Exploiting Religion in Jerusalem Events of Recent Days Replayed the Violence of 1929

Article excerpt

Last week Jerusalem suffered once again from those who would divert those who love her from spiritual to political concerns. When Israeli authorities opened a second entrance to a 2,200-year-old tunnel that runs adjacent to the ancient Temple Mount, Yasser Arafat manipulated the longstanding Muslim fear that the Jews will one day attempt to drive them from the mosques they have built there. He declared that the tunnel was part of a "Zionist plot" to undermine the foundations of the Al-Aqsa mosque and usurp the Temple Mount area.

That was an incendiary lie, and Mr. Arafat knew it. The maintenance of all Islamic property rights to the sites and shrines they consider holy has been one great constant of Israeli rule over the Temple Mount since it passed to Israeli rule in June 1967.

Throughout Jerusalem, Israeli policy has been fixed and unchanged. The holy places remain under the religious authorities who possessed them before the 1967 war. Arafat tapped into a deep well of insecurity about the rights of Islam to the site where Solomon built his temple. Israel's record of respecting these rights has never been accepted at face value. The fear has lingered that one day the Jews will blow up the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque and rebuild the Jewish Temple. Once Arafat unleashed the dormant passion of religious hatred, he could not stop its fury. 'A crime against God' On Friday, Muhammad Hussein, who delivered the morning sermon at the mosque, proclaimed that the opening of the new entrance to the tunnel was "a crime against God." He appealed to his listeners as a matter of "religious duty" to "defend Al-Aqsa." The fact that this tunnel, used to bring drinking water to the residents of Jerusalem, was in existence 800 years before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad only increases Muslim anxiety about their rights to the Temple Mount. Arafat's charge let loose powerful anti-Jewish sentiments among many Muslims. In Nablus, a West Bank city no longer under Israeli occupation, Palestinian demonstrators attacked the reputed tomb of Joseph, son of Abraham. Six Israeli soldiers guarding this historic Jewish shrine were killed, and the Palestinian mob who murdered them then set fire to the Hebrew prayer books. Though the public and the media often appear to have no time for history lessons, it is important to recall that, once before in this century, a similar lie was told to obtain the same result. The speaker was the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. On Aug. 24, 1929, in the midst of an ongoing dispute about Jewish rights to settle in Palestine, he preached in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa mosque that the mosque needed protection from Jewish attack. …

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