This beautiful photo was posted on Twitter by “Zalameh” [@BDS4Justice] on Thursday night. Its caption tells us that it was taken on the Haram ash-Sharif outside al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, and reads: “Aqsa right now #aqsa #palestine”:
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…
This is from the Jerusalem Post: “Following a weekend of sporadic clashes between Arab youths and security forces in and around the capital, Jerusalem police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco decided to extend heightened security measures put into place in the Old City and east Jerusalem for an additional day. Franco’s decision, made following a security assessment on Saturday night, came before the scheduled rededication of the historic Hurva synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter on Monday. The rededication of the synagogue, which dates back to 1700 and has been razed and rebuilt twice – it was last destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948 – is expected to draw large crowds and has been the source of rising tensions and circulating rumors regarding the Temple Mount [n.b. — this is what Israel calls the plateau where the Second and also the earlier First Jewish Temples are believed to have stood, and which Muslims call the Haram ash-Sharif, housing both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most revered site in Islam, built nearly 600 years after the destruction of the Second Temple — the plateau itself is supported in part by the Western or Wailing Wall, the most revered site in Judaism]…
Tensions — and provocations — have risen for weeks.
Jordanian intervention recently defused a days-long sit-in by Muslims who heeded an earlier call, during the recent Jewish holidays, to come to defend Al-Aqsa against a reported call by Jewish settlers for their faithful to come to pray inside Al-Aqsa. A group of about 200 Palestinians slept and prayed inside, while Israeli forces threatened to arrest them when they came outside. Then, agreement was reached, and those inside departed quietly.
Today, after yet another call for the Muslim faithful to come to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque, next to the Dome of the Rock on the mosque plateau known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, the third most sacred site in Islam, the situation appears to be blowing up.
For days, it has been reported that preparations were being made (on both sides) in advance of a demonstration that was supposedly planned by Israeli “far-right extremists” to take place at Al-Aqsa on Sunday.
The feeling that there is incitement and provocation is inescapable — from elements on both sides.
Tensions continue — among Palestinians, at least — after disturbances the mosque esplanade in the Old City of East Jerusalem on Sunday, despite the imposed calm for the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur observed this year from Sunday night through Monday night.
There were minor disturbances reported in several East Jerusalem neighborhoods and in Bethlehem.
UPDATE: TV reports showed young — very young, perhaps underage — Palestinian men in handcuffs being processed by Israeli authorities after about 50 persons were reportedly detained in and around East Jerusalem’s Old City in the early hours of Tuesday morning.