No visit to Jerusalem is complete without seeing the Western Wall. This relic from the Second Temple known as Kotel in Hebrew or the Wailing Wall (term Jews don’t like very much) is the most sacred Jewish place of worship. Actually, that should apply to the whole area around it, but most of it is still occupied by the Muslims. The place where the Temple stood (Temple Mount) has been taken by the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Jews are not allowed to pray there.
The struggle for Jewish access to the wall has been going on for centuries. While the Jews have a legitimate claim to the whole area, backed by archaeology, the Muslims’ assertion is based on the delirium of the “prophet” Mo who “visited” the area flying on his winged horse.
That line of strange reasoning has been used for centuries to deny the Jews access. As late as 2010 the old terrorist Mahmoud Abbas and his henchmen claimed again that the wall has no religious significance for the Jews. The scandalous situation, in which the Jews are not allowed on the site of their own Temple, is to some degree caused by the Israeli government. When in 1967 the army liberated Jerusalem, Moshe Dayan handed the control over to the Jerusalem Muslim authorities, who made sure Jews are kept away.
To understand the absurdity of the situation, imagine that the Muslims take over Rome, demolish the St. Peter Basilica and ban Christians from visiting the site. Then the city is liberated, but the Italians still leave the Muslims in charge of the Vatican. That was the situation after Jordan took over that part of Jerusalem in 1948 – the Jews were prohibited from visiting, toilets were attached to the wall, old Jewish graves were used as urinals. And yet, after the victory the Muslims remained in charge.
Using their advantage, the Arabs had tried for years to disrupt the Jewish worship at the Western wall. They had often hurled rocks from the mosque area.
The wall is accessible from several entrances in the Jewish quarter. As in the most important sites in Israel, every entrance is heavily guarded and the visitors must pass through metal detectors.
The access to the Temple Mount is under strict control and the Jews are prohibited from praying there. Sometimes they can’t even go there at all – over a week ago, we tried to go there on Shabbat, but the police stopped as (while allowing Arabs in and out).
It is said that the huge plaza in front of the wall can accommodate 400,000 people. All the surrounding buildings host synagogues and different Jewish organizations.
The flow of people coming to the wall never stops. On the Shabbat the security becomes even stricter and it is prohibited to take pictures.
The religious authorities that control the access to the Western Wall are even stricter. Even though everybody is allowed there, they have rules that should be obeyed. Otherwise you you’ll be scolded by the elderly orthodox Jewish women, who watch you like hawks and immediately tell you what you have done wrong.
On Saturday you can hear them yelling every other minute “No pictures! No pictures!” to the tourists who had somehow missed the signs. However, their main concern are the women who show too much skin (again, almost all of them are tourists). Shorts, mini-skirts or sleeveless shirts are not allowed. The guardian women have a huge supply of pieces of fabrics, which can be used as shawls or long skirts. As soon as they notice a modesty transgression, they run to cover up the “violator”.
Talking of women, there’s another issue that concerns the sexes at the Western Wall. Men and women, who go very close to the wall to pray, are segregated. About two thirds of the wall is reserved for men and behind a separation fence is the women’s part.
Ironically, weekdays you can see more women than men at the wall. There are some reformist sects in Judaism, which demand an abolishment of the separation. Some of them are arrested from time to time for disorderly behaviour. While we were in Jerusalem, one of the leaders of such a movement (a woman from the USA) was detained. A similar situation at a mosque would most likely be resolved in the typical humane Muslim may – with clubs, sticks, bullets and stones.
On Friday night, just after the Shabbat begins, thousands of Jews head to the Western Wall to pray. And that’s how far they can go; the holiest of the holy, Temple Mount is still closed to them, courtesy of their own government…
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