Bridge over troubled water

The Mughrabi bridge controversy distracts attention from the Palestinians' internal strife.

temple mount bridge  (photo credit: Channel 2)
temple mount bridge
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Palestinian leaders, whether from Fatah or Hamas, have been keen to find an excuse to divert attention from their internal problems. So it is not surprising that many have jumped on Israel's reconstruction of an access bridge to Jerusalem's Temple Mount. It was the perfect red-herring issue for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who held a much-touted "national unity" summit in Mecca yesterday. "Israel, which today is playing with fire when it touches Al-Aksa, knows the consequences," Mashaal said before leaving for Saudi Arabia. PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas echoed these calls: "The continued Israeli aggression against Al-Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem require all Palestinians to unite and remember that our battle is with the occupation." Muslim leaders in Israel have also been quick to condemn the Antiquities Authority salvage excavation ahead of the bridge's construction. The dig began yesterday under a heavy police presence, sparking outrage from the Wakf (Islamic trust), which oversees the Temple Mount compound. "This is a very dangerous project that will damage things of great historical value in this very sensitive place," Wakf director Adnan Husseini warned. This is hutzpa, given that the Wakf itself removed earth from the Mount itself by the truckload, without proper archeological supervision, as it expanded the mosque there. Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah urged Muslims to converge on Jerusalem to protect Al-Aksa. "The danger in Jerusalem has increased," the fiery sheikh said, adding a clear incitement to violence: "It is high time for the intifada of the Islamic people." The truth, of course, is that the bridge is simply a pedestrian walkway replacing the stone ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate that partially collapsed in a storm three years ago and was deemed unsafe by city engineers. By law, the Antiquities Authority is required to carry out a salvage excavation before any construction at the site. Yuval Baruch, the authority's chief archeologist for Jerusalem, said the dig was at least 60 meters from the Mount. "We invite everyone to come see," he told Israel Radio. "We are working under the open sky and have nothing to hide." The Prime Minister's Office stated what anyone who bothers to look can see: "The construction of the bridge, located in its entirety outside the Temple Mount, has no impact on the Mount itself, and certainly poses no danger to it." Palestinian leaders are plainly seeking to use this nonevent to reignite memories of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, which was used to catalyze the second intifada. They evidently also see a Palestinian interest in a rerun of the violent clashes of 1996, after a second exit to the Western Wall tunnel was opened. Palestinians falsely claim the entire project is a clandestine Israeli plot to dig under and cause damage to the Al-Aksa Mosque. Actually, Palestinian leaders are merely exploiting the issue for political purposes, in an attempt to redirect hostility against Israel in the midst of a bloody internal conflict. Such exploitation, so widely endorsed by the Palestinian leadership, is dismaying, if sadly unsurprising. Cynical appeals for a renewed intifada and violent resistance discredit the purported Palestinian moderates, who are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with extremists' efforts to whip up hostility. Such appeals can only cause more bloodshed and despair. Any real concerns about the salvage and building work should, and patently could, be handled appropriately and calmly, through open dialogue and constructive debate.