We had a one hour window where we were allowed up on the temple mount. For five days we had walked around it, saw it from a distance and even saw a model of it but we had never been on top of it. The Muslim guards checked our camera cases and ran us through metal detectors and after checking our passports we were on our way. We walked up a wooden covered ramp to get up to the level of the mount which towered over that part of the old city. Looking over the handrails we could see the Hassidic Jews with their heads bobbing forwards and backwards while facing the Western Wall. From the back it looked like they were hitting their foreheads over and over on the last remaining wall of the 2000 year old temple.
Once on top I found the space bigger than I imagined it. Not only was the huge Muslim Dome of the Rock dominating the space but there was a huge courtyard the size of a few football fields to be accessed through large pillars at various places along the outside. Some areas were off limits and we could not enter the Mosque but we were free to walk around and take pictures. Security tried to be unobtrusive but you knew they were there in the shade and shadows keeping an eye on everything. After what seemed like a lot less than an hour the soldiers came out of hiding and politely ushered us off the sacred mount and back into the old city.
As we were walking out, a different way than where we came up, I say a young Muslim boy kicking a soccer ball and keeping it balanced on his foot as his veiled mother hustled him along to afternoon prayers. You could almost make out the “Aww, mom!” from the young man as his mother motioned to quit playing with the ball. Just a day before this I saw almost the exact same scene played out with a young Israeli boy with the soccer ball and the “Aww, mom!” was in Hebrew and not Arabic. In the Palestinian Christian quarter of the Old City there were kids playing soccer in a school yard the same day.
Jerusalem is a special city to the three major world religions: Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. How many times have you heard that Religion causes the MOST wars and bloodshed in history? That statement is not only false it reveals a thinly veiled hostility of Religion and a not-so-veiled ignorance of History by the one who says it. The battle for the Temple Mount is not a battle of religions as much as it is a battle of territory and retribution. It is closer to a Hatfields and McCoys battle than it is a clash of major religions. Someone has got to turn the other cheek and the striker has to realize that this other is NOT going to respond with more violence. It takes both. I saw the next generation simply playing soccer. ALL OF THEM! What happens to that boy kicking a soccer ball that turns him into a man who is bent on the destruction of the other soccer boy? How can we stop that transition? What does it take for YOU to give up your long-held and FALSE concepts of others?
As I wrap up my comments on this journey I find the most profound change in me was seeing Muslim, Israeli, Bedouin, Palestinian, and Coptic for who they really are and not what I read in the paper, see on TV, or on the internet. We are all just humans trying to balance that soccer ball on our foot.