recognizes the International Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture. The detainment quarters of the agency meet internationally approved standards and are recognized as an official state prison making it accessible for inspection and review, in accordance with the “Jordanian Prison Administration laws.”

On Justice, the Jordanian Constitution provides that the judiciary is an independent power and divides courts into three types: regular courts, religious courts, and special courts. The Military Council of the GID falls in the third type of courts. Specifically, in accordance with Law 24 of 1964 on the General Intelligence Department (the so-called “GID Law”), the Intelligence Director appoints members of the Military Council and ratifies its decisions that pertain to officers and members of the GID. Judgments of the said Council are considered as final and are not open to any means of contestation.

The relationship between the intelligence agency and the judiciary, a key-component of democracy, is solid. The public prosecution at the State Security Court normally issues warrants and, provides them to the General Intelligence Department for the detainment of individuals connected to terrorism. The conviction of ringleaders of terrorist plots that originate from neighboring countries like Iraq and Syria is crucial part of the judicial-intelligence partnership to maintain internal stability, prerequisite for Jordan’s democratic evolution. A representative case of the intelligence-judicial cooperation is the conviction of an attempted suicide bomber who took part in the 2005 Amman bombings in Jordan but survived, when her explosive belt failed to detonate.

The GID also leads the national fight against corruption in all its forms, perceiving the phenomenon of corruption as major obstacle to the kingdom’s democratic evolution and economic development. In this regard, the GID has incorporated the anti-corruption directorate that was set up in 1996 and conducts secret investigations of corruption cases and collects relevant data, disrupts corrupt practices, makes referrals to the public prosecutor, and eventually to civil courts when sufficient evidence is available.

Senior members of the GID are not immune to secret investigations for corruption practices. In a self-cleansing process, the GID’s former head for the period of 2005-2008 was sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of embezzling public funds, money laundering and abuse of office. The anti-corruption directorate has run a project titled “Strengthening the Capacity of Government and People to Act against Corruption” with the aim to expose the Department’s staff to international best practices in fighting corruption and attend specialized training workshops.

Since its establishment, the Anti-Corruption Directorate has uncovered numerous cases of fraud that helped save the state treasury hundreds of millions of Jordanian Dinars (JD). As consequence, people, including non-Jordanians, were referred to courts, including civil servants. In addition, foreign nationals have been expelled from the kingdom for fraud practices. The fraud cases involve bribes, embezzlement of funds, the forgery of official documents, smuggling operations, tax evasion, and copyright infringements. Last but not least, middlemen who are trafficking in the illegal sale of kidneys and other human organs have also been arrested throughout the years.

The Fight against Terror

Most important, the GID carries out intelligence operations to protect the security of the state. Specifically, the GID maintains several task forces devoted to specialized areas of intelligence, including counterintelligence. The government employs GID staff to monitor the security of government information systems and personnel.

Additionally, an anti-terrorism task force conducts operations to gather information on organizations active in Jordan and throughout the Middle East. It is not coincidence that Jordan has aided international anti-terrorism efforts and has repeatedly succeeded in foiling terrorist plots and dismantling terror organizations that planned to launch attacks in or outside of Jordan. Such organizations included, for example, Mohammad Army (1989), Bay’at Al-Imam Organization (1994), Khader Abu Hosher (1999), Jordanian Afghans (2001), and the Reform and Defiance Movement (1998).

Jordan’s geopolitical position has long made it a prey for terrorist activities targeting Jordanian and foreign nationals. For example, in 2005, rockets aimed at two US warfare ships visiting the Jordanian port of Aqaba narrowly missed their targets. There were two claims of responsibility, both from groups believed to be affiliated with Zarqawi, then militant leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. In 2004, Jordan became target of the Al-Jayousi terrorist group that planned to unleash a Chemical Weapons attack against GID’s headquarters. The objective was to damage its facilities and image of a fortress agency, because of GID’s major role in combating terrorism at the national and regional levels. In late 2006, the Jordanian intelligence thwarted a bomb attack against foreign tourists traveling through Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Several of the convicted conspirators were Iraqis. An attack against American troops deployed at a military base in the south of the kingdom was foiled by the Jordanian intelligence in 2019.

The Kingdom has also been repeatedly targeted by the terrorist group of ISIS, but all planned attacks have been thwarted by GID. An ISIS-linked planned combined attack against Jordanian military and security sites, moderate religious scholars, and media stations was prevented in 2018. Notably, in 2018 alone, the GID foiled 62 terrorist operations abroad and 32 internal operations. In 2020, the GID thwarted several ISISlinked terrorist operations including a major one that aimed at simultaneously targeting the intelligence building in the city of Zarqa, security officials in the northern city of Irbid and an Armenian Orthodox Church in the Ashrafyeh area near the Al-Wehdat camp. 

Jordan has long experience in the fight against terrorism since Afghanistan became fertile ground for the first generation of jihadist groups, the second generation coming from Iraq and the third generation active in Syria. Given this reality, Jordan’s efforts focus on the rule of law, and the fight against terrorism through mechanisms and operations supported by GID. As King Abdallah pointed out in a letter to the GID in mid-February 2021, the agency must remain a model of efficient intelligence in countering terrorism and security threats to the kingdom and be in position to provide the best modern intelligence assessments to decision-makers in the political, economic, and security-related fields.

In practice, Jordan’s GID supports a four-track plan in the fight against terrorism. The first track is Legislation. Jordan has endorsed in April 2014 the amendment of the 2006 anti-terror law that focuses on terror-related crimes and funding. The 2014 amended law foresees the death penalty for those who commit terrorist crimes that result in the death of people, partial or total damage of facilities, and use explosives, chemicals, and radioactive materials. Financial activities in support of extremist groups, attempts for recruitment to terrorist organizations, and the creation of websites encouraging terrorist activities are penalized under the amended law.

The second track lies in Executive Measures. Following United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 on countering terrorism, Jordan has taken a series of measures to comply with the resolution, including the adoption of the anti-money laundering Act of 2007. Jordan has also updated the specifications of personal identification documents in compliance with international safety standards, thus minimizing forgery risks.

The third track is based on Treaties and Conventions. Jordan is party to both formal and informal anti-terror treaties and conventions and has contributed to a number of regional and international treaties with the aim to combat terrorism.

The fourth track highlights GID’s cooperation with government ministries. A representative cooperation is with the interior ministry’s programs to contain jihadist ideology applied since 2007 to prisoners. The programs include religious lessons and interviews with scholars and imams to fight this ideology, through dialogues and by holding sessions of psychological counseling and social rehabilitation.

Jordan continues to be in the eye of a storm as armed jihadist groups and al-Qaida as well as ISIS militants attempt to pour into the country. Because of this reality, Jordan employs its intelligence agency to mobilize regional and international cooperation with sister agencies based on defensive, operational and intelligence strategies to counter takfiri and jihadist groups emanating from crisis ridden Syria. Jordanian intelligence has foiled in 2012, one of the largest terrorist attacks planned on Jordanian; the attack was scheduled to be executed by militants from Syria who intended to attack western diplomats and to detonate explosives in two shopping malls and in the district of Abdoun. In late April 2014, the Jordanian air force destroyed vehicles transporting weapons to the kingdom from Syria. Throughout the last years, Jordan’s GID has intensified actions to alert friendly countries and strategic allies on armed jihadist organizations active in Syria and the possible infiltration of militants to neighboring countries, through unannounced visits and meetings with security strategy makers and implementers in certain Arab countries, and western capitals.

Public Opinion Perspectives

The main characteristic of the GID like all intelligence agencies is that they operate in secrecy, and unlike governments they do not seek popularity or public approval for their activities, nor are they expected to seek popular ratings within public opinion. The secret nature of GID’s tasks and duties limits the ability of any study to explore public opinion perspectives and restricts any opinion poll to general perceptions.  

That said, a Jordanian research center has produced statistical evidence on the level of trustworthiness that GID enjoys within the public, and on relations between different branches of the Jordanian state, civil and military, not based on a single public opinion poll, but on an accumulating amount of data from polls conducted by the center over a 19-year period (2001-2020).

According to them, the General Intelligence Department along with the Armed Forces are the most trusted institutions in Jordan.

Jordanians have come to realize that the security and stability Jordan enjoys is no coincidence, but a result of the efforts of the Jordanian security apparatus, and the GID in particular. This perception has brought the agency that usually operates in secret and seeks no popularity or approval into the limelight as the first line of defense against groups that target Jordan.

As the kingdom has marked its second centennial, the political and security challenges plaguing the region, necessitate the effectiveness of GID’s role in safeguarding the security of Jordan and its state institutions, prerequisite for the kingdom’s sustainable democratization.

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Washington’s less than selfless help to Syria

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Now that people everywhere start to realize the need for pacifism, the United States continues to train thousands of militants in Syria, who will later take part in attacks on the government forces.

At al-Tanf military base in the country’s southeast, and in the 55-kilometer security zone around it, still under US control, the American special services are enlisting former militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), now languishing in Kurdish-controlled prisons, to participate in acts of sabotage against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

The selection is among persons whose next of kin are currently being held in the ill-famed al-Hol camp in the city of Al-Hasakah. According to available data, 1,500 ex-ISIS fighters from among those captured by the US-led international coalition are already completing their training at a US military  base.

The militants’ main priority is destabilization of the situation in Syria’s central and southern regions, including the establishment of control over the area between the cities of Abu Kemal and Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor province. The armed gangs also attack oil facilities, transport infrastructure, government forces, and mine roads.

The United States also believes that the transfer of terrorists will partially relieve the Kurdish prisons where the number of inmates, captured during constant raids by coalition forces in peaceful quarters has reached 7,000.

Judging by the increased activity of CIA-linked terrorists and saboteurs in the country’s southern provinces, it becomes clear that there is a general plan to undermine the process of a political settlement aimed at restoring peace and ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic.

From a historical perspective, terrorism has been viewed by Washington not so much as something to fight against, as an instrument of its own struggle against geopolitical rivals. Previously, the US recruited former SS members in Germany and their collaborators in Western Ukraine and the Baltic countries to pit them against the Soviet Union. Even though those people were Nazi criminals, many of them found refuge and employment in the United States. The same tactic was used against the USSR and the legitimate government in Afghanistan when outright criminals and terrorists became America’s allies. One of them was Osama bin Laden, who became a US agent and subsequently created al-Qaeda, which, in turn, gave rise to ISIS. Both of these terrorist organizations – the world’s largest – have on many occasions been found to have links to the United States. The years of the Syrian crisis provide additional evidence of this collaboration, and its volume keeps growing. Well, it looks like the Americans never learn from history now that in Syria, for example, they are working ever more closely with Islamic radicals…

America’s “dirty wars” in the Middle East

When it comes to the number of wars waged anytime in history, the United States leaves all other countries far behind. With rare exceptions, American incursions were not justified by any security threats. For the most part those were military interventions that breached international law, caused numerous unnecessary casualties among civilians, destroyed infrastructure and plunged entire nations into chaos.

The root cause of the current unrest in the Middle East was Washington’s ill-considered decision to impose development paths alien to the region.

At the same time, the Americans were quick to realize that by creating long-lasting conflicts they could derive real economic benefits from them. “Controlled chaos” sometimes tends to slip out of control, however, but overall it still remains extremely beneficial for the United States.

In this sense, the Americans have become the greatest source of terror of our day and age. Not a single coup anywhere in the world can be done without the US having a hand in it. Each time the Americans try to force their idea of democracy on others, the result is civil conflicts, chaos, and an upsurge of terrorism. When they invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda appeared; when they entered Iraq under a false pretext, it gave rise to Sunni radicalism; when they brought democracy to Syria the result was a protracted civil war and a humanitarian catastrophe.

During the past 15 years, the United States has turned the Middle East into a zone of permanent conflicts and wars.

After the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was plunged into permanent civil war, losing part of its territory and actually falling apart into several regions controlled by various Islamic groups, including ISIS. Until recently, slave trade flourished in some areas there.

Today, the territory of Libya is peppered with foreign military bases and awash in militants and mercenaries from around the globe – around 20,000 are currently active in the country. Libyan officials are mired in total corruption, and ordinary Libyans suffer all the hardships caused by the war and the raging economic crisis.

In Yemen, the US-inspired civil war, stemming from the conflict between the Houthis and the Saudis has been raging for more than five years now. The country, torn apart by internal conflicts and outside interference by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, has practically lost its statehood.

There is a humanitarian catastrophe now unfolding also in Syria. The country lies in ruins, roughly divided into three parts: the part controlled by Assad (60%); the area to the east of the Euphrates (30%), which is occupied by the Syrian opposition and the remnants of the ISIS army, forced to retreat to the lower valley of the Euphrates; the third region (10%) in Idlib province is controlled by Turkey and its Islamic allies.

The most volatile area is controlled by the Syrian opposition, mainly led by the Syrian Kurds, who have a large, well-armed army. They are supported and actually supplied by the Americans.

Cynicism, lies, and double standards are the keystones of American foreign policy.

From our partner International Affairs

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