Having trouble envisioning a Palestinian homeland side-by-side with the State of Israel? Try an even bigger dream: A Jewish temple and an Arab mosque standing 26 meters apart on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The 34 acres of old Jerusalem called the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif ("noble sanctuary" in Arabic) is once again the cause of bloodshed.Israelis say the Arabs stoned worshipers at the Wailing Wall this past Monday from the temple platform above. Arabs say they were defending the Temple Mount from a group of Jewish zealots who want to lay a cornerstone for a new Jewish temple near the al-Aqsa mosque, southeast of the Dome of the Rock.
On Thursday, Reuters quoted Adnan Husseini, director of the Supreme Islamic Council, "I would like to tell the Israelis and Jewish people a message, please. They have to understand something in Islam. It is not possible to hurt other religions while they are praying . . . It is forbidden."
But prayer does not always staunch blood-letting. In 1951, King Abdullah of Transjordan (King Hussein's grandfather) was assassinated in the al-Aqsa mosque while at prayer. During just one day of the Crusades, a historian reports 11,000 Jews were killed and a four-pound rock was rolled in the current of blood flowing from the Temple Mount.
More recent violence includes a 1986 grenade attack by Islamic fundamentalists that killed one Israeli and wounded 69 at the Wailing Wall. In 1985 a Jewish underground group was accused of plotting to blow up the Moslem shrines on the Mount. In 1987 and 1989, during the same festival celebrated last Monday - the Feast of the Tabernacles - Jewish zealots and stone-throwing Arabs clashed before being dispersed by tear gas.
The Temple Mount, ground sacred to Jews, Moslems and Christians, was the foundation of Solomon's Temple (demolished in 587 B.C.) and the temple Herod reconstructed. (All but the Western Wall was destroyed in 70 A.D.)
The rock that Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac upon supposedly lies under the magnificent mosque, the Dome of the Rock, completed in 691 A.D. The Koran says Mohammed visited the "furthermost place" (masjad al-Aqsa) and rose to heaven, leaving his footprint in the rough rock mass. This same rock is venerated by Jews as the "Foundation Stone" that the Ark of the Covenant stood upon in the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple. The Holy of Holies was so sacred that only the high priest could enter, and then just once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). To this day, rabbis prohibit Jews from stepping on the Temple Mount lest they accidentally tread upon the holy place.
But Hebrew University professor Asher Kaufman believes that the rock sacred to Moslems is not the Foundation Stone and in fact lies 330 meters from where the ancient Jewish temple stood.
In an article published in the March/-April 1983 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Kaufman reported the results of almost 20 years of research on the Temple Mount centered around a small cupola on the northwestern corner of the temple platform. Called Qubbat el-Arwah (Dome of the Spirits) and Qubbat el-Alouah (Dome of the Tablets), the cupola covers a section of bedrock that is just one meter lower than the bedrock under the Dome of the Rock. Kaufman believes the Arab names commemorate the belief that the Spirit of God dwelt above the Ark of the Covenant (Dome of the Spirits) and that the Ark contained the Ten Commandments written on stone tablets (the Dome of the Tablets).
Kaufman produces literary evidence from the Mishnah (oral tradition codified about 200 A.D.) and the Tosefa from the same period that show the Temple's dimensions would prohibit placement over the Dome of the Rock. "When the Temple plan is laid out on the Temple Mount according to this (Dome of the Rock) location of the Holy of Holies, there is very little room between the eastern wall of the temple and the eastern outer wall of the Temple Mount," Kaufman wrote.
But it is his archaeological evidence that is most compelling. During a British expedition in 1864-65, 20 underground cisterns were mapped beneath the temple platform and can be identified with ancient temple documents.
Kaufman writes, "My comprehensive recording and mapping of the available archaeological evidence above ground were the first to be conducted systematically and scientifically. The finds above ground include rock cuttings, rows of stones, wall remains and sections of pavement, as well as artifacts such as mosaic cubes, glass fragments and potsherds."
The most surprising find came by accident. After a deranged Australian tourist set a fire in the al-Aqsa mosque in 1969, the firefighting facilities on the Mount were improved by the Moslem Council. A pit east of the Dome of the Rock was dug by bulldozer. (Archaeologists still cringe.) On Nov. 7, 1970, Dr. Ze'ev Yeivin of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums was called to the Mount to inspect an ancient wall that had been uncovered. He wrote in a report that the row of carefully chisled stones "were reminiscent of Herodian masonry. It is quite possible that we have here a part of Herodian building on the Temple Mount." Moslem authorities demolished the wall and removed the stones. No further archaeological work has been allowed.
Kaufman reviewed the report in 1978 and found it confirmed his previous surveys. He concluded, "The wall Yeivin had seen was the foundation of the eastern wall of the Second Temple compound itself."
The next step was to lay out the plan of the Temple over the bedrock of the Dome of the Spirits. In a direct line east, this Temple plan lines up exactly with the eastern gate, called the Golden Gate, of Jerusalem's wall. The blocked Golden Gate is the only visible entrance to the Temple Mount.
Could Jews and Moslems worship side-by-side on the Temple Mount? If Israelis are expected to give up territory in the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, could Arabs share the temple platform with Jews?
The words of the Psalmist echo down through the centuries, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem - peace be between thy walls."