Nadav Shragai

Introduction

This book centers on the modern blood libel “Al-Aksa is in danger” – its roots, attributes, and various manifestations. The libel is directed at the State of Israel, the Zionist movement, and the Jewish people. It has become integral to the Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian discourse, accepted by very large numbers as the absolute truth. This book refutes the libel, clarifies its purposes, and warns of the many dangers it poses to relations between Jews and Muslims.

Roots of the Lie

The “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel posits that the State of Israel is working to achieve the collapse of the Temple Mount mosques and build the Third Temple in their stead.(1) The roots of the calumny go back to the days of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, during the 1920s and 1930s, but it has become significantly vitalized in recent years and prevails in the Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian domains.

Inversion of the Truth

Some of the libel’s agents worldwide also use it in the context of the envisioned global Islamic caliphate, whose capital is Jerusalem. This is a vision that threatens numerous countries in Europe, where many Muslim immigrants have recently gone to live. And yet:

1. The calumny that Al-Aksa is endangered is not only groundless. It is, in fact, precisely on the Temple Mount, the most sacred place for the Jewish people and only the third in sanctity for the Muslim religion, that the State of Israel made the greatest concession ever by one religion to another when it relinquished the exercise of the Jewish right to prayer at the location and entrusted its management to the Wakf (Muslim religious endowment) authorities.

2. Over the years the status quo that was established on the Temple Mount in 1967 has eroded to the detriment of the Jewish side. Currently, even Jewish visits to the mount are restricted, while the Muslim prayer areas have expanded appreciably.

3. Furthermore, throughout history the religions and peoples who conquered Jerusalem destroyed the houses of worship of their predecessors and retrofitted them as houses of worship for their own use. That is how Muslims and Christians treated each other when Jerusalem passed from hand to hand.(2) And, for nearly nineteen hundred years,(3) both Muslims and Christians denied the Jews access to their most holy place – the Temple Mount. In contrast, when Israel conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, it left the compound under Muslim religious management and made only a minute correction to the historical iniquity: awarding Jews (and members of other religions) access to the mount, but simultaneously denying their rights to pray there and entrusting only the Western Wall to Jewish management.

Israel Conducts No Excavations under the Temple Mount

Since 1967, the claim that the Al-Aksa Mosque (or the whole compound) was in danger has been voiced every time that Israel has conducted archeological excavations or construction in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. Almost always the complaint has been accompanied by severe incitement, warning that Israel aimed to destroy Al-Aksa (the third most important place of worship in Islam) and summoning the believers to come and physically protect the mosque. On many occasions such incitement has produced disorders and violent incidents.

However, an examination of Muslim claims regarding eight major archeological sites within a radius of a kilometer from the Temple Mount reveals that these charges have no basis in reality.

Furthermore, throughout all the years it has ruled over united Jerusalem and its holy sites, Israel has carefully avoided conducting archeological digs under the mount. The excavations have taken place alongside the walls of the mount, or at a distance of scores or hundreds of meters from these walls. Only on one occasion, in 1981, did an excavation verge under the mount and even then its objective was not, of course, to topple the mosques. This excavation was halted at the behest of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the original status was restored.

Manifestations of the Libel

Yet, even though the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel is totally ludicrous, and some of its disseminators know it, today millions of Muslims throughout the world accept it as the truth, and the response to it has long exceeded any rational boundaries. The manifestations of the libel are manifold and severe, and they greatly intensify hatred, fear, and enmity between Israel and the Arab world.

Often the libel involves severe incitement, with threats of jihad, war, and bloodshed. Cartoons show snakes and octopuses decorated with Jewish symbols enfolding the mosque or climbing on top of it. Sometimes the libel depicts Jews in the spirit of Der Sturmer, digging like mice or weasels under the Temple Mount mosques. Israel has been accused of seeking to create an artificial earthquake that will level the mosques. Senior Muslim or Palestinian clerics or statesmen periodically announce that they will not hesitate to “sacrifice innocent and pure blood” to protect Al-Aksa or even commit martyrdom themselves in the face of the danger. The libel incorporates explicit anti-Semitic motifs, including some appropriated from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, regarding Jewish plots to take over not only Palestine but the entire world.

Israel Prevents Damage to the Mosques, Yet Is Accused of Damaging Them

The height of absurdity is reached when Israel’s security authorities, who work unceasingly to protect the Temple Mount mosques and their integrity, are often accused of abetting and even initiating actions aimed at harming the mosques. Examples include the fire at Al-Aksa in 1969, or Alan Goodman’s shooting attack on the mount in 1982. Such incidents, spawned by Jewish or Christian extremists whom the State of Israel arrests, tries, and imprisons, are exploited by Muslims to organize massive fundraising campaigns for the mosques and their courtyards and to incite against Israel and the Jewish people.

Many Muslims do not distinguish between the State of Israel, whose governmental arms do everything to protect the Temple Mount mosques, and extreme, marginal Jewish actors who seek to damage them. They conflate the extremists with legitimate efforts to foster awareness of the Temple Mount (devoid of any intentions to harm the mosques). This view has no basis in reality. The result is a mיlange of wild fantasies, historical distortions, and politically motivated fraud.

Agents of the Libel

The clear inheritor of the Grand Mufti, who devised the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel eighty years ago, is the head of the northern branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah. He and his movement are responsible for the significant physical alterations on the Temple Mount since 1967: the building of two giant new underground mosques at the southeastern corner of the mount, in Solomon’s Stables, and in the recesses of the passage of the Hulda Gates. The latter, built under the Al-Aksa Mosque itself, is also called “ancient Al-Aksa.”

Salah has often called for “sacrificing lives to defend Al-Aksa” and uses idioms such as “our blood is still on their clothes, on their doors, in their food and drink,” and “bread soaked in the blood of children.” He calls for the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate whose capital is Jerusalem. Salah shares this dream or parts of it with actors such as Hamas, Hizbullah, Al-Qaeda, and the Iranian regime, which also disseminate the libel that Al-Aksa is in danger.

Salah’s claim that Israel is intending to destroy the mosque and build the Third Temple in its stead was rejected by the Or Commission, a panel that Israel established to investigate the October 2000 disturbances on the mount and elsewhere. Regarding Salah, the commission wrote, among other things: “His statements on this matter were intended to garner political capital, recruit supporters and accentuate struggles….He acted to stir up the Arab public against a supposed intention of the Israeli government to replace the Al-Aksa mosques(4) with a Jewish Temple – an intention that had no connection whatsoever to reality.”(5)

These statements by the commission, which included an Israeli Arab justice, apply as well to many others who propagate the libel and incitement. For instance, former Member of Knesset Abd al-Malik Dehamshe expressed his willingness to be the first martyr in defense of Islam’s holy places in Jerusalem, lauding “souls…yearning to die a martyr’s death for the sake of defending Al-Aksa and blessed Jerusalem.”(6)

The Purpose of the Libel

The purpose of the libel, first aired in the 1920s, has been and remains to enhance Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the Muslim and Palestinian myth, unite the Muslim world around this motif, and to exalt the status of Palestinian and Arab clerics and political leaders who make regular use of it. Salah himself admitted that his use of the libel has opened many doors for him and his movement, describing his involvement with these matters as not only essential but also instrumental. Indeed, the frequency and intensity with which the libel is raised has transformed it into factual truth for millions of Muslims.

Israel’s Mild Approach

A comparison between the measures Western countries such as the United States and Britain, or Muslim states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, have taken against incitement in mosques, and the way Israel treats incitement in the Temple Mount mosques, reveals that Israel practices extreme liberality and forbearance toward Muslim clerics on the mount. It does so despite severe incitement to violence against the Jewish people, the Zionist movement, and the State of Israel that issues from these mosques.

The Al-Aksa Mosque Courtyards as a Terror Base

The “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel, the summons to come and defend it even at the sacrifice of one’s life, and the language used to make the messages even more extreme have occasionally resulted in the Temple Mount mosques being employed for actual terror purposes. Over the years a number of terrorist squads have used these mosques to plan deadly attacks. One example is the Silwan squad, who in 1986 threw hand grenades at Israeli soldiers near the Dung Gate in the Old City. Others include the abductors and murderers of three policemen during 1992-1993, and the squad that in 2008 planned to set up an infrastructure for Al-Qaeda and even to shoot down President Bush’s helicopter during his visit to Jerusalem. The Temple Mount and its mosques also were used for purposes of terror and violence in the First and Second Intifadas. While this activity was not, of course, coordinated with the local religious authorities, in the atmosphere of incitement the terror activists felt themselves at home.

Rewriting the History of Jerusalem

In recent years the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel has been interwoven with the reconstruction of the Arab-Islamic case for Jerusalem. This is achieved by rewriting the Islamic and Arab history of the city. The new narrative centers on claims that the Arabs ruled Jerusalem for many years before the Jewish people’s arrival, and that the Al-Aksa Mosque was built before the establishment of the Temple. This has gone hand in hand with the total negation of the Jewish-Zionist narrative concerning Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, including the de-Judaization of the mount, the Western Wall, and Jerusalem in general, and the denial that the Temple even existed.

These new narratives totally contradict what modern research knows about the Jewish and Muslim history of Jerusalem as well as what the Muslims themselves have documented in their writings over the past few hundred years.

Muslim Construction Has Endangered the Temple Mount

Over the past decade, after years in which Islamic bodies throughout the world have accused Israel of trying to cause the collapse of the Temple Mount mosques, a tangible danger of collapse of the southeastern portion of the mount and damage to the Al-Aksa Mosque has been created precisely by copious Muslim building activity in this part of the mount, along with the renovating of Solomon’s Stables to serve as an underground mosque.

Ironically, the Muslims at first denied this danger, and also placed many obstacles in the path of the Israeli authorities who attempted to deal with it. At the same time, the handling of ancient recesses, revealed over the years by Israeli archeological excavations under Arab residential areas of the Old City, in many cases saved the homes above from sinking and collapsing. Crooked domes, on which entire residential areas leaned, received support. Cesspools that drained waste into these cavities and ancient halls were replaced with sewage systems.

In certain cases some of the homeowners, when asked to consent to the Israeli authorities rehabilitating (gratis) the sewage and sanitation systems that undermined the foundations of their homes, made this consent conditional on a comprehensive renewal of their homes and apartments. In effect, these homeowners extorted the Israeli authorities in return for their consent to install proper sewage systems that would prevent damage to their homes as well as to antiquities and cultural treasures buried below.

Muslim Religious Officials Have Attacked Israel Publicly and Praised It in Secret

Over the years delegations of Muslim clerics, including the heads of the Wakf and the Supreme Muslim Council, visited the archeological excavations along the Western Wall and the Southern Wall, surreptitiously. In fact, their reactions on those occasions were positive and totally contradicted the public attacks on Israel and accusations of aiming to topple the Temple Mount mosques. During these visits the Muslim religious leaders expressed fear that their positions would be exposed to the public. In at least one case, a Muslim professional lost his job after publicly expressing his favorable evaluation of the Israeli excavations.

Israel’s Archeological Excavations Are an Illustrious Scientific and Cultural Endeavor

The archeological excavations that Israel has conducted over the years in the vicinity of the Temple Mount are an illustrious scientific and cultural project, done with professional and engineering supervision as well as strict safety precautions. The excavations took place openly, and experts from various fields throughout the world – including UNESCO(7) personnel – visited them. The results of these excavations have allowed devotees of culture, science, and religion, and members of all communities, Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, to study them, identify with them, and bond with their past. The Israeli archeologists’ work has also contributed significantly to the knowledge and study of the golden age of Islam in Palestine. Especially noteworthy is the discovery of the palaces of the Umayyad Dynasty south of the Temple Mount. It is, however, most natural that Israel, the state of the Jewish people, has not remained indifferent to findings from ancient periods that coincide with Jewish historical sources and religious writings, and that such findings have had an impact on the public.