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Jewish Group Crowdfunds $90K for ‘Third Temple’ on Jerusalem's Temple Mount

The Temple Institute is crowd funding the design of a "Third Temple" on Jerusalem's contested Temple Mount — but critics says that's illegal.

by Alice Speri
Sep 24 2014, 10:15pm

Photo via Flickr

A Jerusalem-based group wants to build a Jewish temple on one of the Old City's most contested sites - and has already crowd funded $90,000 to draw up plans to do it.

The Temple Institute, which describes itself as a "research organization dedicated to the preparing for the construction of the Third Temple" took to Indiegogo - better known for its use by independent artists and musicians than Jewish eschatologists - to help finance the design of a building to replace the Second Temple destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.

But the proposed complex would sit on the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif as it is known in Arabic - one of the most bitterly disputed sites in the world and an important site for at least three different religions.

Footage shows Israeli forces storming Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Watch here.

Building or proposing to build anything there is deeply controversial - if far-fetched. The site is already home to the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, and heavily guarded by Israeli security forces. Access to the area is severely restricted for Palestinians and the complex is frequently the scene of clashes, including on Wednesday.

The proposal, critics claim, is not only an insult to Palestinians - it is also in direct violation of Indiegogo's terms of use, which state that "campaign owners are not permitted to create a campaign to raise funds for illegal activities, to cause harm to people or property, or to scam others."

A spokesman for the site told VICE News that the Build The Third Temple campaign "does comply with the terms." But Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, said the proposal is "illegal" under international law.

"Israel is the only country in the world that considers East Jerusalem to be part of Israeli state territory," she told VICE News. "Under international law, Israel's annexation of occupied East Jerusalem is illegal, and no state in the world recognizes Israeli sovereignty there. Numerous UN resolutions affirm that East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its religious sites, are part of the occupied Palestinian territory, where sovereignty belongs to the Palestinian people."

Gassner also called on Indiegogo to remove the campaign from its site. "The project clearly promotes conflict, destruction and hatred, and not peace," she said. "Indiegogo should be informed that this is an illegal campaign as defined by their terms, violating international law and human rights, resulting in the destruction of property, inciting for religious intolerance, hatred and violence."

The Temple Institute declined to comment until after the Jewish Rosh Hashanah holiday, but referred VICE News back to its crowd funding page, where it claims the money will be used to start "plans" for the temple construction.

"The current campaign target is $100,000 so that the Temple Institute can begin to produce the operative plans for the entire Temple complex," the page states. "Every dollar donated will enable you to become a part of the future, directly investing in the eventual rebuilding of the Temple."

Building a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount would almost certainly lead to massive bloodshed.

Riots erupt in Jerusalem over death of Palestinian teen. Read more here.

The site has been at the heart of the conflict since 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the rest of the West Bank, parts of the Golan Heights, and Gaza.

In 2000, while campaigning for the office of Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon visited the mosque complex accompanied by 1,000 police officers, infuriating Palestinians and precipitating a chain of reactions that culminated in the Second Intifada.

Hardliners have long pushed for the construction of a "Third Temple" there, but while the improbable idea has generally been dismissed by mainstream Israeli society, it has recently regained some currency.

Following Wednesday clashes, Israel's public security minister called for Jewish worshippers to have full access to the compound, from where they are currently barred from praying.

This summer's war in Gaza, which killed 2,131 Palestinians, mostly civilians, 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians, also led to a new wave of religious sentiment in Israel, with some calling the conflict "God's war."

Rabbi Chaim Richman, the Temple Institute's director, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the group's initiative is connected to the war but that the group is not interested in confrontation with the Palestinians over the Temple Mount.

"There's no doubt that there is a connection to Protective Edge," he said. "It's also important to note that we have no violent intentions...There will be a Temple when we have the love of the world, when people from around the world support us and ask us to build the Temple. But in the meantime, money is necessary too."

The Temple Institute calls the construction project its "Biblical obligation" and enough backers seem to be willing to pitch in. With 33 hours to go to the end of the campaign, its creators have already reached nearly 90 percent of their $100,000 goal.

The group promises a modern twist to the biblical project.

"While strictly adhering to the religious requirements set forth in Biblical texts, the Third Temple will also be equipped with every modern amenity: full computerization, underground parking, temperature control, elevators, docks for public transportation, wheelchair access, and much more," the Indiegogo page reads.

It is not clear what the group plans to do with the funds it raised should the project never materialize. But campaign creators seem set on turning the ambitious plan into a "reality."

The video below, shared on the fundraising page, shows plans and renderings for the construction - which has not yet been approved by any authority.

As common on the site, the group offers "perks" to match various tiers of contributions: from a "mitzvah," or worthy deed, for $18, to an "exclusive preview" of the temple's architectural plans and toured guides of the site with the director of the institute for $50,000.

Donations on Indiegogo are tax-deductible in the US - potentially violating IRS regulations on such contributions.

Gassner added: "Since the organization collects donations in the US, the relevant US authorities should be called to immediately prevent all transfer of funds from its account to Israel, to freeze its tax-exempt status and to launch an investigation into possible violations of US law committed by the US-based affiliate through promoting and funding this illegal project in occupied East Jerusalem."

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi

Image via Flickr