On Jan. 5, an emergency session of the United Nations was held to castigate Israel for National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount. The session was requested by China and the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, the latter of which has always regarded itself as the “special custodian” of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
The session was preceded by hostile rhetoric from the international community. P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of “turning the Al-Aqsa Mosque into a Jewish Temple” and called upon Palestinians to “confront the raids on the Harim al-Sharif”—the Muslim name for the Mount.
Jordan’s King Abdullah immediately travelled to the UAE to consult with President Mohamad Bin Zayed al-Nyan and warned Israel “not to cross red lines.”
In the Jordanian parliament, MP Khalil Attiyah stated, “Let us remind you, you coward, you pig, that Jordan’s border with Palestine is more than 300 kilometers long. It is a time bomb that will explode in your face and in the faces of people like you, you cowards.”
MP Muhammad al-Shatnawi declared, “This is a red line. We will sacrifice our souls for Jerusalem and the holy places. We will give it all we have. We are prepared to be martyrs, and the first ones to use sticks, bombs and guns against this plundering entity.”
Despite the outcry, Ben-Gvir did not set foot in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Nor did he move his lips in prayer. He took a 13-minute stroll, something he and many other Jews have done in the past without incident. He did not damage the status quo or violate international law in any way.
What does international law actually say?
According to Article 9 of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, which addresses “Places of Historical and Religious Significance and Interfaith Relations,” there should be equal access to all holy places:
1. Each Party will provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance. 2. In this regard, in accordance with the Washington Declaration, Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines. 3. The Parties will act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions, with the aim of working towards religious understanding, moral commitment, freedom of religious worship, and tolerance and peace.
So, why all the hysteria?
One reason is Israel’s long history of treating both Jordan and the Palestinians with “kid gloves.”
For example, when the Six-Day War broke out in June of 1967, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent a message to King Hussein of Jordan: “Cease firing and we won’t attack.”
The Jordanian monarch, however, was convinced that the false radio reports he had been hearing from Cairo, which claimed Egypt was decimating the Israelis, were true. So, he ignored Israel’s messages.
When Israel found the Temple Mount in its hands, the Israeli flag flew over the site for a few minutes. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan saw it through his binoculars and exclaimed, “Do you want to set the Middle East on fire?” The flag was quickly lowered and the keys to the holy sites given to the Jordanian Waqf.
This has remained the status quo ever since. Israelis have long debated whether or not Israel should have allowed Jordan to maintain control over the Mount. But the fact remains that only in the Jewish state, where freedom of worship is granted to all religious minorities, have Jews been barred from their holiest site.
Yet time has a way of cementing a status quo.
The claim that Jews are taking over or wish to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Temple in its place dates back to pre-state Palestine. In 1928, during a Yom Kippur service, a small group of Jews placed chairs and a small barrier to separate men from women near the Western Wall. The Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini promptly concocted the lie of a Jewish conquest of Al-Aqsa. The result was riots that took the lives of 133 Jews.
This deadly libel has been circulated sporadically for almost a century now, and is taken out and dusted off whenever both the Palestinians and the Jordanians feel it is important to stir up their people against Israel.
Such was the case on Sept. 23, 1996, when a tunnel was chiseled out of ancient rock on the periphery of the Temple Mount-Western Wall complex. The tunnel opened in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City next to a Franciscan Monastery.
Despite being told the exact location of the tunnel, the then-Mufti of Jerusalem Ekrima Said Sabir immediately telephoned Yasser Arafat and said, “The Jews are digging under the Temple,” causing an immediate riot. Palestinians set a car and an ambulance on fire and hurled stones from the Temple Mount on to Jews praying at the Western Wall.
King Abdullah of Jordan has played a rather specious and duplicitous role in this constant exploitation of the Mount for political purposes.
Jordan is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid. During fiscal year 2023, the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act (2023) will provide Jordan “not less than” $1.65 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars.
Yet the Jordanians have refused repeated American requests from several members of Congress—which my organization, EMET, has supported for years—to extradite Ahlam Tamimi. Tamimi is a notorious terrorist who masterminded the horrific Sbarro pizzeria bombing in 2001. Fifteen innocent civilians, including two Americans—Malki Roth, 15, and Judith Greenblum, 31 and pregnant at the time—were murdered. While Jordan signed an extradition treaty with the United States on March 28, 1995, they now claim they never did and consistently reject the idea of permitting Tamimi to face justice.
Although there is no official census data on the subject, it is usually estimated that up to 75% of Jordan’s population is Palestinian. Abdullah understands just how fragile his hold on power is and he appeals to hostile Palestinian sentiments towards Israel in order to ensure his own survival. He does so instead of educating his population towards peace and tolerance, as should have been the case since the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994.
Abdullah may simply want to save his own skin, but fanning the flames of anti-Israel hate is no way to ensure long-term peace and stability in the region.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).