by Iqbal Siddiqui (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 13, Jumada' al-Ula', 1420)
Palestinians in Zionist-occupied Jerusalem last month marked the 30th anniversary of the arson attack on the Masjid Al-Aqsa on August 21, 1969. Palestinian Islamic leaders used the occasion to highlight continuing threats to the mosque, as well as other Islamic sites under Israeli rule.
“Muslims will not tolerate any new aggression against the Masjid al-Aqsa”, Ikrema Sabri, the Mufti of Jerusalem, warned.
The arson attack in 1969 was carried out by Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian Jew who entered the building posing as a tourist. He doused the historic Nur al-Din Zinki Minbar in a flammable liquid and set fire to it. Some 1,500 cubic metres of the south-eastern part of the Mosque were destroyed, about a third of the mosque’s total area. The minbar had been built by Salah ul-Din Al-Ayoubi during his restoration of the Haram in 583AH (1197CE), after he had liberated it from the Crusaders.
The attack has gone down in official history as the work of a ‘lone zealot’. However, the circumstances indicate that this was not the case. It came just three days after a group of Zionists had broken into the mosque to pray using their horns, and reciting hymns and carols, as part of a continuing effort to occupy the site. Muslims’ efforts to fight the blaze were also hampered. Israeli authorities responded to the attack by cutting water supplies to the area, and fire engines were delayed in attending the scene.
The attack, two years after Jerusalem was occupied from by Zionists during the 1967 war, after Jordanian troops fled in disarray, should have been a warning of the Israelis’ intentions. The Haram was occupied on June 7, 1967. No juma prayers were held there on June 9, the first time they were missed since the Haram’s restoration by Salah ul-Din.
Al-Haram Al-Sharif is one of the three holiest sites of Islam, along with the Ka’aba in Makkah and the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah. It was the first qibla of Islam, until the Qur’anic revelation after the hijra, by which the qibla was transferred to the Ka’aba. It was also the site of the Prophet’s ascension to the Heavens after his Night Journey from Makkah to Jerusalem (Al-Isra’a and Al-Mi’raj).
Al-Haram Al-Sharif is a rectangular area located in the south-east of the old city of Jerusalem. It is enclosed by a wall with eleven gates, of which seven are open and four closed. It is also connected to other parts of the city by traditional paths. Within the Haram there are 25 drinking-water wells and numerous fountains. The Haram has four minarets and several domes and porches. There are also two sundials.
The two major buildings within the Haram are the Dome of the Rock in the centre of the Haram and the Masjid Al-Aqsa. (The name Al-Aqsa is also used to refer to the Haram as a whole.) Both were built by the Umayyad king Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan, the Dome in 68-72AH (688-691CE) and the Masjid Al-Aqsa in 692-705CE. This should not be confused with the mosque built earlier by Omar Al-Khattab, the second rightly-guided khalifah, which was on the east side of the Haram.
The Jews claim the site as ‘Temple Mount’, saying it was the site of a temple built by ‘King David’ (the Prophet Daoud, peace be upon him) which was the centre of the Jewish faith. The site had a long and chequered history before the coming of Islam, being repeatedly demolished and restored under Persian and Roman rule. The Zionists claim that the Al-Buraq wall, the south-western part of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, being 47 metres long, is part of the external wall of the temple. It is this which is known as the ‘wailing wall’. The Zionist dream is to demolish Al-Haram Al-Sharif and build a new temple in its place. Theodor Herzl, the founder of zionism, said at the first Zionist conference in 1897: “If I ever control Jerusalam, I will definitely remove all the holy places except the Jewish ones.”
This statement has set the tone of Zionist aspirations ever since. Even before the creation of the Zionist state, they had started moving against the Haram. The most important episode was in 1929. This broke out after Jews tried to take over the wall again on August 15 (there had been numerous previous attempts, notably in September 1928) and were again resisted by Muslims. The following day was a Friday, and demonstrations spread through the country, lasting until the end of the month. The British authorities carried out a thorough investigation and ruled that the wall was part of the Haram and should be controlled by the Muslims.
In 1948, during the first ‘Arab-Israeli War’, the Jews again tried to destroy the Haram. Israeli aircraft dropped 65 bombs on the Haram, hitting both mosques, doing considerable damage. This was clearly a target decided by the Zionist leadership.
After the Zionist capture of the city in 1967, control of the wall passed to them of course. Since then, the issue has been about control of the Haram itself. Effectively, the Jews do control it, for no Muslim may enter without passing through their security and getting their permission. But their longer-term ambition remains to take it over totally, and ultimately to demolish it and build a Jewish institution in its place. This ambition has been compared to the Hindu campaign to replace mosques in India with Indian temples, and in many cases the strategies followed have been similar. Of course, the significance and implications of the Jewish plots against the Haram are even more serious than those of the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya and other Indian masajid.
These plots began immediately the city was captured. Israeli major-general Uzi Narkis, commander of the Israeli troops in the area when the city was captured, recently revealed that the army’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, had suggested using the fighting as a cover for destroying the Dome of the Rock. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted Narkis as saying that Goren had said to him: “Uzi, this to the time to get 100kg of explosives inside the Dome of Rock and it will go for once and forever”.
As in 1948, the idea was to use war as the cover for destroying the mosques. Narkis claimed to have been shocked by the suggestion and to have refused it outright. A likelier explanation is that pragmatic and political minds in Tel Aviv vetoed it for fear of the international outrage it would cause.
Since then, however, Zionist efforts against the Haram have continued. Three major strategies have emerged: attempts to destroy the Sanctuary; attempts to occupy it; and attempts to undermine it physically by excavating tunnels underneath it.
Attempts to destroy the mosque date back to rabbi Goren’s 1967 suggestion, and have been continued by fundamentalist Zionist groups such as the Gush Emunim, which Goren helped to found. Most recently, on December 31 last year, a former Israeli police officer Assaf Hefets said that extremist Jews affiliated to Gush Emunim and other similar groups were planning to destroy the two mosques and take over the Haram. At about the same time, in a development which may have been linked, police claimed to have foiled a plan by Jewish extremists to rent an apartment overlooking the Haram and fire military rockets into the compound during a congregational prayer during Ramadhan. Again, the perpetrators’ object was to facilitate the destruction of the mosques, as well as of the ‘peace process’.
Other plots to destroy the Haram which have come to light include the discovery of a stash of explosives belonging to the followers of rabbi Meir Kahane in May 1980, and the arrest of 49 Jews carrying explosives into the Haram on March 10, 1983. All were released the following day. Following the Israeli capture of Al- Haram Al-Sharif, and having failed to persuade the army to destroy the Haram, Golen and his followers prayed there to establish the principle that it was Jewish ground ‘occupied’ by the Muslims. Attempts to enter the Muslim parts of the mosque and perform Jewish rites there have continued ever since.
The Haram has also been the scene of numerous Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, often when Palestinians have protested against Israeli plots against the mosques. Over 60 Palestinians were killed or wounded on April 11, 1982, when an Israeli soldier opened fire on worshippers. In May 1988, about 100 were killed or wounded when troops opened fire on a Palestinian demonstration inside the Haram. And in 1990, Israeli troops killed 22 Palestinians and injured over 200 when Muslims protested against Jews trying to lay a symbolic foundation stone for their temple inside the Haram.
The other major Israeli strategy against the Haram has been to undermine it by opening tunnels running below it in the name of archaeology and science. This strategy was implemented immediately after the Israeli conquest of the old city in 1967, when archaeologists financed by the Hebraic University and led by a university professor excavated under the south wall and the women’s mosque.
There have been nine major stages since then, all ostensibly for academic reasons or to make facilities easier for Jews visiting the ‘wailing wall’, but all having the effect of weakening the structures of the Haram. There are now serious concerns about the Haram’s structural integrity. The tunnels could also be used in the future for the planting of bombs or mines which would totally destroy the Haram, and which the Zionist state could blame on individual zealots, even though they had made all the preparations themselves.
The pending Christian millenium has also raised fears; some Christian groups are also committed to rebuilding the ‘Temple of Solomon’, and there are fears that the Zionists could use them as a cover for destroying the Haram. All Palestinians are particularly concerned at this time, and many have appealed to the Muslim world to ensure that the Haram is not further damaged. Unfortunately little help is likely to come from Muslim governments.
But the greatest possible human protection probably depends on the Palestinians themselves. In Ramadhan, tens of thousands attended prayers at Al-Aqsa, and heard Shaikh Ahmad Baytawi warn that “the destruction of Al-Aqsa would also mean the destruction of Israel.” And the Zionists have already proved that they cannot beat the Palestinian people and Islamic movement in a straight fight.
Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1999