The Flashpoint of the World

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I've been working on a long project, so my apologies for the light posting. I wasn't planning on posting at all today, but I thought I could not let pass without comment the fact that the world is about to blow up. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the most contested piece of real estate on the planet at the moment, is once again becoming the scene of violent struggle, between Muslims who believe the Mount is solely their possession, and religious Jews who believe they should, at the very least, have a right to pray atop the Mount, which is Judaism's holiest site. This week, a tour of the Mount by the group calling itself the Temple Mount Faithful has once again caused well-meaning Muslims to fear that Jewish extremists are trying to supplant them, and has caused cynical Palestinian leaders to exploit religious sentiment by encouraging these fears.

Extremist Jewish groups and individuals are pushing for a change in the religious status quo on the Mount. For many years after the Six Day War, religious custom, and the warnings of rabbis, kept Jews off the Mount (the general belief is that walking atop the Mount risks treading on the spot over the Temple's Holy of Holies), but messianic feeling has infected a portion of the religious Jewish population, which would like to see the Third Temple rise on the site. The Goldblog on this issue is simple: Jews, of course, have a right to pray atop their holiest site, but exercising that right in an explosive atmosphere is foolish and counterproductive, and the Israeli government needs to do all it can do to preserve the status quo. I will preempt angry letters by acknowledging that this is not fair -- that if the Palestinian leadership, and the broader Muslim leadership, would simply recognize that Jews have a deep connection to the Mount, much of this fever would dissipate, on both sides. But we also have to deal with the reality we are in, and we also have to face the unfortunate fact that exercising this "right" in the current political and theological atmosphere could get people -- Jews and Muslims -- killed.

I've been worried for years about the chance that a single extremist could ignite this conflict by trying to speed the arrival of the Messiah by vandalizing the shrine or the mosque atop the Mount, or otherwise upsetting the status quo. Today, the extremists are seeing their theology slowly mainstreamed. This is a big problem. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/10/the-flashpoint-of-the-world/263281/