Not that it needed to be demonstrated again, but the recent death of Iyad al-Halak at the hands of Border Police provides additional proof for Nadav Shragai’s thesis that the libel of an endangered al-Aqsa Mosque serves not only as a prime motivator for terrorism, but also as a powerful magnet for spinning any event – even when there is no real linkage. Within hours of the death of the young man with special needs from east Jerusalem, a photo of Halak with the al-Aqsa dome in the background was being shared like wildfire on Palestinian sites and social media. His mourning mother wanted her son’s body to be brought to the mosque prior to his funeral. What had happened? Halak, on his way to Jerusalem’s Elwyn school for children and adults with disabilities, died in the Old City after being shot by Border Police officers who noticed a “suspicious item” in his hands. Halak then fled – seemingly out of fear – giving the appearance of an armed terrorist. As it turned out, Halak had nothing to do with terrorism and had never been involved in acts of violence, but his name and picture were added with lightning speed to the long list of “martyrs” who died for al-Aqsa. Shragai, a journalist for the past four decades at Haaretz and then Israel Hayom, has just released Al-Aqsa Terror – From Libel to Blood, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Sella Meir Publishing House. In it, he tracks the history of terror acts perpetrated in the name of the legendary al-Aqsa libel.A senior researcher at the JCPA, Shragai spent nearly half a decade retracing the long list of terrorist acts committed in the name of the mosque – considered the third-holiest site in Islam – also showing the roots of this bloody belief. According to his findings, the agenda of the Palestinians and their leadership, to obligate every believer to be ready to give their own life for the sake of the site, has become so central that even Palestinians who were not involved in this saga were “drafted” into it when they died.“The first four years of the 2000s,” writes Shragai in his introduction, “the al-Aqsa Intifada was a harsh reminder of the bloody events that occurred before the creation of the State of Israel, during the late 1920s and 1930s under the leadership of the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Just as then, it all started this time again (in 2000) from the Temple Mount – under the slogan ‘Al-Aqsa is in danger.’” Asked about the role of Israeli Arabs in this, compared to the Palestinians in east Jerusalem and under the Palestinian Authority, Shragai says that while he cannot number them among others, “there has been, all these years, a reciprocal impact – even before mentioning the deep influence of the Israeli Northern Islamic movement, headed by Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, formerly the mayor of Umm al-Fahm, an Israeli-Arab city and for the past 20 years or so, one of the most outspoken voices driving the [al-Aqsa] myth and its results in terms of terror acts.”Critical examination of the many terror acts perpetrated for years in the name of the mosque leads to two major conclusions. First, Palestinians who committed terror acts or were involved in incidents with the security forces had a wide range of motivations. Second, the unceasing erosion of the famous status quo regarding the situation on the Temple Mount – which according to Shragai, is the result of Israel’s official and unofficial positions toward the site – may be a major reason for this situation.“After the Six Day War, the Arabs here were sure that Israel would take charge of the Temple Mount. It was Moshe Dayan who renounced it. Instead of ruling it shared by the two sides, like in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, he disregarded the religious and national importance of the site for the Jews. What wasn’t implemented then could not, obviously, be accepted later.” Shragai adds that contrary to public opinion in the Arab world, the status quo has been undermined – but not to the advantage of the Jewish side. “I am not in favor of any violent act, but allowing more Israelis to visit our prime holiest site would be the right thing. It has to become a natural act, especially now that it is accepted by many religious circles that once forbade it for religious reasons. There must be a continuous presence of Jews on the Temple Mount – and it shouldn’t be considered as an act of provocation, simply an act of natural faith.” Shragai found that Palestinian men and women who perpetrated isolated acts of terror achieved an elevated status in their community and in the general Muslim world, as soon as they died. Placing the mosque centrally in current discourse of the Palestinians fortifies their status in the Arab and Muslim world. “Being part of this saga consolidates their identity. Once they present themselves as the protectors of al-Aqsa from the Jews who want to destroy it, is not only a truth not to be challenged, it opens a gate to be part of something so important that none of them has questioned the validity of this threat, ever.”One of the interesting findings of Shragai’s book is that in many cases, Palestinians who were never connected to terrorist ideology or organizations, yet nevertheless perpetrated isolated acts, were immediately included in the pantheon of al-Aqsa martyrs. In some cases, the mentally ill were not highly considered in their own society, but once they stabbed a Jew or a security force member who died as a result, they became “shahids” (martyrs) – garnering respect for themselves and their families overnight.Shragai finds some hope for better days to come. “The voices – Arab, Muslim and Palestinian – that condemn the terror and the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” call are not many, but they include a few Israeli Arabs as well as Arab leaders like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Some of them condemn the misuse of Islam and others believe that the problem is in Islam, which needs reform – but they exist, and they are seeds of hope.”Discreet efforts to include representatives of Saudi Arabia on the board of al-Aqsa seem close to fruition; this hopeful move would bring some moderate voices to this sensitive place.