I’ve been told that the holiest place in the world is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but it’s just a place like anywhere else.
The plaza is full of cobblestones and cats, and the air with laughter and incense. There’s flowers, but there’s garbage, too, and though Dome of the Rock glisters a magnificent gold when the afternoon sun hits it, the holiest place in the world is still just a place.
And yet, it’s much, much more.
When Israeli forces conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, they also claimed the Temple Mount and the Western Wall as territory of the state. Whatever tenuous peace had been built between Israel and their Muslim-Arab neighbors was severed overnight, so as a token of conciliation, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol relinquished Israel’s control of the Mount. The Islamic Waqf has held the keys ever since, and this has created yet another rift between Israelis and Arabs.
But, the Temple Mount’s history goes much further back than 1967. The Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosques can be traced to the early 7th Century, and legend says the ruins beneath them are the remnants of the original Israelite temples.
Spiritually, the Temple Mount is even more storied. In Muslim tradition, when the time of judgement comes, a bridge with seven arches will stretch forth from the Mount of Olives and connect with the mosques. The righteous will be taken to Heaven, and the sinners will fall off to Hell. Christians, on the other hand, say the adjacent Mount of Olives is where Jesus spent the final week of his life, and Jews believe it will be the first site of resurrection when the Messiah comes.
Despite this convergence of politics, archaeology, and religion, the Temple Mount is a place like anywhere else.
There’s some buildings. There’s some cats, and some cobblestones, and armored patrols who walk the perimeter. It’s not the Mount but the people, and their beliefs, that make it into something more.
Unfortunately, they’re willing to kill each other for it.