Justly sharing Temple Mount retains its symbolism for all

There is something seemingly paradoxical about the relationship of the Jewish people with the Temple Mount.

People who have not given this holy site a passing thought and have no desire to pray there in the past have, as a result of the proposal that Jews relinquish control over the Temple Mount, discovered a profound attachment to it. These feelings are so deep that many are willing to reject any peace agreement that requires Israel to hand over its control to the Palestinians.

This commitment to ensuring Jewish sovereignty should not be confused with issues of control or right of access, for most Jews have made peace with the reality of Jews being forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount. Nor does it pertain to some religious instinct associated with the holiness of the Temple Mount or the "victory" associated with controlling the house of God.

While this consideration is central for some, many of those who insist on maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the mount are people for whom God is not a central concern, are not interested in questions of holiness and temples, and do not identify with the "competition" between the monotheistic faiths.

Concern for Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount is not a paradox afflicting religious Jews alone, but religious and secular, right and left alike. The issue is not God or worship, but rather the ability of Israelis and Jews to feel and express that it belongs to us as well. This claim of ownership, however it is to manifest itself in real terms — through police, flag, treaty or other symbols of sovereignty — is not a matter of triviality, but rather, founded on the legitimate and indeed healthy concern for symbols, memory and justice in our national life.

Symbols. They are the vehicles through which we concretize and give expression to our communal values and aspirations. We chose not to live in an abstract global village, but rather in particular communities and nations that reflect and foster our individual group's identity. These communities, while sometimes constituted around noble ideas, in fact survive through the boundaries we erect through a language of national symbols.

For most Jews, the Temple Mount is not primarily a holy site, but rather one of the most central symbols of our common national identity. It functions as the signifier for the fact that Israel is our home and through respect for it, the Land of Israel became inseparable from the people of Israel.

For the Temple Mount to function as a national symbol, we do not have to pray or visit there. In fact, we do not even need to control it. We can, as we have done since 1967, relinquish actual rule to others. Being asked to also renounce our basic claim to sovereignty over it, however, is comparable to being asked to renounce the idea that it symbolizes — that this country is our home.

Memory. It is one of the essential foundations of our national identity. The Mishnah teaches us all Jews must see themselves as if they personally came out of Egypt.

Before one can stand at Sinai, one must first be a part of the Jewish people's history. The basis of Jewish communal identity is the notion of a people who have walked through history together, who have a shared past and because of this past, build a present and future together. Without memory there is no Jewish nation.

The importance of the Temple Mount is not grounded on what Jews want to do there today or in the future, but rather, on its central place in our memory. Whether or not one yearns to pray there today, the fact remains that "Next Year in Jerusalem" was a central part of our ancestors' prayers and a carrier of our national hopes and dreams.

I can let the Palestinians control the Temple Mount in the present and even in the future. However, when they require that I refute all claims of ownership, they are asking me to relinquish my past. Without my past I do not know who I am. If I cease to respect my past, I cease to respect myself.

Justice. As the first Mishnah in Baba Metziah states, when two people are holding onto a garment, when each one is saying, "It is all mine," the rule is to divide it.

It is irrelevant to argue over who cared for it first or longer and who thinks it is more special. When confronting the reality of two counterclaims of ownership, the only just solution is to divide it.

This simple logic has governed many Jews' thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because of it, many are willing to divide Israel and, I believe, Jerusalem as well. We are even willing to divide sovereignty over the Temple Mount; however, justice does not dictate that one side have it all. The same justice that makes us respect the Palestinian claims must give legitimacy to our claim as well.

It is wrong to ask Israelis to transcend their legitimate and healthy human needs for symbols and memory, for the sake of Palestinian religious and national sensitivities.

Justice requires that Israelis learn how to share their home and symbols. Justice requires, however, that the Palestinians do the same.

There is a sense of injustice in the request that Israel relinquish sovereignty over the Temple Mount. In fact, in this conflict, the Temple Mount has become yet another symbol, a symbol for whether justice, mutual accommodation and respect will define our relationship with the Palestinians. The Palestinians must show through a willingness to share sovereignty that they recognize, respect and give legitimacy to our existence, an existence that also cherishes its symbols and its memory.

Only then will justice reign in our shared land.