U.S. Statement on Palestinian position on "Al-Buraq Wall" – the exposed part of the Western or Wailing Wall – is itself insensitive + unhelpful

A few days ago, while still in Paris, I wrote a post about reports on the just-published Palestinian document about the “Al-Buraq” Wall.

This is the name used by Palestinians (Muslims) for what Israelis and Jews call the Western or Wailing Wall — the most sacred site in Judaism — which is part of the retaining wall for the plateau or esplanade that for the past 1,400 years has housed Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of East Jerusalem. It is believed, however, that the Second Jewish Temple (destroyed by Roman troops in 70 A.D.) and probably also the First Jewish Temple (destroyed by Babylonian forces some 586 years B.C.) were previously located on the same site.

The Palestinian document was reportedly written by the Deputy Minister of Information, Mutawwakal Taha. It was posted in Arabic on the website of the Palestinian Ministry of Information. I have not seen any full translation of this Palestinian document.

It reportedly claimed that the Buraq Wall is Waqf property (held in Islamic trust) — which it was, before the Israeli conquest in 1967. And, it reportedly said something to the effect that this Wall was not sacred to Jews.

UPDATE: AFP and Ma’an News Agency (apparently relying on AFP) have just reported that Mutawwakal Taha said that he does not know who is responsible for removing the document from the PA website. He also said he does not know who posted the document in the first place. Taha says he still stands behind this document, which represents his personal views. [There are many Palestinians who support this view, which takes the arrival of Islam — meaning the specific message transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad — after 610 – 622 A.D., as the starting point for their legal analysis…]

Our earlier post, put online last week, appealed for outside help…

Over the weekend, U.S. officials 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— the kind of help I had in mind.

It did, however, have an effect. Today, it was reported that the Palestinian document has been removed from the website.

The U.S. statement, however influential, was not balanced — a word that successive American administrations have so loved to use.

Among its defects, the U.S. statement aimed at Muslim religious beliefs, and ignored legitimate Palestinian/Muslim positions.

The U.S. position correctly notes the Palestinian (Muslim) belief that the Western Wall has religious significance in Islam, because it is thought that a correct interpretation of verses in the Quran would indicate that the horse (Al-Buraq) that the Prophet Muhammad rode — in his dream, one night — was tethered at some (unspecified) point along this wall. In this dream. the Prophet Muhammad rode/flew on Al-Buraq from the Arabian peninsula to Jerusalem, tethered his horse Al-Buraq on the Wall, went up to the plateau, went to the rock which was later enclosed in the structure of the Dome of the Rock, and rose to heaven, where he had an experience with the presence of God. He later came back down from heaven, went to his horse, and rode/flew back to the Arabian peninsula, all on the same night, before he awoke from his dream.

Some Muslims and Palestinians are rather uncomfortable with a literal interpretation of this story, but few will say so publicly, or officially, because of the sensitivity of the matter, and of the overall situation, where Jerusalem is one of the main focuses of current attempts to impose an Israeli unilateral narrative.

It would have been better — and it is still perfectly possible — to respect religious traditions, while setting them aside, rather than taking a position either against one, or in favor of another…

The help that is needed here is something like this: continuous deliberations on the respective religious positions — with a massive effort at “public outreach” to help people learn a lot more about the views of both religious traditions. There is a shocking amount of ignorance and intolerance at play here.

There should also be strenuous collective political efforts to develop policies that will treat both positions, and traditions, with respect.

Otherwise, the alternative is nothing other than the ususal show of overwhelming superiority of military force — an unworthy and unjust exhibition of victor’s justice.

The very dangerous context in which this is all playing out is explained in an article published today on the Foreign Policy website (Middle East Channel), by Danny Seidemann, an Israeli-American lawyer who founded Ir Amim and who knows East Jerusalem like the back of his hand. In this article, Seidemann writes that “Settler takeovers in East Jerusalem are generally portrayed as a battle over real estate, but in truth they are much more. For the settlers, they are part of the not-yet-ended skirmishing of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence — a war that, in their eyes, will be won only when Israeli hegemony is imposed in East Jerusalem, with the re-creation of what the settlers themselves refer to as the ‘Realm of Ancient [Jewish] Jerusalem’ — a realm being established in the midst of, and in place of, the existing Palestinian neighborhoods … This mix of Biblical epic, historical role playing and contemporary conflict produces kitsch, but make no mistake: this is kitsch that can kill. These settlers of East Jerusalem — whether patrolling the hills of Jabel Mukabar or displacing Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah — are not marginal. They are deeply embedded in the policies of the Government of Israel, policies that are radically transforming the character of one of the most important religious and cultural sites on the planet. Their endeavors dovetail with official government efforts to incorporate the Old City of Jerusalem and its immediate environs into an untrammeled Israeli sovereignty, informed by the exclusionary settler visions of a pseudo-Biblical past and a mythical war of independence … But the policies unleashed in recent years render Palestinian neighborhoods communities-at-risk, and marginalize the Christian and Muslim equities in the city. In doing so, Israel is contributing to the transformation of a resolvable national-political conflict into an intractable mix of jihad, war of mitzvah, and Armageddon”… Danny Seidemann’s piece can be read in full here.

After weeks of tensions and provocations – and predictions of trouble today – Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa Mosque COMPOUND

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.

Continue reading After weeks of tensions and provocations – and predictions of trouble today – Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa Mosque COMPOUND

Jerusalem tensions persist

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.

Continue reading Jerusalem tensions persist

Israeli revised plan for rebuilding Mughrabi Gate ramp may be approved soon

Green door of Mughrabi Gate to Haram as-Sharif - 12 June 2008

“Tensions may be heating up again about Israeli reconstruction plans for a damaged ramp leading from the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem, where Jewish worshippers pray at Judaism’s most sacred and revered site, up to the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade, the third holiest site of Islam. A revised Israeli design to rebuild the ramp is expected to receive Israeli government approval imminently…”

Ramp under repair leading from Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem up to Mughrabi Gate entrance to Haram as-Sharif - 12 June 2008

Read the full post here .