On June 2, 2008, the twenty-eighth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 5768—Jerusalem Day—the fortieth anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, forty nationalist Orthodox rabbis, some of them from the settlements of Judea and Samaria, visited the Temple Mount. This declarative act was preceded by a number of calls opposing the ban on visiting the mount that had been issued after the Six-Day War by the Chief Rabbinate. Such calls have been issued in clearly political contexts: in 1996 at the height of the struggle against the Oslo Accords; in 2001 in protest against the Waqf’s exclusion from the mount of non-Muslims at the beginning of the second intifada; and in 2004 after the Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims.
The rabbis’ visit to the Temple Mount was a high point in the debate within nationalist ultra-Orthodox society between opponents and supporters of such a visit. The visit to the Temple Mount also revealed a nascent change toward the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and its rulings.
Violence is a regular occurrence at many of Jerusalem’s holy sites. Ongoing civilian clashes play a role, but official modes of control through the Israeli army (IDF) and Border Police, as well as more informal private security operations are often involved. Such militarisation may keep violent upheavals in check, but it is carried out within the framework of a long and harsh occupation. The two sites considered here—the Western Wall in the Old City and Rachel’s Tomb on the border of Jerusalem and Bethlehem—each have a history of war and are fixtures of the occupation. This study explores the mechanisms that embed religious and militaristic meanings at each site. In so doing, certain questions are addressed. Firstly, how are the sites being constructed and used as popular and dramatic settings for certain constituents to promote religious militarism/militarised religion in Jerusalem? In which ways do these characteristics act to intertwine with the religious and militaristic aspects of the sites, making them more extreme but also, in some circles, more attractive? And finally, how do these sites contribute to the character of Jerusalem, both in their own construction and image but also in the roles they play within the wider urban topography?