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. …