Spiraling Out of Control, by By Ksenia Svetlova (Jerusalem Post)
From the veranda of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, the call for the Maghreb (evening) prayer permeates the warm Jerusalem fall air. A thousand different voices repeat the ancient formula from all across the town, although the loudest call without a doubt comes from Al-Aksa’s four minarets.
Soon, if the plan announced last week by Jordanian King Abdullah II becomes a reality, a fifth minaret will be added. The Hashemite monarch’s announcement last week seems to have detonated a small bomb in both Arab and Jewish worlds, causing contradictory reactions and not a little antagonism.
Although the minaret in question, a tall spiral structure, will certainly not change the holy compound beyond recognition, some Israeli experts warn that the addition of another minaret, or any new building or sanctuary, might ruin the delicate and fragile status quo that has been achieved after many years of friction, pressures and suspicions.
Dr. Yitzhak Reiter of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies believes that the agreements on holy places must remain unchanged, since even the slightest amendment might cause a great deal of trouble and unrest: “Even the amendment in the regulation of security arrangements on the Mount could potentially trigger trouble, let alone the addition of another sanctuary.
“Since Israel claims to be in charge of security in this troubled spot, it might not be wise to support such a decision since it may cause dissatisfaction among other religious groups. For example, the Jewish radical elements might say that if there is room for another minaret on Temple Mount, a place could also be found for a synagogue.”
As if living up to Reiter’s predictions, MK Uri Ariel (NRP-NU) announced last week that he was drawing up plans to construct a synagogue on the Temple Mount.
“This is not a new idea,” Ariel stressed. “It has been brought up and considered countless times since the Six Day War.”
He also told reporters that the plan would soon be submitted to the Jerusalem Municipality and the Committee for Construction and Planning for approval. Remembering the tragic days of September 2000, and the five years of intifada that followed – when thousands of protesters around the Arab and Muslim world burned Israeli flags with the name Al-Aksa on their lips – it’s hard to imagine that either Wakf authorities or the Jordanians, considered Al-Aksa guardians, will be thrilled with the idea.
The plan may not be approved, but even discussing the issue adds fuel to the fire of religious intolerance and zeal.
“This [the construction of the synagogue] will be an ideal opportunity for the Muslims to demonstrate tolerance toward other faiths,” Ariel told Arutz Sheva. The question is whether this rationalism will be accepted by any of the sides who are fighting the fight of their lives to call the Temple Mount their own.
Despite multiple reports of Israeli compliance with the Jordanian plan, last week The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli officials said they were not even aware of it. “We didn’t receive any official request on this matter, therefore we are not studying the possibility of granting or not granting the necessary permits,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Amira Oron told In Jerusalem.
Despite the Israeli denials, the Jordanians are already talking about beginning construction on Temple Mount in early 2007. King Abdullah II also announced a contest for the best design for the brand new minaret, which must correspond architecturally with the four existing minarets – Bab al-Asbat, al-Fakhria, al-Ghawanmeh and Bab al-Silsilah. Three are square and one is cylindrical, from the Mamluk period.
At the same time Reiter repeats his concerns about the soundness of the decision to create another minaret at the place. “You have to think really carefully how you can satisfy all the parties and at the same time not to mess with the status quo, which might have unanticipated and unwanted consequences.”