The Palestinian Deputy Minister of Information, Mutawakkel Taha (a poet who was formerly head of the Palestinian writers union) has apparently published a 5-page document in Arabic on his Ministry’s website presenting an unreformed position arguing Muslim “ownership” of the site.
It was not immediately possible to find this document, or determine what, exactly, it says.
(There is, at the moment, no Palestinian Minister of Information, and the current Palestinian Authority government spokesman Ghassan Khatib is apparently in overall charge of the Information Ministry, though the lines of authority are confusing, and could be considered in flux.)
This position described in the Israeli press as being laid out in this document has been enunciated before by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and by his negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo (now Executive Secretary of the PLO, and head of Palestinian Television), and also by Palestinian officials who have held posts at the Waqf (Islamic trust foundation) that “owns” the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock which are the two religious buildings that now exist on the mosque esplanade that Muslims call the Haram ash-Sharif.
The same site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount — because it is believed that the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temple were built on the esplanade. So far, archeological excavations have found evidence of the Second Temple, but nothing so far from the earlier First Temple.
Some Israelis and Jews are angry that Muslim renovations under the Al-Aqsa Mosque were conducted with disregard for Jewish interests in finding remains that might help clear up the history of the site.
Both Jewish temples were destroyed (the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BC, and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD), centuries before the arrival of Islam.
The Western Wall was built, or expanded, by Herod, to contain an enlarged site for the Second Jewish Temple. Since its destruction, only this Western Wall remains public, and it has been a site of Jewish longing and prayer throughout the centuries (with, it is true, various restrictions at different times). Some of the stones in the lower portion of the Western Wall might have been placed there during the time of the First Temple.
Since the advent of Islam in the latter part of the 6th century AD, the two mosques were built — no Jewish structure was destroyed for their construction. These two buildings have been in continuous use for Muslim prayer for 1400 years.
Muslims now fear that messianic Jewish groups want to destroy these mosques to rebuilt the Jewish Temple.
Tonight, the Israeli Government Press Office sent around this statement attributable to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: “The Palestinian Authority Information Ministry’s denial of the link between the Jewish People and the Western Wall is reprehensible and scandalous. The Western Wall has been the Jewish People’s most sacred place for almost 2,000 years, since the destruction of the Second Temple … When the Palestinian Authority denies the link between the Jewish People and the Western Wall, it calls into serious question its intentions of reaching a peace agreement, the foundations of which are coexistence and mutual recognition. The Government of Israel expects Palestinian Authority leaders to disavow and condemn the aforesaid document, refrain from distorting historical facts and encourage the creation of a bridge to peace that will lead to an historic reconciliation between the two peoples”.
Fervent adherents of both Islam and Judaism have made all kinds of outrageous statements denying each other’s claims. Very few (if any) calls are being made to acknowledge the legitimacy of both sets of claims.
The Western Wall is considered a historic site with religious signifcance. Prayers are performed there, but it is not a synagogue, and in fact there is no synagogue along the Western Wall.
Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are places of worship, with historic significance.
This is a moment when outside help would be useful…
UPDATE: At the end of November, the U.S. commented that the report by Mutawwakal Taha is “factually incorrect, insensitive, and highly provocative”. While that may be true, this U.S. comment is not — NOT— what is needed. Nor is it helpful…