Homeland Insecurity: Update 2

Why Aqsa?

 - An Update from film director, Yahav Zohar - Yahav's second film Jerusalem Revealed, part of the Homeland Insecurity series, is now in pre production. Please support his work by participating in our Kickstarter Campaign at this link >

Dear friends and supporters,

For our next film, we plan to go to Jerusalem and look at the ancient and holy place that stands in the symbolic center of our conflict. 

As we showed in our first film, our conflict is basically a modern one, but at least one side in it, the state of Israel, is constantly making reference to the bible and antiquity (remember that sculpture I was standing next to in the Jaffa film?). Often on our tours we will say, all that ancient stuff shouldn’t really matter to our politics - the point is not who ruled here one thousand or three thousand years ago but who lives here now and how we can provide for all the people of this country.

Unfortunately, this view is not shared by all, increasingly both Jews and Muslims are linking politics to religion, and if we want to understand this conflict as it is today, we need to look also at the holy sites and the way they are being claimed, managed, contested. And so, for our next film we’ve chosen to go from Jaffa to Jerusalem and from modernity to the very beginning of time.

In the beginning, it is said, God threw a rock into the void. The ripples that extended in circles created the world we live in, and in the center of the world, at the impact point, still lies that rock, the foundation stone. It is said to be the connection point of earth and heaven,  the place Abraham tied his son Isaac to the rock and almost slaughtered him as a sacrifice to God, the place where Jacob lay down to sleep and had his dream of the ladder to heaven with the angels ascending and descending.  Here the ancient Jewish temple stood; here Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers, and here Muhammad ascended to heaven and returned. For the last 1300 years, the Muslim Dome of the Rock stands upon the here, majestically set in the center of a  huge limestone plaza. Beautiful, peaceful, and in the center of a sea of turmoil.

Since the temple was destroyed almost two thousand years ago, the Jewish prayers for the rebuilding of the temple were mostly an abstraction, a metaphor, but one with some real physical expressions. All the synagogues of the world are built facing towards the place of the temple, now a mosque; in Jewish cemeteries bodies are placed with their feet towards Jerusalem so they know which way to walk when the resurrection comes; and so Jews are praying towards, are buried turned towards, a mosque. 
The Zionist movement, though modernist and mainly secular, made use of biblical and religious rhetoric regarding the return to the holy land and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. Scholars warned against invoking this ancient religious language, but the power of these ideas with both Jews and evangelical Christians was too much to just turn away from, and so modern politics became entangled with ancient religion.

Some historians place the starting point of our modern conflict in Jerusalem, in the summer of 1929 with a march that combined Jewish religion with modern nationalism, a religious procession with Zionist flags and drums through Muslim neighbourhoods to the holy place, demanding more Jewish prayer rights adjacent to the mosque. Ever since the violence that erupted that summer the mosque has been a rallying point and a central symbol for the Palestinian national movement. In 1964 the founding ceremony of the Palestine Liberation Organization was held symbolically on top of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Aqsa Mosque, and just 3 years later Israelis were brought to tears when they heard the Israeli army had conquered East Jerusalem and 'The Temple Mount is in our hands'.

For 50 years now Israeli government has worked to make Jerusalem more Jewish. All around the mosque, Jewish settlement and armed presence grows, and  Jewish citizens enjoy many more political rights and freedoms than Palestinians. Still, the holiest place to both Jews and Muslims, the connection point of earth and heaven, remains a mosque, as it has been for over a thousand years.  

It has been Israeli policy to allow Muslims to keep this symbol, to avoid conflict over this site, but that is getting harder to do as Israeli society shifts to the religious right.  The movement to rebuild the temple in place of the dome of the rock, which 50 years ago was on the far-right fringes of Israeli politics, is growing and entering the mainstream. Jewish extremists who 40 years ago were caught with explosives and plans to blow up the dome of the rock are now in senior government and media positions. 

The "Temple Mount Lobby" in the Israeli parliament is pushing for a change in the status quo and an extension of Jewish religious rights in the mosque plaza. These ideas are supported and sometimes funded by evangelical Christians around the world and especially in the US, who see the rebuilding of the temple as one of the prerequisites for the second coming. On the other side, the Islamic movement has made "Aqsa is in danger" its main rallying cry gathering hundreds of thousands in protest of these plans.

More and more it seems our modern politics is entangled with ancient religious ideas, and all of those intersect at the Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock in contested East Jerusalem.  It was here the spark was lit that started the Second Intifada in the year 2000, as it was for so many of the crisis points in our hundred years of conflict. It seems almost inevitable that something like this will happen again, and trigger further waves of violence, extending like ripples from this beautiful and apparently peaceful center.

In our next film we’ll dive into the story of this ancient holy site and the growing role it is playing in the tense politics of our country.

- Yahav Zohar is based in Jerusalem, is a Partner of the Green Olive Collective, and Senior Tour Guide at Green Olive Tours. Read his profile here > >

Jerusalem Revealed, is currently in development and will be released in the late summer.

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