There is much the Islamic Religious Trust, the Waqf, could truthfully complain about concerning Jewish activism at the Temple Mount.
The numbers of “visitors” (identifiable religious Jews are deemed second-class tourists in that they cannot walk about anywhere but must be in small groups, accompanied by several Israeli policemen and policewomen with both overseen by Waqf officials) has grown significantly even though the average time of the circumambulation along the route according to Halachic restrictions is usually 20 or so minutes. Short silent prayers are mumbled under-the-breath and sometimes even a Kaddish can be heard a bit louder. While walking, either the daily Talmudic page is reviewed or another section devoted to the Temple service is gone over by heart all in an atmosphere of stealth.
Occasionally, a youngster will prostrate himself and be removed. Once or twice a year, someone will wave an Israeli flag, shout out the “Shema” declaration or even attempt to sing the “Hatikva” anthem. The acts result in police making arrests, charging the perpetrators and bringing them before the courts. In the Knesset, one or two parliamentarians might rail against the blatant discrimination or even quote a line of the nationalist poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg who devoted much of his literary work to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem.
On the other hand, Israel’s government has consistently refused to initiate any dialogue with Jordan, the custodial country supervising and funding the Palestinian Authority Waqf through its own Waqf Ministry according to the 2013 agreement, especially as regards activating Article 9 of the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty. That Article proclaims, along with Israel respecting Jordan’s “present special role in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem” and that “Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines”, that “Each party will provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance...[and] The Parties will act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions, with the aim of working towards religious understanding, moral commitment, freedom of religious worship, and tolerance and peace.”
It accepts, without casting any doubt on, a narrative that King Abdullah II inherited the custodianship of Jerusalem Muslim and Christian holy sites from his Hashemite forbearers starting with his great-great-grandfather Sheikh Ali, who sought to be Caliph, great-grandfather King Abdullah I, assassinated by a Jerusalem Arab supporter of the Mufti in front of al-Aqsa, and his father Hussein. In 1988, King Hussein excluded East Jerusalem Holy Sites and Waqf properties from the declaration of Jordan’s disengagement with the West Bank, supposedly coordinated with then-PLO President Yasser Arafat. The 1994 peace treaty with Israel and the 2013 Custodianship Agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas was considered to have reaffirmed and defined the scope of the Hashemite Kingdom’s responsibilities.
ISRAEL YIELDED and surrendered on a number of issues over the past half century – from prohibiting any form of Jewish congregational prayer, refusing to engage in archaeology excavations, permitting the Waqf to destroy archaeological artifacts, to deface Jewish historical remains, to issue outlandishly inciteful and antisemitic statements by Waqf officials as well as those by Abbas himself, to tolerate for years the hateful Mourabitoun and its Ribat ideology, to build two new mosques thereby altering unilaterally the status quo, to allow unsupervised renovations at shared Muslim-Jewish sacred sites and even in the field of security, to remove metal detectors at the gates and to uninstall surveillance cameras – among many other retrograde actions. Israel is weak vis a vis Turkey’s re-Ottomanization campaign and his declaration to “liberate Al-Aqsa”.
And now we have Sheikh Ekrima Sabri’s pronouncements of fiction. The head of the “Higher Islamic Council in Occupied Jerusalem,” quoted in Arabic in Al-Quds newspaper on February 1, and published in English at the PIC-Palestine Information Center news website, has warned that Israel “is falsifying history and obliterating the Islamic identity of the city.” As published, he claims that there are “Al-Buraq area diggings aimed at erasing Islamic remains.” These supposed excavations are in al-Buraq Square which itself if a term of historical obliteration in that the area is the Western Wall Square where diggings have revealed the Jewish, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader and Mameluk history of the city. But for Sabri, all this is “but part of old efforts attempting to find signs of Hebrew history in the holy city.” In error, he would have us think that “these excavations started in the 18th century through British archeologist groups that were pretending to search for antiquities, but their real intents were to p
rove any Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”
Furthermore, he suggests that Israel “has kept destroying, hiding or obliterating any Islamic antiquities it finds in an attempt to avenge the failure of its efforts to obtain any evidence proving its entitlement to the holy city.” He fabricates that Israel, in accordance with the Jerusalem/Temple Denial construct of Palestinian propaganda, “has not found a single stone related to the ancient Hebrew history despite the huge excavations and the millions which it has spent to falsify history.”
Buttressed by Jordan and Turkey, supported by UNESCO decisions and other diplomatic posturings, the Waqf have succeeded to promote a false picture not only of the Jewish connection to Mount Moriah, the existence of the two Temples – including mention of them in the Koran(!) – but of the site’s general history. The British Palestine Exploration Fund was founded in 1865, a year after the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem was conducted, not in the 17th century. Charles Warren’s first efforts were done in 1867. Abbas consistently returns to the subject and last June 27 pronounced over the PA’s official television network, “We are here today – with our nation, our peoples, and all of the Muslims and Christians in our region and the world behind us – in order to save Jerusalem and defend it, and to confront the plots that are being woven against it to forge its identity and to change its character.”
By exhibiting lack of respect, being unwilling to coexist, refusing to compromise while denying and falsifying history and religious attachment, and by continuing to separate Judaism and Jews from Jerusalem by speaking only in terms of Islam and Christianity, those senior elements in the Palestinian Authority apparatus have proven and continue to prove that the understanding and goodwill necessary for an eventual overall peace arrangement is still far away.
The writer is a historian of Zionism and political commentator.