I recently returned from a tour of Israel with a Canadian group. The tour took place from the 11th to the 19th of May 2023, and although it was just over a week, there were several momentous events that occurred during our visit.
We arrived shortly after Israel’s 75th anniversary celebrations, which were held according to the complicated Jewish calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, these celebrations coincided with our time there on May 14th. On the day we departed, May 19th, Jerusalem Day celebrations were taking place.
Within a day of our arrival, we also witnessed the ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad. This ceasefire brought an end to a recent escalation, during which a targeted Israeli missile attack was followed by over 1000 rockets being fired into Israel. It was unsettling to experience this, particularly as some rockets were launched on the very day we landed.
Despite these events, we were fortunate to visit many of the historically significant sites mentioned in the Bible, as well as explore excavated ruins and visit the Holocaust Museum. The experience sparked a great deal of curiosity in us regarding the traditional historical understanding of the events that have transpired in Jerusalem over the past four thousand years.
A brief note on the disputed site of the Temple Mount
Current state of vitriol at the UN
Abbas claimed at the UN event in honor of “Nakba Day,” marking the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment, that Israel “dug under al-Aqsa… they dug everywhere, and they could not find anything. The ownership of al-Buraq Wall [the Western Wall] and al-Haram al-Sharif [the Temple Mount] belongs exclusively and only to the Islamic Wakf alone,” he added. Netanyahu responded by saying that “Abbas said days ago at the UN that the Jewish people has no connection to the Temple Mount and that east Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian Authority,” Netanyahu said. “Well, it should be brought to his attention that we are holding a special cabinet meeting in honor of Jerusalem at the foot of the Temple Mount, on which King Solomon built the First Temple of the Jewish people, and again, it should be brought to Abbas’s attention, the heart of the historical state of Israel, the City of David, was here 3,000 years ago”
Al Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and why they are so important?
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is located at the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City on a hill known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims internationally as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary. Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Al-Aqsa is the name given to the whole compound and is home to two Muslim holy places: the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also known as the Qibli Mosque, which was built in the 8th century AD. The compound overlooks the Western Wall, a sacred place of prayer for Jews, for whom the Temple Mount is their most sacred site.
The Dome of the Rock is a shrine in Jerusalem that features a rock at its center, known as the Foundation Stone or the pierced stone. This rock is the peak of Mount Moriah, which is sacred in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The Dome of the Rock is one of the holiest sites in these religions, and a symbol of unity and diversity for Muslims. To Muslims, the site is also the place of Muhammad’s miraculous ascension to heaven. The structure is situated on a flat elevated plaza known to Muslims as al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf (“The Noble Sanctuary”) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Mount Moriah is a mountain mentioned in the Hebrew Bible where Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is also the location where the Binding of Isaac took place. Mount Moriah is located in the old part of Jerusalem and is considered sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is the location of the Jewish temple mount, the Dome of the Rock, and Al-Aqsa mosque. According to tradition, Mount Moriah is where Solomon built the first Jewish temple.
The Western Wailing Wall
The Western Wall is also known as the Wailing Wall or the Kotel. It is considered holy due to its connection to the Temple Mount and is a place of prayer and pilgrimage for Jews. The wall is believed to be a remnant of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Jews pray at the Western Wall because it is the closest they can get to the site of the Holy of Holies, which was located in the Temple. The wall is also a symbol of Jewish national identity and has been a site of Jewish pilgrimage for centuries.