Incitement Watch - Flashpoint: Al Aksa
Posted: August 24, 2005
The Temple Mount -- upon which the Temple of Solomon stood 2500 years ago and where the Al Aksa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, stands today -- has been a flashpoint for conflict since the early days of the Arab-Israeli struggle. Since the 1920's Muslim leaders have warned of alleged Jewish attempts to "Judaize" the mount and destroy the Al Aksa Mosque. These claims played a major role in inciting Arabs across pre-state Palestine to riot in 1929, killing more than 100 Jews and eliminating the old Jewish community of Hebron. More recently, in 1996 the opening of a passage to an ancient underground water canal in the vicinity of the Temple Mount to tourists caused large scale riots in the West Bank and in 2000 a visit to the compound by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon triggered the second intifada, referred to by Palestinians as Al Aksa Intifada. In both of these cases evidence suggests that the Palestinian leadership exploited the religious sensitivities of their followers to encourage the violence. In addition, a 1969 arson by an Australian Christian fundamentalist is often cited by Palestinians and Muslims as an Israeli act of aggression against the mosque.
Though Israel guaranteed the right of Muslims to worship at the Al Aksa Mosque after it conquered the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, and only interfered with the management of the mount in order to provide security, Arab and Muslim propagandists have continued to allege the existence of Jewish plots to dominate the Temple Mount. The pronouncements in recent years of radical fringe groups of Jewish extremists who decry the existence of the Al Aksa Mosque on the spot of the ancient Jewish Temple give plausibility to these claims, but in light of the Israel's decades-long successful effort to protect and secure the mount to Muslims, such allegations can only be seen as cynical attempts by Arab and Muslim leaders to maintain anti-Israel sentiment at a fever-pitch across the far-flung Islamic world.
In 2001 Israeli president, Moshe Katzav, has expressed Israel's commitment to safeguarding Muslim rights and castigated those who claim Al Aksa is in danger. In a speech to new appointees to the Israeli Sharia courts (which are authorized by Israel to preside over cases of personal matters between Muslims), Katzav said:
"I guarantee that the Al Aksa Mosque, as well as all other places that are holy to Muslims will for ever stay consecrated for Islam; no one will offend the freedom of religion and practiceâ€¦. Whoever says that Al Aksa Mosque is in danger is a provocateur whose only hope is to cause a rift between Jews and Arabs. The state [of Israel] belongs to all of us; it's the job of all of us to protect it, to care for it and to guarantee full rights to all its residents."