Richard L. Cravatts is President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
Last week in Jerusalem, as Jews celebrated Passover and Muslims observed Ramadan, violent images were broadcast of Palestinian thugs vandalising the Al-Aqsa Mosque and hurling Molotov cocktails, stones, and fireworks on the Temple Mount itself and at Jews praying at the Western Wall.
The motivation behind the Arab rage? Initially, and as ever, false rumours were promoted, this time that settlers were planning to make animal sacrifices, a claim that Ofir Gendelman, spokesperson to the Arab media in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, stressed was false and, in fact, had been promoted by Hamas for the express purpose of inciting terror,
But that spurious charge was merely a new variant of the long-standing accusation that dastardly Jews were plotting to destroy the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque, a baseless but recurring charge that Israeli journalist Nadav Shragai has called the ‘Al-Aksa [sic] Is in Danger’ libel. In fact, as early as the 1920s, when Amin al-Husseini, the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, rallied Muslims with accusations that Jews intended to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Jewish Temple, Arabs have attempted to ignore and obscure any Jewish connection to the site and have sought to ‘liberate’ purported Muslim holy places from the grip of the occupying Zionists.
While the current round of violence was predictably blamed on Israel, in fact, as with previous clashes on the Temple Mount, the violence and rioting were neither random nor pointless and had both a strategic and tactical purpose — to degrade the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and all of Palestine by erasing the Jewish identity, history, and the religious significance to Jews of the Temple Mount as a basis to Islamicise the entire site through physical and spiritual control.
This was the precise purpose behind the 2016 effort by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) vote to approve a resolution stripping the Temple Mount and Western Wall of its Jewish identity, and elevating a Muslim claim to a site central to Judaism.
The contortions of history found in the UNESCO resolution are shared with the Palestinian leadership, as evidenced by comments made at the time on official PA TV by Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious and Islamic Affairs. ‘Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian land’ he said. ’Jerusalem is the property of the Palestinians‘. . . UNESCO’s resolution confirms . . . that Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in particular, and the Al-Buraq Wall and the Al-Buraq plaza are all purely Islamic and Palestinian assets and no one has the right to be our partner in that. No one has the right. We are the owners and we have the right to it.’
Al-Buraq Wall, of course, is the Arabic name for the Western Wall and Al-Buraq plaza refers to the entire 35-acre Temple Mount. Statements like these reveal that Muslim authorities do not consider any part of the Temple Mount to be Jewish, nor should Jews even be allowed near or on it. This sentiment, of course, is part of the wilful disbelief in and the denial of the historical evidence of the Jewish roots of both the Temple Mount and the entire land that became Israel, reflected in the corrosive words of Article 11 of the Hamas Charter which proclaims that ‘The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [Holy Possession] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. No one can renounce it or any part, or abandon it or any part of it.’
It is no coincidence that the Dome of the Rock was built on top of Judaism’s most sacred place—a temporal act of replacing and subsuming the very spirit of Judaism and signalling the ascendancy and domination of Islam.
The other aspect of Muslim ownership and control of the Temple Mount is the recurring fiction about Jews invading, storming, and ‘defiling’ (in the words of Mahmoud Abbas) what is now perceived to be Muslim holy space, hence the calls to protect the Al-Aqsa from attack and desecration by Zionist settlers and ‘occupation forces.’ A 23 March news story on Palestinian Authority TV, for example, revealed that weeks before the recent violent clashes, Palestinian religious figures were already exhorting their flocks to protect Al-Aqsa from the perfidious Jews celebrating Passover who were likely to ‘storm’ the sacred grounds during Ramadan, that, once again, their mosque was in danger of attack.
‘[PA] Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories and blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher Sheikh Muhammad Hussein,’ the broadcast reported, ‘warned against the occupation authorities continuing to give permission to groups of extremist settlers to invade the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The grand mufti said that the concerns that the occupation authorities are spreading . . . are nothing but a prelude to their cunning intentions that they will carry out against the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and he warned of the consequences of these attacks.’ [Emphasis added.]
It is unsurprising that Palestinian religious leaders would rail against a Jewish presence in what is perceived to be holy Muslim territory. More troubling was an inciteful statement issued on 13 April by the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), a group of some 40 organisations that promoted the lie that, ‘The occupation’s armed forces and the flocks of its settlers have mobilised their falsehood and prepared their cavalry, infantry and evil to carry out a large scale storming of the sacred Aqsa mosque during the so-called Passover . . . in a clear attempt to impose an extremely dangerous new reality there,’ in other words, to alter the status quo which denies Jews of almost all rights to visit or pray anywhere on the Temple Mount.
‘The scholars stress that we are witnessing an extremely dangerous and advanced crime,’ the statement cautioned. ‘These kinds of planned storming events are meant to reinforce the objectives of the Zionist enemy in turning the sacred Al-Aqsa mosque into a legitimate right for the Zionists . . . one of the ugliest Zionist attempts to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque.’ [Emphasis added]
The tendentious statement also reasserted the oft-repeated claim that Jews have absolutely no connection or right to any portion of the Temple Mount—ignoring history and fact—and that the entirety of the property is sacred Muslim ground.
‘The sacred Al-Aqsa mosque,’ the statement preposterously asserted, ‘including all of its sections, buildings, walls, and fences, and what is above it and beneath it, belongs exclusively to the Muslims, and that any attack on it or on any part of it is considered an attack on the third most sacred place for all Muslims . . . .’ More troubling was the statement’s direct appeal for violence and aggression against Jews to protect Al-Aqsa, suggesting that ‘it is an obligation incumbent upon the entire ummah to march forth and act within the available resources to stop this criminal aggression.’ [Emphasis added]
And most dangerously, coming as it was from a group of purported scholars, was the language of the statement that called for intifada and the murder, if necessary, of Jews attempting to visit the holiest site of their faith. Specifically, the purported scholars called ‘on all the sons of the Palestinian nation who have been standing guard and waging jihad in the occupied territories of 1948 and in the West Bank, revealing with this language that they believe that even current-day Israel, ‘the occupied territories of 1948,’ is Muslim territory and that Jews, the sons of apes and pigs, have no legal, moral, or spiritual claim to any part of Palestine.
When Muslim youths shower Jewish civilians praying at the Western Wall with stones because they refuse to acknowledge Judaism’s 3000 year-long connection to the site and because they will not accommodate any other faith anywhere on the Temple Mount, they cannot then complain when the Israeli Police are called in. Predictably, however, the world press only reported the actions of the IDF in suppressing violence in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque. As Israeli Prime Minister Bennett put it, they always ‘start the story in the middle’
Dore Gold, Israel’s UN ambassador from 1997 to 1999, noted in his book, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City, that the process of diminishing Jewish historical links to the city has been underway for some time now.
Gold believed this trend began at the 2000 Camp David meetings when Yasser Arafat first stated publicly his breathtaking belief that there had never been a Jewish Temple at the site of the Temple Mount. Arafat, wrote Gold, thereby tossed ‘a stone of historical lies into a lake and its ripples spread all over the Middle East. “Temple Denial” became a common theme at seminars in the UAE or in Jordan in the years that followed. European professors joined this anti-biblical trend.’
Ever since Camp David, the Palestinians have tried to obscure the Jewish relationship with and continuing presence in the holy city, something Middle East scholar Martin Kramer has called their desire to effect ‘a reversal of history.’
The Arab world’s own complicity in playing fast and loose with history, and obscuring the actual ‘facts on the ground’ in an attempt to create a historical narrative conforming to a political agenda, makes the Palestinians’ accusations against Jews bent on the undermining of Muslim and Christian holy sites all the more disingenuous. In yet another example of ‘turnspeak,’ the Arab world has accused Israel of the very lies about history that they themselves are committing.
It is part of a relentless effort to delegitimise Israel and eliminate it through a false historical narrative that is repeated in Palestinian schoolbooks, in sermons, in the Arab press, in Middle Eastern study centres at universities, and in the politicised scholarship and dialogue generated by anti-Israel activists around the world. It is high time for all who seek mutual recognition and peace to stop indulging these lies.