Forms of the Libel: Identifying a Country with the Extremism It Fights Against
In August 2008, an animated film broadcast on Hamas’ Al-Aksa TV channel showed a group of Jews, haredi in appearance (sidelocks and brimmed hats), busily digging a tunnel under the Temple Mount mosques with hoes and sledgehammers. The Jews are portrayed in the style of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer, with long, prominent noses. The focus then moves to the upper level – the plaza of the mount, above the tunnel – and there it shows a keffiyeh-wearing Arab, reclining and sound asleep. Again the picture goes back to the tunnel and its Jewish diggers, who are encouraging each other to persist in their labors, “but slowly, so the Arabs and the Muslims won’t catch wind of it.” Beside them stands an Israeli soldier who says reassuringly, “Keep digging, they’re asleep.” Yet the next blow of the sledgehammer shakes the earth, which cracks vertically up to the level of the mosque. A small stone, dislodged, lands on the face of the Arab who is sleeping on the plaza. He wakes up in alarm, and a title comes on the screen that warns: “Al-Aksa is in danger.”(1)
The roots of Hamas, like the roots of many other agents of the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel, draw sustenance from the messages and spirit of the Muslim Brotherhood. This movement was established in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna early in the twentieth century, and over the years it became one of the world’s main movements of political Islam. The worldview of the Brotherhood posits that “Islam is the solution” for all distresses of the individual, society, and state. At the center of the Brotherhood’s ideology stands the goal of an Islamic renaissance and the creation of a global caliphate, first in the Islamic countries and subsequently throughout the rest of the world, on the ruins of Western liberalism.(2) The Muslim Brotherhood denies Israel’s right to exist and views all the land of Palestine as an Islamic endowment (Wakf). They too are partners in the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel, and in August 2006 Muhammad Mahdi Akef, a former leader of the movement,(3) spoke of “Al-Aksa Mosque that is captive in the hands of the accursed Zionists…who want to destroy it and build the Temple on its ruins.”(4)
The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, which remains its official Palestine arm,(5) are not the only ones making such claims. In the spring of 2005, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon addressed the issue of the honoring of agreements by Arab leaders. In response, the Jordanian press attacked Israel harshly. On March 19 Al-Rai published a cartoon in which snakes are climbing on the mosque on the Temple Mount. Next month the same newspaper published another cartoon with
an octopus clutching the dome of the Al-Aksa Mosque in its tentacles. At the center of the octopus is a Star of David. The use of a snake and an octopus was not accidental. The identification of Jews with octopuses and snakes has been common in different versions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion since the start of the twentieth century. Octopuses and snakes indeed appear frequently in anti-Semitic cartoons and publications in the Arab world.(6)
Left: March 19, 2005. Al-Rai (Jordan), Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center Right: April 24, 2005. Al-Rai (Jordan), Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
In July 2010, Jordan’s Al-Doustur published another atrocious caricature: a Jew with a satanic gaze is gobbling an ice cream cone in the image of the Al-Aksa Mosque.(7) And two days later another cartoon showed a Jew devouring a cake in the form of the Al-Aksa Mosque, while beside him stands an Arab who is looking at his watch.(8)
Another libeler was the head preacher at the Al-Aksa Mosque, and indeed the senior Islamic legal scholar in the Palestinian Authority in the early 2000s, Jerusalem mufti Sheikh Akrama Sabri. Born in 1939, he was already an extremist member of the Muslim Brotherhood while Jordan ruled the West Bank. In 2000, in an interview with the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram,(9) Sheikh Sabri said he thought that the Muslims ” still have not sacrificed enough for the liberation of Al-Aksa. Saladin sacrificed a great deal and over a long period so as to liberate Jerusalem, and we must sacrifice until Allah’s victory is realized.” The sheikh took the same opportunity to clarify his attitude toward the Jews: “I enter the Al-Aksa Mosque with head held high and at the same time filled with wrath against the Jews. I have never wished a Jew peace, nor anything else when I have passed one of them. I will never do so. They can’t even imagine such a greeting from me.”(10)
July 4, 2010. Al-Dustour (Jordan), Palestinian Media Watch
Two years later, in August 2002, a booklet by Sabri called “Palestine: The People and the Land” was published in Egypt.(11) This pamphlet, too, revealed the mufti’s views. Its main message is the lack of any right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and a total delegitimization of the State of Israel. Sabri uses anti-Semitic motifs in his writings that are taken from the Protocols; he speaks of “the schemes of the Jews not only to take over Palestine but the whole world as well, by fomenting conflicts between the different countries.” Sabri, who has stressed in the past that “the Western Wall, Al-Buraq, was not a place of worship for the Jews and the Jews’ claim to a right to it is fraudulent,”(12) warned already in January 1997 of “the collapse of the Al-Aksa Mosque within two years at the most.” He ascribed this to the Israeli excavations “that are being conducted beneath its foundations, from 1967 to the present.”(13)
Left: January 5, 2006. Eli Saliba, Al-Watan (Qatar), Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center Right: February 9, 2007. Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), ADL website
Sabri’s successor as mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, was no less enterprising. He charged that “at the top of the order of priorities of plans of conquest and aggression” stood the Al-Aksa Mosque; its existence annoyed Israel, which aimed to build the “bogus” Temple on its ruins.(14) Like his predecessor, Hussein denied the Jewish link to the Western Wall and referred to Israel’s “frightening and terror-inducing plans” regarding the Western Wall plaza.(15)
These examples are not anomalous. The ones who have developed and refined the “Al-Aksa is in danger” incitement campaign almost into a fine art are Sheikh Raed Salah and his northern branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement, which is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and close to Hamas (see Chapter 6), but they are not the only ones. Hasan Tahub, one of the heads of the Supreme Muslim Council and subsequently appointed Wakf minister by Arafat, promised in an interview with Al-Hayat al-Jadida(16) that he would
prevent anyone who is not a Muslim from praying at Al-Aksa Mosque, even if it requires the use of force. Al-Aksa is a Muslim mosque according to a divine decree that is more important than the decisions of any court. The permission that was granted a Jewish extremist to pray at the Al-Aksa Mosque was an Israeli attempt to gain a foothold in it, so that in the future they can erect the Temple that they claim once existed on this spot.
It should be noted that the Israeli courts did not provide permits, neither to moderate nor extremist Jews, to pray at the Al-Aksa Mosque.(17) (See Chapter 2.)
Left: March 17, 2010. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (UK), Palestinian Media Watch Right: February 17, 2007. Akhbar al-Khalij (Bahrain), ADL website
The president of the Sharia Court in Nablus, Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, also characterized Al-Aksa as being “in danger, because Israel, both the government and the people, is resolute in its aim to destroy it and build its bogus shrine in its place.”(18) The deputy Wakf minister of the Palestinian Authority, Sheikh Yusuf Juma Salama, alleged – again without basis – that when the Israelis “first entered Jerusalem in 1967, they would say, when they were inside the Al-Aksa Mosque: Muhammad is dead, dead. Muhammad left daughters behind him.”(19) And in the same period of the late 1990s, Muhammad Awad, sheikh of the branch of Al-Azhar University in Gaza, asserted: “the law determines that the jihad for the liberation of the Al-Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem constitutes a personal duty that is incumbent on every Muslim man and woman.”(20)
Statements in a similar spirit also were made by Zahir al-Dibai, master of ceremonies for the marking of “The Night Journey and the Prophet’s Ascent to Heaven” at the Al-Haj Nimr Mosque in Nablus in the presence of Arafat. “Our Palestinian nation and people under your leadership,” al-Dibai declared, “have never hesitated to defend Jerusalem and to sacrifice young people and clear, pure blood in Talbieh, in Katamon, in Baka,(21) at the Al-Aksa Mosque, on the Via Dolorosa and everywhere, since all of us obey the call of Allah.”(22) Al-Dibai hitched Christian sites, too, such as the Via Dolorosa, to his proclamation on behalf of “the campaign for the Al-Aksa Mosque.”
Almost a decade later nothing has changed. Indeed, a survey by Palestinian Media Watch after a temporary spike in terror attacks in Jerusalem revealed that the Palestinian media, including in eastern Jerusalem, wages a ceaseless campaign of fear-mongering about Jerusalem that affects Muslims and Palestinians generally and the Arab residents of Jerusalem in particular.(23) Beyond accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and even of spreading rats and drugs among the Arab population, Israel is portrayed as jeopardizing the holy places and concocting schemes to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosque. In making these charges the Palestinian media and the Authority used a terminology of fear, various libels, and exhortations by different leaders. Other common admonitions were that “Israel is building an underground Jewish city”24 and “erecting a bridge that will hold hundreds of soldiers and police along with vehicles, so that they can break into the Al-Aksa Mosque.”(25) And, not least, that Jewish extremists were planning to bring “missile launchers to the Old City of conquered Jerusalem” for the purpose of “bombarding the Al-Aksa Mosque with missiles.”(26)
A dragon adorned with Stars of David breathes fire on the Dome of the Rock. A greeting card from Hamas to the Palestinian people, found in a mosque during Operation Defensive Shield, 2002. (Tsvika Israeli, Government Press Office)
It should be pointed out that Israel is not building an underground Jewish city, and at most is carrying out organized archeological excavations under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority. These excavations are open to everyone, and even Wakf officials and Muslim clergy have been invited more than once to visit them, and sometimes even accepted the invitations. The bridge in question, which is supposed to allow “breaking into the Al-Aksa Mosque,” is the wooden bridge that leads to the Mughrabi Gate. This bridge was built in 2004 after the storms of winter, along with a mild earthquake, had collapsed the earthen ramp that had led to the gate. The plan was to build in its stead a more stable bridge made of metal, which could support greater weight and serve the security forces in times of emergency – certainly not for the purpose of breaking into Al-Aksa for its own sake, but, rather, for restoring public order to the Temple Mount in case of disturbances. When the police had broken into the mount in the past, it was to put down violent outbursts by Muslims there in which they hurled rocks at Jews praying at the Western Wall below. The bridge, then, is intended to replace the ramp that collapsed, enable access to the mount, and serve the Israeli security forces when they need to restrain Palestinian lawbreakers on the mount.
Left: February 11, 2007. Al-Dustur (Jordan), ADL website Right: February 11, 2007. Al-Ittihad (United Arab Emirates), ADL website
Palestinian publications, however, maliciously distorted all of this. Only the warning about a plan by Jewish extremists to fire missiles had a basis. In the past, intelligence information about an intention of that kind has indeed reached the Israel Police – which, of course, along with other security forces, made certain to thwart it.(27) But this simple truth did not deter the supreme kadi (judge) of the Palestinians, Sheikh al-Tamimi, from accusing the City of Jerusalem of wanting to renovate the Mughrabi ramp so as to “enable more than five thousand occupation soldiers and an Israeli tank force to enter the plaza of the Al-Aksa Mosque, in futile attempts to search for their supposed shrine.”(28)
The exploitation of chance occurrences, whether trivial or more serious, to spread the “Al-Aksa is in danger” lie and affix it firmly to the State of Israel was not exceptional and indeed became routine. Usually this was done in the context of excavations in the vicinity of the Temple Mount, even if these were conducted hundreds of meters from it, and even if they involved construction work that was carried out at the height level of the Temple Mount mosque itself (see Chapter 6).
The libel never distinguishes between private, extremist, non-institutional actors who are marginal to Israeli society, and the State of Israel that does so much to prevent harm to the mosques and safeguard them.
Although there is sometimes a factual basis to trigger concern, the libel never distinguishes between private, extremist, non-institutional actors who are marginal to Israeli society, and the State of Israel that does so much to prevent harm to the mosques and safeguard them. Only once, in the course of the 1967 war, did an official Israeli actor speak of harming the mosques, but the response of the senior military commander in the field was unequivocally clear and negative. The former was Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who was chief military rabbi at the time. The latter was the then head of IDF Central Command, Uzi Narkiss, who threatened him with arrest and imprisonment. Subsequently Goren denied that he had considered such a possibility, and even explained that, in his view, such an idea would be pointless.(29)
Since then, several extremists and fanatics (mostly Jews) have attempted to attack the mosques and been thwarted by the state. In the first decade and a half after the Six-Day War, would-be perpetrators who were apprehended included the Jewish Underground, Yoel Lerner, and members of the Lifta gang.(30) Later, on two occasions in the 2000s, there were further surprises.(31) Those responsible were caught, tried, and put behind bars. Sometimes the people in question suffered from a mental condition known as the Jerusalem syndrome. Mostly Christians, they were captured in time and put in mental institutions for treatment.(32) Nevertheless, the Muslim side pinned the blame for these incidents on the Israeli government and said it was behind them.
This failure to make a fundamental distinction was especially evident in two unfortunate cases. The first occurred in August 1969 when an Australian Christian tourist named Michael Dennis Rohan entered the Al-Aksa Mosque and tried to set it on fire.(33) Rohan fled, but he was caught and found unfit to stand trial; the court stated that at the time of his act he was “gravely afflicted with a mental illness that is defined as paranoid schizophrenia.”(34) Rohan suffered from delusions that had taken control of his life. He was confined to a mental institution and, in 1974 after pressures from his family, deported from Israel. Yet his capture, and confession of his deed, had no impact on the anti-Israeli incitement campaign that was waged in the Arab and Muslim world over the arson attack at Al-Aksa. The president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, called for a “purification” war against Israel. In Saudi Arabia, King Faisal called on all Muslims to mobilize for a jihad against Israel; appeals for jihad against the Jewish state were heard in almost every Arab country. In all cases Israel was accused of having planned the deed. Many years later, in Egypt, an official propaganda booklet (“Jerusalem Is an Arab City”) was published in English and French whose core theme was that “Israel planned the arson attack on Al-Aksa in September 1969”:
Israel gained control over East Jerusalem and immediately began [archeological] investigations near Al-Aksa, claiming it was searching for ancient Jewish relics. However, Israel’s aim was to damage the Muslim holy places so that it could eventually remove them, pursuant to the Judaization of the whole area….To fulfill its goals, Israel planned to set fire to the Al-Aksa Mosque on September 18, 1969.(35)
The book made no mention, not even a word, of the Australian lunatic Rohan, who set fire to the mosque, was apprehended, and was charged for his deeds. Similarly to how the “Western Wall conflict” was exploited by Haj Amin al-Husseini in the early twentieth century, the Rohan incident was leveraged to organize huge fundraising campaigns for the mosques and their courts, which lasted for decades after the event.
The Muslims took a similar approach when, in 1982, Alan Goodman, an Israeli soldier, broke into the Temple Mount and shot dead a Muslim guard. Goodman, too, was quickly apprehended and in his interrogation stated a clear motive for his act: revenge for the murder of almost forty Jews by Palestinian terrorists on the Coastal Road four years earlier. Goodman gave the impression of treading a fine line between sanity and madness. His trial mostly focused on the question of his sanity, and he was found to be suffering from borderline personality disorder. Although some psychiatrists asserted that he also had paranoid schizophrenia, Goodman was ultimately found fit to stand trial and sentenced to life in prison.
The standard ritual occurred in this case, too. The Muslims – the Wakf, the Supreme Muslim Council, the Arab states – blamed Israel. Yasser Arafat announced that “it was the Israeli government that dispatched Alan Goodman to the Temple Mount so as to carry out an ugly crime and a religious stratagem.”(36) The mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Saad al-Din al-Alami, had his own version of what happened, saying it did not accord (to put it mildly) with what had emerged during Goodman’s trial. “Goodman did not act alone,” claimed the sheikh,
his act was part of a planned operation of a large group of Jews, in which soldiers also took part. At exactly the same moment that Goodman began to fire, shots were fired at the Dome of the Rock toward a group of Muslims who were standing there, coming from three other directions…just at that moment we were also fired at from the Jewish Quarter. And from the Mount of Olives as well, and also from a nearby building that is in the army’s hands. It was planned. Organized.
Sheikh al-Almi’s account was entirely imaginary with no basis in reality. The Shin Bet and the Israel Police looked into the matter thoroughly and found that Goodman had acted alone. In an official announcement, the Israeli government expressed its sorrow and apologized for the incident.
It is worth noting here that when, on March 13, 1997, a Jordanian soldier in Naharayim in the Jordan Valley fired on a group of girls from the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh who were touring the area, murdering seven of them, Israel did not even consider accusing the Kingdom of Jordan of organizing and planning the incident. Israel accepted the apology of Jordan’s King Hussein, who expressed sorrow for the massacre in the name of his kingdom. Nor did Israel even consider accusing the Egyptian government of organizing and planning the incident of October 5, 1985, in which an Egyptian soldier opened fire with an automatic weapon at a group of Israeli tourists staying at the Ras Burka resort in Sinai. The soldier, who was part of a regular security consignment in the area, murdered seven Israelis before his companions were able to overcome him.
Just as the Rohan and Goodman incidents were exploited to fan the flames, incite against Israel, and accuse it of plotting to destroy the mosques, the same tack was taken over the years on much less severe matters than attempted attacks on the Temple Mount by Jewish extremists. Sometimes no excuse at all was needed to level such accusations against Israel. Generally, intellectual activity as in conferences, or demonstrations by supporters of Jewish access to the mount – most of whom are not weavers of plots to demolish the mosques but who seek to preserve the Jewish link to the site – sufficed to enable the inciters to concoct a web of conspiracy theories.
Many Muslims have attributed the attempted attacks by Jewish extremists, or the activity of the Temple Mount movements, to the Israeli establishment (rabbinical, political, and security). They have portrayed these institutions as lurking behind the extremist elements. In their view it is all one mechanism in which different actors participate, each playing a different role. For them the facts are of no relevance at all. Over the years the Israeli authorities have foiled several attacks and planned attacks on the mosques by Jewish extremists or disordered people (both Christians and Jews). Even national-religious Jews with a clear, evident affinity to the mount, but who also understand the significance of damaging its mosques, have more than once passed information to the security forces when they feared such a possibility.(37) Nevertheless, the aim of attacking Al-Aksa is almost always attributed to the Israeli state and its institutions.(38)
November 18, 2007. Alaa al-Laqta, Falestin (Hamas), Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
The “Al-Aksa is in danger” libelers also ignore the high price that Israel has paid, both practically and in terms of sentiments and values, to protect the holy places of Islam in Jerusalem. This price has included, as we have seen, religious autonomy for Muslims at the most holy site of the Jewish people, difficult visiting restrictions for Jews, and the prohibition of Jewish prayer at the site. The State of Israel has, moreover, diminished the stature of the Temple Mount and placed the emphasis on the Western Wall, despite the fact that the latter is actually only a retaining wall of the former, while it is the mount that was the focal point of Jewish life for many generations, and the place where the two Temples existed and were destroyed.
In 2000, a few months after the Second Intifada broke out, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most popular muftis in the Muslim world today and the leading religious authority in the eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that “the danger to Al-Aksa is now greater than ever…and hence the Muslims of the world must arise and defend it because it is not the property of the Palestinians alone but of the whole Muslim nation, just as Mecca does not belong to Saudi Arabia alone but to the whole Muslim world.”(39) A short time later the newspaper Al-Asra’a(40) (published by the office of the Palestinian mufti) offered a graphic illustration of Qaradawi’s words: a poster showing a Palestinian child mocking an armed Israeli soldier against the background of the Al-Aksa Mosque. The poster carries the legend: “Safeguarding the Al-Aksa Mosque – the duty of 1,300,000,000 Muslims.” It was disseminated that same year at the Arab Book Fair in Cairo, and a large Muslim public in Egypt and other Muslim countries was exposed to it.(41)
Left: Poster from the website of the Izzadin al-Kassam Brigades with the caption “No to the Judaization of the Al-Aksa Mosque.” (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center) Right: Poster published on Hamas’ website with the heading “For your sake, o Al-Aksa,” from an article of February 6, 2007. Israel is accused of aiming to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosque and build the Temple in its stead.
To the “Al-Aksa is in danger” campaign was added a further motif of recapitulating a seminal event from Jerusalem’s Muslim past – the victory of the commander Saladin over the Crusaders in 1187 at Karnei Hittin, and his subsequent triumphant entry to Jerusalem. The undisguised hope is that in our time, too, another Saladin will arise who will liberate Jerusalem and its holy places from Jewish rule. This theme appears in many works from the time of the intifada, and is widespread up to the present day.
A picture by Rajaa Yusuf Salamat, 12, from Nablus. The “snake,” an anti-Semitic symbol for Jews (in the picture it has a kippa and sidelocks), is trying to swallow the Dome of the Rock as blood drips from its mouth and from the building. Found during Operation Defensive Shield, 2002. (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
Many Muslims perceive Saladin’s expulsion of the Crusaders as analogous to what happened during the intifada: Jerusalem is indeed in the hands of the Jews, not the Christians, but their fate is to be the same. Both are seen as a foreign implantation in the region,(42) and the trauma of the 1967 Six-Day War is analogous to Jerusalem’s conquest by the Crusaders in 1099. At the end of the twentieth century, when the nine hundredth anniversary of Saladin’s triumph was celebrated throughout the Muslim world, the Association of Arab Historians convened in Baghdad to mark the event in honor of Jerusalem. There the sentiments were expressed officially. The conference ended with an announcement on “the need to liberate Jerusalem from the Zionist defilement, as Saladin did when he purified it of the Crusader defilement.”(43)
The new Muslim ethos has also been assimilated in childhood and adolescent education. In a workbook for children, Jimla Natur, a Jerusalem resident who was born before 1948 and spent her girlhood there in the San Simon neighborhood, wrote: “The Crusaders…did not succeed to become part of the region, their kingdom declined and the remnants of the conquerors returned to Europe. We have no doubt. History repeats itself with astonishing precision. Most of the Jews, too, came from Europe…the end of the road for the Zionist state will resemble the fate of the Crusader Kingdom. All we lack is a Saladin of today.”(44)
Also addressing children as a target public for the new ethos was the quiz “Jerusalem in Danger,” published online by the Committee for Islamic Heritage and the Al-Aksa Association for Assistance to the Wakf and Islamic Sites. The two bodies operate from the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm and are linked to the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. As the introduction to the quiz explains:
In this competition you will learn about the dangers that lie in wait for Jerusalem, the Al-Aksa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock. In the competition you will learn about the Jewish schemes to Judaize the city in stages. In the competition you will learn about the enemies of our holy places and the enemies of our faith. In this competition you will learn about the enemy’s attitude toward us. This will help you in building your attitude toward him.
After these introductory words come maxims by different religious sages, and then come the questions themselves. Question 55 expresses to the full, it appears, the outlook of the authors of the quiz. The question describes the archeological excavations that Israel is carrying out near the Temple Mount, and the contestants have to choose among several possibilities, only one of which – or perhaps all of them, the authors say – is right:
The Jewish scheme to build what is called the Temple began:
1. Two months after the intifada
2. After the conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967
3. At the end of the nineteenth century
4. Since the Persian king Cyrus returned the Jews to Jerusalem(45)
The book by Yitzchak Reiter, From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back, notes another activity for the young: a Monopoly game board for children that was purchased in a Muslim neighborhood in Sydney. The title of the game is “The Way to Jerusalem”; at the center of the board is a picture of the Dome of the Rock with a Palestinian flag atop it. The players, who are equipped with different weapons, have to conquer Jerusalem, but first have to take over Eilat, Hebron, and Tel Aviv. Another visual item – the Dome of the Rock with a crying eye at its center – appears on the cover of the book Jerusalem: Faith and History.(46) And these are just a few examples out of thousands of written publications, websites, textbooks for teenagers and adults, newspaper items, sermons, and various media, all of which can be included under the rubric “Al-Aksa is in danger.”
This campaign of fear resonates much more than did the activities of Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini during the Mandate period; it has been internalized to the point that almost no one questions it any longer. In his book Arab Political Myths, published over twenty years ago, Prof. Emanuel Sivan relates the story of Sadik Jalal el-Azm, a young Syrian intellectual whose book Self-Criticism after the Defeat explored the reasons for the calamity that the Arab states suffered at Israel’s hands in the Six-Day War. Al-Azm stirred up a storm in the Muslim world by maintaining that the ultimate source of the defeat was the profound influence of religion on the Arab soul; among other evidence for this point he cited “the Arab obsession with Jerusalem falling into Israel’s hands.” Today, however, even singular phenomena such as that of Sadik Jalal al-Azm have almost ceased to exist. Also extremely anomalous is the position of Abd al-Hadi Palazzi, one of the leaders of the Muslim community in Italy. Palazzi states publicly that the Temple Mount does not have a special status of holiness.(47)
Even a balanced view, as in an article by Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University, is extremely unusual. The article in question presents a historical challenge to the wars that are waged over holy places, and also grants recognition to the Jewish narrative of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Nusseibeh, one of the well-regarded intellectuals in Palestinian society, writes among other things: “The Lord conferred holiness on the land of Canaan, and designated it for the children of Israel; the legendary Temple of Jerusalem was at the spot where the Shekhinah dwelt and there the great priests served the Lord.”(48) Nusseibeh is critical, however, of how people relate to the holy places: “It is hard for me to see how God could feel better when human beings kill and are killed over this holy place and each man destroys his neighbor.” In Nusseibeh’s view, it is human beings themselves who, over time, have raised the level of holiness of places such as the Dome of the Rock or the Kaaba in Mecca.
But opinions such as those of al-Azm, Palazzi, or Nusseibeh are extremely rare. For most of the Muslim world, “Al-Aksa is in danger” is not just a slogan but a reality; a fact that cannot be questioned.