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A Tunnel in Jerusalem

A Well Access Mentioned in the Bible Threatens War

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 02, 1996.

The opening of a tourist tunnel in Jerusalem has set off the worst bloodshed in the capital of Israel in years. It is a little hard to follow it unless you understand the implications. For example, why would Muslims care? Why would Israel open the tunnel under cover of night and with army protection? Really, what’s the big deal here?

The tunnel is actually mentioned in the Bible. When Jerusalem was once besieged, engineers used and widened a natural cave to reach a spring of water normally just outside a gate. The old city was build on a sort of mesa, extended to support a temple and hence called the Temple Mount and the cave went from the spring to near Solomon’s temple by gardens now near the wailing wall. It would be a major engineering achievement today, much more so in the years after the Trojan War. It is the temple, of course, which is both the threat and the danger here.

For the western Wailing Wall is not part of King Solomon’s temple, but of it's successor built by the Tetrarch of Galilee, Herod the Great. When Islam took over the area, they followed the lead shown by their Christian enemies and treated all sites of ancient Israel and Judah as either trash heaps or quarries for their own buildings. Their Mosque of the Mount is built atop the site of Solomon’s temple deep below where the Ark of the Covenant once resided.

To fulfill biblical prophecy, some zany Israelis now want to detonate the Mosque and lay the corner stone of a new temple on the site of the old in order to bring on the Messiah, having rejected at least one previous claimant. An attempt to do just that not long ago started this. Above, in the mosque, is the very rock where Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse, which left a footprint.

What scares the Palestinians is not the fact that tourists will be meters from a mosque admiring ancient Hebrew military engineers. It is that, in order to fulfill the will of god, religious fanatics might plant bombs close beneath the third most sacred site in Islam to clear an area to build a new temple and bring on a Messiah.

It is somewhere between fitting and ironic that Yassir Arafat and Islam as a whole is scared of militant religious fanatics armed with bombs or new zoning laws. What’s less amusing is the sure knowledge he has a right to be. After all, militant Jewish fanatics have already tried to lay the cornerstone of the proposed new temple not long ago. And once their Messiah arrives, who would care about the archaeological treasures and religious icons of the Temple Mount destroyed by martyrs?

So when Republicans blast the current administration for grandstanding in trying to get Israel and Palestinians to calm down, they show a clunky ignorance of the size of the problem. Clinton was correct and smart to drop the hammer on both Israel and Arafat quickly. Islam needs to be reassured, and Israel needs to be clear about its intentions. It is unfortunate that Israel’s’ Prime Minister may be totally inept and unsuited for the job, dependent as he is upon support of his religious right.