I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. . . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together. . . . They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. — Isaiah 65:18-19, 25
What spot on earth elicits more spiritual yearning than the great platform in Jerusalem that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount?
On this “holy mountain” King Solomon built the first temple, a structure the Babylonians destroyed four centuries later. Here Zerubbabel built the second temple — demolished by Roman armies a generation after Jesus’ ministry. On this platform Jesus upset both money-changing tables and religious authorities. Here Muslim ruler Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock shrine in the seventh century — an elegant structure that still is a jewel in the heart of the Old City.
Under the dome is an outcrop of bedrock that, according to Jewish and Islamic traditions, is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. From this rock, say Muslims, Mohammed and his horse took flight for a nighttime visit to heaven. Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, this religious precinct long has been a flashpoint of conflict.
Devout Jews do not go up on the great platform for two reasons: 1) The presence of Jews is offensive to Muslims who control the precinct; and 2) There is danger of unwittingly walking into the Holy of Holies; no one knows precisely where the ancient temple stood.
So Jews pray outside and below the great platform, at a courtyard where a 200-foot length of the retaining wall built by King Herod is accessible. Colossal, finely dressed masonry stones, some weighing an incredible 500 tons, form the wall. This facade is about as close as worshipers can get to the site of the ancient temple without going up onto the platform.
The closest spot is an ancient underground hall next to the Dome of the Rock along the Western Wall. Here Orthodox Jewish men pray, some before banners depicting the ancient temple. Others lean against the Western Wall and weep for the loss of the temple.
Elsewhere in the Holy Land, Palestinians weep for the loss of their homeland and civil rights since the founding of Israel as a state in 1948. Jews lament the destruction of the temple and unfathomable losses of the Holocaust. Palestinians grieve what they call the Nachba (“disaster”) of 1948, when Israeli armies destroyed hundreds of Arab villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Many of those Palestinians and their descendants still live in refugee camps.
At the Western Wall, I thank God that Jews at last have a homeland. I love the Scriptures they cherish and pray daily with Psalms they use. I also pray for Palestinians, who deserve security and dignity in the land of their birth. The provocation of Jewish settlers moving into West Bank territory that belongs to Palestinians grieves me and makes Israel less secure.
I pray that Jews will follow the best lights of their own biblical prophets and seek justice for all in the Holy Land. I support Jews, Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and others who work for reconciliation among peoples of the Holy Land. I want Christians around the world to be agents of healing rather than adding to polarization through uncritical Zionism or coercive boycotts. God hasten the day when the wolf and the lamb feed together in Jerusalem.
Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his peace reflections at peace-pilgrim.com.