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Middle East Issues





The Battle Over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount


Tensions over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount have escalated as more Jews visit Judaism's holiest site and demand the right to freely worship there. A Knesset debate about Israel's sovereignty over the Temple Mount and violent actions by Muslims heeding calls to protect Muslim holy sites -- a specious anti-Jewish call that has been used repeatedly since 1929 as a call to jihad -- has put the Temple Mount back in the news. CAMERA's backgrounder provides a history and analysis of the battle over this holy area.

July 5, 2009

One of the main obstacles in previous peace-making efforts has been the issue of dividing Jerusalem and control over the Temple Mount. Muslim denial of Judaism's historical and religious ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the Waqf's illegal construction there, and the violent response to Jewish activities there have, for years, presented an obstacle to peace-making efforts.

Both Israel and the Palestinians lay claim to Jerusalem and its holy sites. Israel maintains security and legal control over the Temple Mount while the Muslim Waqf has religious, economic, administrative, and some security control there. Past negotiations have faltered on Palestinian denial of  any Jewish religious or historical connection and rights to the Temple Mount.  During the July 2000 negotiations at Camp David, Yasir Arafat refused to acknowledge Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, claiming the Jewish Temple never existed there. When talks resumed in Taba later that year, the Israelis agreed to full Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount, but requested Palestinians acknowledge the sacredness of the Temple Mount to Judaism. They refused.  According to then-foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami:

What particularly outraged me on that occasion wasn't only the fact that they refused, but the way in which they refused: out of a kind of total contempt, an attitude of dismissiveness and arrogance.  At that moment I grasped they are really not Sadat.  That they were not willing to move toward our position even at the emotional and symbolic level. At the deepest level, they are not ready to recognize that we have any kind of title here. [Interview with Ari Shavit, Haaretz, Nov. 25, 2001]

It is therefore useful to look back at the history of the conflict. Throughout history, Jerusalem’s stature as a Muslim holy city typically diminished during periods when it was securely under Muslim control. As Dr. Daniel Pipes has chronicled in an overview of the topic, "the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rise for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it." (See "The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem," Middle East Quarterly, September 2001)

Since 1967, there has been a growing attempt by Palestinians to marshal the religious fervor of the Arab and Muslim world in order to wrest Jerusalem from Israeli control. As historian Dr. Yitzhak Reiter documented in a 2005 study entitled "From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back: The Islamic Consolidation of Jerusalem," their campaign involves denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount while advancing Jerusalem and particularly the al-Aqsa compound’s sacredness in contemporary Islam. It also involves reinventing history to create an Arab connection to Jerusalem predating the Jewish one. 

Even now, there are mounting accusations that the Muslim Waqf is deliberately destroying ancient Jewish artifacts and structures from the First Temple period under the guise of renovations on the Temple Mount in order to erase any archeological evidence of Jewish existence there.

Historical Background

Control of the Temple Mount

Rewriting History: Erasing the Jewish Connection to Holy Sites and Creating a Fictitious Arab History

The Waqf's Attempts to Challenge the Status Quo

Calls to Jihad in "Defense" of Muslim Holy Sites

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

1) The Centrality of the Temple Mount to Judaism

Jewish reverence for the Temple Mount (Har HaBayit) long predates the building of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in the 7th century CE, and even predates the construction of the first Jewish Temple (Beit HaMikdash) by King Solomon almost 2000 years earlier in 954 BCE and which was destroyed in 587 BCE.

The Beit HaMikdash was built, according to Jewish tradition, on the Even Hashtiya, the foundation stone upon which the world was created. This is considered the epicenter of Judaism, where the Divine Presence (Shechina) rests, where the biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood, and where the Temple was again rebuilt in 515 BCE before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Temple Mount is also known as Mount Moriah (Har HaMoriah), mentioned frequently in the Torah.

Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest city, is mentioned hundreds times in the Tanakh. It was the capital city of ancient Israeli kingdoms and home to Judaism’s holiest Temple. Jews from all over the ancient world would make pilgrimages to the Beit HaMikdash three times a year to participate in worship and festivities, as commanded in the Torah. Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash have remained the focus of Jewish longing, aspiration, and prayers. Daily prayers (said while facing Jerusalem and the Temple Mount) and grace after meals include multiple supplications for the restoration of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash. Jews still maintain the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the date on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, as a day of mourning. The Jewish wedding ceremony concludes with the chanting of the biblical phrase, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,” and the breaking of a glass by the groom to commemorate the destruction of the Temples. And Yom Kippur services and the Passover Seder conclude each year with the phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

The Western Wall (Kotel Hama’aravi, known simply as the Wall or Kotel) is the remnant of the outer retaining wall built by Herod to level the ground and expand the area housing the Second Jewish Temple. Its holiness derives from its proximity to the Temple site and specifically its proximity to the Western Wall of the Temple’s Holy of Holies (Kodesh Hakodashim---the inner sanctuary that housed the Ark of the Covenant–Aron HaBrit–and where the High Priest–Kohen Gadol-- alone was permitted to enter on Yom Kippur). According to Midrashic sources, the Divine Presence never departed from the Western wall of the Temple’s Holy of Holies.

For the last several hundred years, Jews have prayed at Herod’s Western Wall because it was the closest accessible place to Judaism’s holiest site. According to Jewish tradition, the third and final Temple will be rebuilt with the coming of the Messiah.

There is a controversy among Orthodox rabbis regarding the permissibility of entering the Temple Mount compound. Many prohibit entering the compound because of the risk that someone ritually unpure might tread on the site of the Holy of Holies whose precise location is not known. Others permit entering the Temple Mount, saying they have determined where one can stand without touching holy soil. This area includes Herod’s expansion of the Temple, such as Solomon's Stables, and the strip behind the Western Wall.

2) The Temple Mount as an Islamic Holy Site

Jerusalem assumed significance as an Islamic holy site during the rule of the Umayyads (661-750 CE). Facing challenge to his power from Ibn al-Zubayr, a rebel who controlled Mecca, the Syrian-based Caliph Abd al-Malik sought to consolidate his leadership by establishing a place of worship for his followers in Jerusalem in place of Mecca. He built the Dome of the Rock (Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah) in 688-91 CE on the spot where the Jewish Temples had stood.

Two decades later, in 715 CE, the Umayyads built another mosque on the Temple Mount which they named the Masjid al Aqsa (The Furthest Mosque) to connote the "furthest mosque" alluded to in the Quran (17:1). This was the metaphorical spot from which Mohammed was said to have ascended to heaven in a vision (referred to in Arabic as the Mi’raj) after a night journey from Mecca (the Isra) on a winged steed named Al Buraq.

Although the Quran never mentions Jerusalem or the Temple Mount, the designation of a concrete site to what had been until then just a figurative name provided Muslims with a new religious focus. Several Qur'anic verses were subsequently construed to be obliquely referring to Jerusalem. The Temple Mount was renamed by Muslims al Haram al Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.

Following the end of Umayyad rule in 750 CE, Muslim interest in Jerusalem faded until the Crusaders took over in the 12th century CE. Kurdish leader Saladin (Salah-al-Din ibn Ayyub) reconquered Jerusalem in 1187, re-establishing Muslim rule there and embarking on a building campaign, which continued under his descendents, the Ayyubids. During Ayyubid rule, there were periods when Jerusalem and its holy sites were ceded to the Christian Crusaders, who built churches on the Temple Mount. Perhaps in reaction to Crusader conquests, Jerusalem became established in Muslim consciousness as the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Even so, worship at this holy site was followed by long periods of Muslim neglect and disinterest.

The Western Wall, where Jews gathered to pray since the Ottoman conquest at the beginning of the 16th century, held little interest or significance for Muslims until the period of the British Mandate. Following the British government’s Balfour Declaration in 1917 which supported the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, the Western Wall began to assume national as well as religious significance for Zionists and Jews began gathering there in larger numbers. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, used the Wall as a focal point for his anti-Zionist campaigns. He incited Muslims by proclaiming the Western Wall a holy Muslim site which Jews were trying to seize. The Western Wall, after having been ignored for centuries, was suddenly declared the spot to which Mohammed had tied his winged steed during his Night Journey. The Wall was renamed Al Buraq after the horse. (Before this point, there had been several sites mentioned as the place where Muhammed had tethered his steed, including the eastern wall and the southern wall, but never the western wall.) Muslim riots in 1929 against Jewish worshipers at the Wall were instigated by the claim that Jewish prayer endangered the mosques holy to Islam.

While Jews were barred from entering and praying at their holy sites during Jordanian rule (1948-67), Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were largely ignored as important Muslim holy sites. But when Israel gained control of eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in 1967, the area once again became a focal point for Muslim religious fervor and incitement. Despite the fact that Israeli authorities turned control of the Temple Mount over to the Jordanian Islamic Waqf as a gesture of peace, Muslims have followed the example set by Haj Amin al Husseini and have attempted to use the Temple Mount as a pretext to gain world support against Jewish authority over Jerusalem.

CONTROL OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT

During Jordan's 19-year occupation of eastern Jerusalem (1948- 1967), Jewish holy places were desecrated, vandalized and destroyed. Jews were denied access to their holy sites (including the Western Wall and Temple Mount area) in violation of Article 8 of the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian Armistice Agreement. Christian churches were prohibited from buying property in Jerusalem and Christian religious organizations were restricted from owning property near Holy places. (For more details see: Backgrounder: History of Jerusalem)

Upon Israel's 1967 capture of eastern Jerusalem containing Judaism's holiest sites, Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan immediately ordered soldiers to remove an Israeli flag that had been raised over the Temple Mount. He declared:

To our Arab neighbors we extend the hand of peace. To members of the other religions, Christians and Muslims, I hereby promise faithfully that their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved. We did not come to Jerusalem to conquer the Holy Places of others. (Meron Benvenisti, Jerusalem: The Torn City, Isratypeset, Jerusalem, 1976)

Handing administrative control over the Temple Mount to Jordan's Islamic Waqf, Dayan banned Jews from holding prayer services there. Israel, however, retained sovereignty and security control of the area.

Israel promised to continue the Hashemite Kingdom's special status administering Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. But following the Oslo II Agreements in 1994, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat attempted to replace the Jordanian Waqf's authority over the Temple Mount. He appointed Sheikh Ikrima Sabri as Mufti of Jerusalem and Hassan Tahboub as Minister of the Waqf and Religious Affairs, overshadowing the Jordanian-appointed head of the Islamic Waqf, Adnan Husseini.. Although Husseini was not dismissed from his post, his position became less relevant, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan thus effectively lost administrative and religious control of the Waqf to the Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

In 2004, the Jordanians began to reassert their control over the Jerusalem Waqf. In July 2006, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri who was aligning himself more and more with the radical Israeli-Arab was replaced by Sheikh Mohammad Hussein as Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In March 2007, Sheikh Azzam Khatib al Tamimi became head of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.

REWRITING HISTORY: ERASING THE JEWISH CONNECTION TO HOLY SITES AND CREATING A FICTITIOUS ARAB HISTORY

In 1930, the Supreme Moslem Council published an English-language tourist guide to the Temple Mount entitled "A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif," which stated:

The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.

But Muslim acknowledgement of a Jewish historic bond to this holy site changed following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, when Jerusalem came under Israel’s control. Palestinian and Muslim leaders began to alter their line. While the stories they recount differ from one to another, they are consistent in their attempt to erase the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and indeed all of Israel.

Below are examples of statements by Palestinian political and religious leaders and academics as well as other Arab and Muslim leaders denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, especially during negotiations over Jerusalem and its holy sites.

1) Palestinian Political Leaders

Yasir Arafat

Ambassador Dennis Ross, who shaped U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process as Special Middle East Coordinator and who presided over President Clinton's failed Israeli-Palestinian peace summit at Camp David in 2000, reported that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat raised only one idea at the Camp David talks – namely, to deny the core of the Jewish faith by claiming that the Temple had never existed in Jerusalem, but in Nablus.

Arafat feared acknowledging the existence of a Jewish connection. He told Clinton "I am a religious man, and I will not allow it to be written of me [in history] that I have… confirmed the existence of the so-called temple underneath the mountain." {Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, August 12, 2000, Translation: MEMRI )

Later, in an Oct. 5, 2002 interview with London’s Al Hayat, he went even further in his denial of Jewish history, changing the story once more. He alleged not only that the Jewish Temple never existed in Jerusalem, but that it had never existed in any of Palestine:

For 34 years they [Jews] have dug tunnels, the most dangerous of which is the great tunnel. They found not a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there, because historically the Temple was not in Palestine [at all]. They found only remnants of a shrine of the Roman Herod. (Translation: MEMRI)

Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, bolstered by the West as a moderate, similarly denies that a Jewish Temple existed on the Temple Mount.  He was quoted as saying:

Anyone who wants to forget the past [the Israelis] cannot come and claim that the [Jewish] temple is situated beneath the Haram. They demand that we forget what happened 50 years ago to the refugees – and I speak as a living, breathing refugee – while at the same time they claim that 2000 years ago they had a temple. I challenge the assertion that this is so [that there has ever been a Jewish Temple}. But even if it is so, we do not accept it, because it is not logical for someone who wants a practical peace. (Kul Al-Arab (Israel), August 25, 2000; Translation: MEMRI)

Nabil Sha’ath

Other Palestinian political leaders have followed suit. For example, Nabil Sha’ath of the Palestinian Legislative Council and senior advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas who previously was chief negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian talks labels the Jewish temple as "fictitious." He said:

[The Israelis] are insisting on sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa mosque on the pretext that an Israeli Temple is buried beneath it and that, through their continued sovereignty, they can one day unearth it…Their claim was not substantiated by the excavations they carried out around and under the mosque. [Voice of Palestine Radio Station, July 26, 2000]

Israel demands control of the Temple Mount based on its claim that its fictitious temple stood there. (Al-Ayyam, July 27, 2000).

Walid Awad

Walid Awad, foreign press spokesman for the Fatah Central Media Commission and formerly director of foreign publications for the PLO's Ministry of Information, stated an interview with IMRA on Dec. 25, 1996:

There is no tangible evidence of Jewish existence from the so-called 'Temple Mount Era'. . . . The location of the Temple Mount is in question. . . . It might be in Jericho or somewhere else.

In an online article "Jerusalem, A City Crying Out For Justice" put out by Awad as the director of foreign publications for the PA Ministry of Information (the PA Web site is no longer available), Awad accuses Israel of falsifying history and archeology after 1967 in order to create a Jewish connection to Jerusalem:

Immediately after Israeli soldiers occupied Arab East Jerusalem back in 1967, the Hebrew University, the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the Department of Antiquities collectively and individually began a massive excavation campaign in Arab East Jerusalem in a bid to find allocate traces of Jewish existence from the so called 'Temple Mount Era.'

The fact of the matter is that almost thirty years of excavations did not reveal anything Jewish, no tangible evidence of theirs was unearthed. Much to their chagrin, what surfaced from their underground excavations turned out to be more Muslim palaces, courts and mosques. Other excavations revealed archeological ruins belonging to the Romans, Greeks and Canaanites...

...To give credibility to these claims, and to translate the ingenious falsified historical accounts of the city in order for them to obtain worldwide authenticity, they[Israeli archeologists and authorities] decided to manipulate connect the history of Jerusalem as they want it to be seen by the world, and to present it in a way acceptable to contemporary thinking of everyday people...

...Jerusalem is not a Jewish city, despite the biblical myth implanted in some minds. Nothing tangible has been found to give credibility to these claims.

2) Palestinian Religious Leaders

Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, previous Mufti of Jerusalem

Ikrima Sabri, until recently the Palestinian Authority-appointed mufti of Jerusalem and the highest ranking Islamic clerical authority in the PA, insists Jews have no connection to any part of the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall. In 1997, he proclaimed:

The Al-Buraq Wall [Western Wall] and its plaza are a Muslim religious property, and the Israeli government’s decisions do not affect it…The Al-Buraq Wall is part of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jews have no relation to it. (Al Ayam, Nov. 22, 1997)

In 2000, he reiterated this in an Israeli-Arab weekly::

No stone of the Al-Buraq [the Western] Wall has any relation to Judaism. [Kul Al-Arab, August 18, 2000]

And a few months later, he gave an interview to a German daily in which he again asserted:

There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish Temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish history... The Jews cannot legitimately claim [the Western] wall, neither religiously nor historically. The Committee of the League of Nations recommended in 1930, to allow the Jews to pray there, in order to keep them quiet. But by no means did it acknowledge that the wall belongs to them. [Die Welt, January 17, 2001]

In 2002, Sabri wrote a booklet, entitled Palestine – the Human Factor and the Land which was published in Egypt in August 2002. In it, he used as evidence the anti-Semitic forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"to support his allegation that the Jews have for centuries been secretly plotting to take over Palestine. He denied any Jewish historic connection and right to the land, labelling the Jewish Temple built by Solomon as "imaginary."

Tayseer Tamimi, Chief Religious Justice of the PA

The Palestinian Authority's chief religious official, Tayseer Tamimi frequently speaks at public events and on Palestinian TV. In a televised interview on June 9, 2009, he demonized Jews, denying Jewish heritage and ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

I know of Muslim and Christian holy sites in [Jerusalem]. I don't know of any Jewish holy sites in it... Israel has been excavating since 1967 in search of remains of their Temple or their fictitious Jewish history.

Reversing history and turning truth on its head, he accused Jews of falsely converting the "Al Buraq" wall into a Jewish site.

When the Prophet [Muhammad] entered Jerusalem, after landing with his 'riding animal' in the Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, he tied it to the western wall, which is known today [by Muslims] as the al-Buraq Wall, and which the Jews usurped by falsification and deception [saying it is the Western Wall of the Temple].

He made absurd allegations about Jewish scientific attempts to destroy Arab holy sites:

The [Israeli] excavations' purpose is to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In fact, its foundations have been removed. Chemical acids were injected into the rocks to dissolve them. The soil and the pillars [were moved] so the mosque is hanging in midair. There is an Israeli plan to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to build the Temple.

3) Palestinian Academics

Palestinian academics, using their credentials to lend weight to their claims–often on Palestinian educational TV– have frequently denied the Jewish historical connection to the land, replacing it with a fictitious Arab connection. According to them, the Bible has no historical veracity. Palestinians, they claim, are the direct descendents of Canaanites, while Jews, they say, are descendents of Khazars who have no claim to the land.

Dr. Issam Sissalem, Professor of Middle Eastern History at the Islamic University of Gaza, frequently appears on PA television, denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.

About Solomon’s Temple, he asserts:

This is the biggest lie in history by those liars.  (PA TV, Oct. 8, 2001)

There is no historical text that proves the existence [of Solomon’s Temple] or that it has a real history other than the Bible, and the Bible as we have previously mentioned… was written based on ancient legends. (PA TV, Aug. 2, 2004)

And about the Western Wall, he claims:

That's the place where Muhammad went to Heaven and is part of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Zionist enemy falsely claims that this wall is part of the so-called temple. This is a deceitful lie. {PA TV, Oct. 8, 2001)

In fact, Sissalem attempts to erase all Jewish connection to the Land of Israel:

As I've already said, the ancient Hebrews were destroyed. Utterly decimated. Actually, they were foreigners in this land. They were primitive Bedouin from the Arabian Desert. This land is ours. Jerusalem, and every one of her stones, are ours. {PA TV, Oct. 8, 2001)

I want to point out that we should not focus much on what is called the [Biblical] Hebrew tribes, who are in fact Bedouin – Arab tribes. There is no connection between them and these Khazar Jews [of Israel today]. (Aug. 2, 2004)

The Jews lived in isolated areas, in ghettos in Poland and in Russia. They were the remains of the Khazars with no connection to our land or its history ... (PA TV, Nov. 21, 2004)

Historian and former Arafat advisor Jarar al Qidwa makes similar assertions:

Solomon’s Temple, I believe, was built by the Canaanites who were the neighbors of the Israelis, the Israelites... I want to state several words clearly: the Bible became an archival document, not representing what the Israelis and the first Jews were, but what they thought they were, what they imagined. The Temple is the fruit of their imagination. In any case, when our nation or our Canaanite forefathers came to Palestine, they built the Temple… a temple in Jerusalem...

...The issue of the temple is a Zionist innovation. No one said that the temple that was built in Jerusalem, neither the Canaanite nor Roman, no one said that it was in the place of the [Islamic] Al Haram." (PA TV, Aug. 2, 2004)

4) Other Arab and Muslim Claims

The attempt to erase the Jewish connection to Israel is not limited to the Palestinians. The extent to which this denial has caught on in the Arab and Muslim world was revealed in Yitzhak Reiter’s study (in Hebrew) which was based on thousands of Islamic legal rulings, proclamations and writings that he found at the Cairo book fair, Arabic websites and Islamic bookshops. (Ha’aretz columnist Nadav Shragai summarized some of Reiter’s findings in a November 27, 2005 column entitled "In the beginning was Al-Aqsa.")

Below are just a few of many examples since 1967:

On December 30, 1973, King Feisal of Saudi Arabia proclaimed on Radio Riyadh

The Jews have no connection whatsoever with Jerusalem and have no sacraments there. They cliam that the Temple of Solomon is there...The Temple of Solomon does not exist in Jerusalem...Therefore the Jews have no connection or right to have any presence in Jerusalem, or any authority there.

Saudi historian Muhammed Hassan Sharab declares that the Quranic Al Aqsa mosque encompasses the entire Temple Mount compound including the Western Wall and that the Temple of Solomon was never located there.

Egyptian archaeologist Abed al-Rahim Rihan Barakat, Director of Antiquities in the Dahab area of Sinai. Barakat asserts:

The legend about the Jewish temple is the greatest historic crime of forgery.

University of Cairo lecturer and one-time TV host Abed al-Tuwab Mustafa claims that there is no basis for the Jewish claim of a holy Temple on Mount Moriah.

Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi, Professor Emeritus at the American University of Beirut theorizes that ancient Israelites never inhabited Palestine and that biblical events occurred, not in Palestine but in southwestern Arabia, between Mecca and Yemen. He expounds upon this theory in a1985 book, The Bible Came from Arabia, basing his claims on the fact that many places in Arabia bear biblical names.

In the U.S., Nadia Abu El Haj, a tenured professor of Anthropology at Barnard College, wrote a book alleging that Israeli archeology is compromised by nationalist political motives to substantiate the nation’s "origin myth." Although she has no archeological expertise herself, she dismisses the vast archeological evidence supporting historical and biblical accounts of the long Jewish presence in Israel as having been manipulated in order to produce evidence for an Israelite connection to the land.

5) Claims that Al Aqsa Mosque was built by Adam

In recent years, differing new claims have arisen as to who built the Al Aqsa mosque. Almost all these claims predate Solomon’s construction of the First Jewish Temple in 954 BCE. But the allegation gaining the most currency among Muslims is that this mosque was built by Adam. Abdullah Marouf, a former Media and Public Relations Officer of the al-Aqsa mosque, for some time, had run a  now-defunct Web site (http://www.ouraqsa.com/english/) devoted to the Al Aqsa mosque that provided English readers with the rewritten "history" of the structure:

The first building of al-Aqsa mosque was done by Prophet Adam (PBUH), then it has been renovated and rebuilt many times, one of them was by Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) (PBUH), but his building of al-Aqsa was only a renovation of the mosque, not a first-time building. Therefore, we cannot say that Prophet Sulayman was the one who BUILT al-Aqsa mosque, but we can say that he (PBUH) RENOVATED or REBUILT the mosque.

It has become standard for the Palestinian media and Palestinian leaders to refer to the Jewish Temples as "alleged."  (For more recent examples, see Palestinian Media Watch here.)
 
Western journalists must find it difficult to understand an Arab revisionist history that rejects and denies basic truths accepted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And so they tend to dismiss or ignore it.  But understanding Arab denial of Judaism's foundation and therefore Israel's right to exist is essential to understanding the entire Arab-Israeli peace process.

THE WAQF'S ATTEMPT TO CHANGE THE STATUSTags QUO

In 1967, Israel passed the Protection of Holy Places Law, granting special legal status to the Holy Sites and making it a criminal offence to desecrate or violate, or impede freedom of access to them.

Other laws mandated prior agreement from the Ministry of Religious Affairs or Ministry of Education and Culture in order to carry out excavations in or near a holy site. A 1978 Antiquities Law stipulates that where such a site is used for religious reasons, paving, quarrying, and interment and other actions can only be carried out with the written agreement of the Director of the Department of Antiquities.

The Muslim Waqf, however, consistently refuses to recognize Israeli sovereignty or the laws governing holy sites. Attempting to change the status quo of the Temple Mount, the Waqf has repeatedly flouted these laws with excavations and construction of new mosques. Many believe that under the guise of renovations on the Temple Mount, the Waqf is deliberately destroying archeological evidence of the site's Jewish history.

In the 1970's, the Waqf illegally dug a trench for utility lines without archeological supervision. This excavation exposed a 16-foot-long, six-foot-thick wall believed to have been part of the Herodian Temple complex. The wall was dismantled and covered up.

A 1983 article and editorial in Biblical Archeology Review accused the Waqf of concealing evidence of the First (Solomonic) and Second Temples with dirt, plantings and paving. The editorial demanded that qualified archeologists be given access to survey the Temple Mount site and called upon Muslim and Jewish archeologists to cooperate in preserving archeological remains there. The journal published before and after pictures of the archeological damage..

The Israeli authorities repeatedly failed to enforce the antiquity laws or to stop the Waqf's unauthorized excavations because they felt it would be harmful to Arab-Israeli relations. This prompted a lawsuit against both the Waqf and Israeli authorities by "The Temple Mount Faithful," an Israeli group seeking to rebuild a third Jewish temple on the site of the First and Second Temples. The Supreme Court ruled that the Waqf had indeed violated Israel's antiquities laws on 35 occasions, causing irreparable damage or destruction to antiquities, but refused to intervene because of political sensitivities and the understanding that the laws would be enforced appropriately in the future.

But in 1996, the Waqf embarked on the conversion of the area under the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount — Solomon's Stables and the eastern Hulda Gate — into what was to be the largest mosque in the country with a capacity of 7-10,000. Calling it the Marwani mosque, the Waqf claimed that this was simply a renovation of a pre-existing mosque, although archeologists stated that there was no evidence for this. Operating without any archeological oversight and with no permits, the Waqf surreptitiously brought in heavy machinery and proceeded to construct, prompting the Jerusalem municipality to obtain a court order to halt the unsupervised building. This became highly politicized when Palestinians reacted with violent riots to Israel's attempt to open a second exit from the Hasmonean tunnels (see below). Not wanting to escalate the situation, Israel's Labor government allowed the Waqf to complete its work and open the mosque.

Over the next few years, the Waqf continued with its unilateral, unapproved construction and inaugerated a new mosque, called al Aqsa al Qadima. This incorporated the western Hulda gate double passageway — the only complete passageway remaining from the time of the Second Temple.

In 1999, after receiving approval to open an emergency exit in the Marwani mosque, the Waqf used bulldozers to expand the Solomon's Stable mosque and excavate a massive opening (18,000 square feet by 36 feet) . As Ha'aretz columnist Nadav Shragai wrote, "For the first time since 1967, a fleet of dozens of bulldozers and trucks was put to work on the Temple Mount, and 6,000 tons of earth from the Mount was dug up and removed." Workers dumped this rubble in the Kidron Valley. Amir Drori, director of the Antiquities Authority at the time, called it "an archeological crime" and Attorney General Elyakim Rubenstein denounced it as "an assault on Jewish history." (See "Media Mute on the Temple Mount Desecrations")

Archeologists claimed that important artifacts from the First and Second Temples were found in this rubble, and in 2004, a project to sift the dumped material was initiated. Funded by the City of David Foundation and directed by Professor Gabriel Barkai and Tzachi Zweig, archeologists and volunteers have uncovered thousands of rare and important artifacts from the First and Second Temple periods, as well as from Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Early Arab periods, among them a rare bulla dating from the First Temple period.

The Waqf cut off all access to the Israeli Antiquities Authority from the Temple Mount in 2000. In response to the continued unauthorized construction work by the Waqf on the Temple Mount, a non-political, volunteer committee was formed to take action. Called "The Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount," (CPDATM) it included prominent archeologists, judges, lawyers, literary and other public figures from across the Israeli political spectrum.. They called upon the Prime Minister to order the immediate halt to the illegal, unsupervised construction by the Waqf on the Temple Mount – work which, they claimed, was causing "grave harm to archeology." The Waqf was accused of large-scale construction over an area of thousands of square meters, using heavy machinery, paving over extensive areas, and removing earth rich in archeological findings. The Shin Bet also warned the prime minister of Waqf plans to open additional mosques on the Temple Mount.

Despite the Waqf's banning of archeologists, journalists and government officials from entering the area, aerial photographs and undercover reports and films provided a picture of what was happening . A letter by the CPDATM to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon includes details of the damage and destruction by the Waqf.  Despite numerous legal petitions by CPDATM and other groups to halt the Waqf's illegal construction, but the Supreme Court continued in its refusal to intervene. (To see CPDATM appeals to Israeli elected officials, see here.)

Again in the summer of 2007, the Waqf began to dig a deep trench to replace old electric cables. Although Israeli police and the Antiquities Authority approved the excavation, heavy tractors were used. The CPDATM protested the use of heavy equipment and the lack of careful archaeological supervision but the work went on, apparently damaging what was later found to be structures dating to the First and Second Temples.

Ha'aretz columnist Nadav Shragai has written about the lack of supervision over the Waqf's illegal building. He points out that both the Israel Antiquities Authority and the municipal licensing and inspection department have been denied access to the Temple Mount and information about what happens there. Moreover, there appears to be a "deliberate interference" by police and whoever is in charge to prevent information from reaching the antiquities authority. ( See "The Latest Damage to Antiquities on the Temple Mount" by Nadav Shragai.)  

By contrast, an attempt in 1981 by the rabbi of the Western Wall, Yehuda Meir Getz, to secretly reopen an ancient sealed gate and manually excavate an existent tunnel carved into the rock under the Temple Mount (believed to lead to the Holy of Holies and possibly the original lost Ark of the Covenant) was halted by the Israeli government, which ordered the opening sealed with reinforced concrete. (See "Raiders of the Lost Ark" by Nadav Shragai)

The reluctance to enforce Israel's laws protecting antiquities and evidence of its Jewish heritage is rooted in the desire to prevent Arab violence and rioting.

CALLS TO JIHAD IN "DEFENSE" OF MUSLIM HOLY SITES

Even while they attempt to change the status quo of the Temple Mount, Muslim leaders oppose any Jewish effort to visit, investigate, excavate, repair, or renovate the area. From the 1920's onward, Arab leaders have repeatedly incited anti-Jewish violence and jihad in the name of "defending" Muslim holy sites,  a pretense for jihad in the name of Islam.

In September 1928, a small group of Jews erected a "mechitza" (a divider to separate men and women during prayers) for Yom Kippur prayers at the Western Wall. The British forcibly dismantled the diviider, but Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al Husseini used this incident as a pretext to incite Muslims. He accused the Jews of attempting to seize Muslim holy sites, including the al Aqsa Mosque.

A virulent propaganda campaign calling for jihad against the Jews resulted in the frequent beating and stoning of Jews worshipping at the Wall and culminated in widespread, murderous riots across Palestine in August 1929. "Defend the Holy Places" became the battle cry.

During Jordan's occupation of Jerusalem, Jews were unable to even reach their holy sites. After Israel gained control of the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, large-scale archaeological expeditions near the Western Wall area were begun by Professor Benjamin Mazar, followed by additional excavations by Meir Ben Dov and Dan Bahat. They uncovered layers of history over 2000 years — from the First Temple period to Ottoman times– which were preserved and displayed. Despite the valuable historical finds — several of them Muslim, they were met by resistance and often violent efforts to obstruct Israeli excavations under the guise of Israeli "aggression" toward Muslim holy sites.

An ongoing tunnel project to explore the length of the Western Wall under the supervision of Ben Dov and Bahat exposed the Herodian walls and a complex of subterranean vaulted spaces that extend along it along with dramatic archeological finds — a Herodian promenade alongside the Mount, cisterns, ancient masonry, Muslim construction, and an ancient Hasmonean aqueduct. The aqueduct, which had been discovered in the previous century by British archeologists, was re-excavated in 1987, connecting to the already completed 500-meter tunnel excavation to reveal the length of the Western Wall. Called the "Western Wall Tunnels," the area was open to the public in 1987. Over the next nine years, several attempts were made by Israel's Religious Affairs Ministry to open a second exit at the north end of the Hasmonean aqueduct/tunnel at the ground level near (but not within) the Temple Mount so that visitors would not have to retrace their steps through the narrow tunnel. These attempts were met by riots incited by Waqf leaders who called upon Arabs to defend their holy sites, falsely claiming that the Jews were trying to undermine Muslim shrines.

In 1993, Israeli authorities started to construct an exit tunnel and staircase from the Hasmonean tunnel that exited on the Via Dolorosa — a considerable distance (more than 200 meters) from the Al Aqsa Mosque. Approval was given by the Netanyahu government to open this exit on September 24, 1996. Israel had negotiated with the Waqf, accepting limited Muslim worship in Solomon's Stables in exchange for Waqf acceptance of the new doorway. Nevertheless, Palestinian reaction was swift and violent, with Waqf members joining in.

PA leader Yasir Arafat called upon Palestinians to protest this "big crime against our religious and holy places." Palestinian Council member Saeb Erekat fabricated on television that "the Israelis... announced that they will open this tunnel in order to build ... a new temple now in the place of the Al-Aqsa Mosque." The Palestinian Authority orchestrated violent protests, reminiscent of those in 1929. For the first time, PA police fired upon Israeli soldiers. Hundreds of people — both Israeli and Palestinian were killed or wounded. (See "The Media's Tunnel Vision 1" and "The Media's Tunnel Vision 2")

When Knesset member Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount (but none of the mosques there) in September 2000, Arafat used it as a pretext to launch a violent and bloody intifada against Israel that lasted for years and in which thousands were killed or maimed.

In 2004, the Mughrabi ramp — leading from the Western Wall Plaza to the Mughrabi Gate (built over an ancient Temple gate, and the only one from which non-Muslims are permitted to enter the Temple Mount) — partially collapsed during a storm. After extensive deliberations, Israel's Antiquities Authority decided to build a temporary bridge, remove the ramp in a careful salvage excavation and replace it with a new access route. The temporary bridge was built at the end of 2005, and after an additional year of deliberations, the permit for the new construction was finally issued. The guidelines for the construction of the new bridge required that special care and attention be given not to harm religious sensitivities, the holy places, or other religious interests.

The Antiquities Authority prohibits excavation on the Temple Mount itself and so the work was to be done more than 60 meters away. The Waqf was duly informed of the plans. But when the excavation and construction finally began in February 2007, Muslim leaders incited Palestinian riots with their time-proven battle cry "Defend the Holy Places," charging that the excavations were being carried out in order to damage the Al Aqsa Mosque. They threatened a new intifada, while Palestinian terrorist groups vowed to respond by carrying out attacks within Israel. In the face of Palestinian violence, some Israeli officials and archeologists called for a halt in the construction. International protests followed and the construction was suspended.
 
Updated: Feb. 26, 2014
 
As greater numbers of Jews attempt to visit the Temple Mount, Palestinian imams and leaders incite their followers by insisting that Israel is planning to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque and build a Temple in its place. For example,  recent news reports in a Palestinian Authority daily asserted that:

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein warned of the occupation authorities' intention to allow settlers and foreign tourists to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Cotton Merchants' Gate… The Mufti said that this attack is an integral part of the series of daily attacks whose purpose is to tighten control on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the alleged Temple in its place. (Al Hayat Al Jadida, Jan. 20, 2014, translated by Palestinian Media Watch.)

and:

A delegation from Jerusalem, headed by Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher and Chairman of the Supreme Muslim Council, had a meeting yesterday -- attended by Ambassador of the State of Palestine [to Qatar] Munir Ghannam -- with [Qatari] Minister of Religious Affairs Dr. Ghaith Bin Mubarak Al-Kuwari. The delegation updated him on recent events in Jerusalem, specifically on the frantic efforts to assault the Al-Aqsa Mosque and make it difficult for Palestinians to reach it, as well as [updated him] on plans -- both disclosed and undisclosed -- to destroy it and build the alleged Temple in its place. (Al Hayat Al Jadida, Jan. 31, 2014, translated by Palestinian Media Watch)

A Hamas official recently wrote an article urging the launching of rockets toward Jewish targets in  Jerusalem in response to Jews visiting the Temple Mount.  According to Dr. Issam Adwan, the Hamas Refugee Affairs Department chief:

Jewish prayers in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa are worse than [the act of] demolishing the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and are more dangerous than [the act of] conquering them, because the mosque's sanctity lies in the soil [itself], and only later in the structure built upon it. Therefore, the response of the Palestinian resistance must be proportional to the danger of this aggression. If the resistance launched a few rockets from Gaza against Jewish targets in Jerusalem, this would [be enough to] convey a stern message to the enemy – that is, that if [the enemy] harms the Al-Aqsa mosque, all bets are off. (Falesteen, ps, Oct. 1, 2013, translated by MEMRI.)

The battle over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is an ongoing one and the most important issue confronting Arab and Israeli peacemakers.  A thorough understanding of the forces at work is thus essential.


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