PA removes controversial Kotel report from website

Move comes after Israel, US condemn 'study' claiming Kotel is not holy to Jews; PA ministry claims post taken down by hackers.

kotel plaza 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kotel plaza 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A Palestinian Authority “study” that rejects Jews’ claim to the Western Wall disappeared on Wednesday from the official website of the Palestinian Ministry of Information.
The ministry said in a statement in Arabic that its website had been “penetrated by unknown persons.”
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However, a senior PA official in Ramallah revealed that the controversial report was cut at the request of the United States.
The ministry said that despite the alleged attack by hackers, it was “determined to show the truth and relay all what’s happening in Palestine to the world.”
Despite the claim about a hacker attack, the ministry’s website did not seem to be affected at all and was continuing to publish new material all day.
The paper about the Western Wall, which was first reported by The Jerusalem Post on November 22, had appeared on the site until Tuesday night.
It was removed the first time almost immediately after the US criticized the Palestinians for issuing it.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded to the PA’s decision to take down its “study” denying any Jewish connection to the Western Wall off the website, by saying it was notenough for the PA to pretend this never happened, but was important that the leadership denounce it publicly.
“It is important for confidence building that the Palestinian Authority publicly prepare people for peace and reconciliation, and that can only be done if Palestinian leaders publicly disassociate themselves from such remarks and condemn all statements that call Israel fundamentally illegitimate,” one official in the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“As long as the Jewish state remains illegitimate in Palestinian eyes, peace will not be real,” he said.
Although Israel denounced the “study” and called for the Palestinian leadership to disassociate itself from it immediately after news of it appeared in the Post, the PA only took it off its website after the Americans registered a public protest. Israeli sources said this was not a good sign, since the Middle East road map obligates the PA to fight incitement, and the issue “must be important to them.”
The “study” was prepared by Al-Mutawakel Taha, a senior official with the Ministry of Information in Ramallah and a renowned poet and writer with close ties to the PA leadership.
Taha’s paper claimed that the Western Wall, or Al-Buraq Wall as it is known to Muslims, is Wakf trust property owned by an Algerian-Moroccan Muslim family.
“The Zionist occupation falsely and unjustly claims that it owns this wall that it calls the Western Wall or Kotel,” Taha wrote in his document.
“The Al-Buraq Wall is in fact the western wall of the Aksa Mosque.”
He said that Jews never used the site for worship until the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
“This wall was never part of the so-called Temple Mount, but Muslim tolerance allowed the Jews to stand in front of it and weep over its destruction,” he wrote.
“During the British Mandate in Palestine, the number of Jews who visited the wall increased to a point where the Muslims felt threatened and then there was the Al-Buraq Revolution on August 23, 1929, where dozens of Muslims were martyred and a large number of Jews were killed.”
Taha said on Wednesday that he was not aware that his “study” had been removed from the ministry’s website. He also backtracked on his earlier assertion that it reflected the official position of the PA.
The US on Tuesday night again criticized the document.
“We strongly condemn these comments and fully reject them as factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative,” a US State Department spokesman said.
“We have repeatedly raised with the Palestinian Authority leadership the need to consistently combat all forms of delegitimization of Israel, including denying historic Jewish connections to the land.”
The chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), also decried Taha’s claim, calling it “provocative and inciteful.”
“I strongly condemn the [claim] that the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem has no religious significance to Jews,” Berman said.
“[The PA’s] President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad know the spiritual importance of the Western Wall to the global Jewish community,” he said, calling on Abbas to denounce Taha’s study and clarify that the remarks were not the official position of the PA.
Jewish leaders applauded the US administration’s strong stance on the Western Wall.
In a statement, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations leaders Alan Solow and Malcolm Hoenlein said the Palestinian claim is one that “undermine[ s] the chances for peace.”
“This ongoing process of delegitimization of Israel and the ancient Jewish connection to the land is part of an ongoing campaign that damages confidence in the willingness of the PA to negotiate a solution that accepts Israel,” they said in a statement.
Many US Jewish groups also reiterated the historical inaccuracy of the Palestinian report.
“Maintaining historical accuracy and integrity is critical, and the Western Wall’s origin as the outer wall of the Jewish Second Temple is irrefutable,” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites Shmuel Rabinovitch praised the US reactions to the PA announcement, which, he added, “distorted history and claimed the Western Wall is not a site sanctified to the Jews.”
“The foolish attempt to offer an alternative historical narrative to the sanctities of Israel damaged not only the speakers’ reliability and the dignity of history, but primarily the efforts to bring peace to the Middle East,” Rabinovitch said in a statement.
Jonah Mandel and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.

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