by Petra Marquardt-Bigman
“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”
“Temple denial has become a central tenet of Palestinian nationalism.”
That observation can be found at the beginning of the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). What was true when UNESCO was established shortly after the end of a devastating world war remains true seven decades later, when UNESCO is busy fanning the flames of religious passions that could set all of the Middle East ablaze. With its recently-passed resolution that deliberately ignores the Jewish—and therefore also the Christian—connection to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, UNESCO has effectively endorsed the views of Mohammed Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who threatened a few years ago: “If the Israelis come here [to the Temple Mount] it will be more than an intifada…The whole region will be engulfed by war.” A year ago, the Grand Mufti repeated this threat, adding ominously that violence could “reach the entire world” if Jews, or any non-Muslims, were ever allowed to pray anywhere at “the al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” i.e. the entire Temple Mount esplanade.
It was also a year ago that the Grand Mufti asserted in an interview with an Israeli TV program that there had never been a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount, while the al-Aqsa mosque had been there “3,000 years ago, and 30,000 years ago…since the creation of the world.” As absurd as this may sound to Western ears considering the archaeological evidence to the contrary, it is important to understand that “Temple denial” is no fringe view among Palestinians and Muslims in general: The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was not the least bit embarrassed to deny the historic existence of the Jewish temples in Jerusalem during the Camp David negotiations in July 2000, and his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as other Palestinian officials and religious leaders have repeated similar claims often enough to justify the conclusion, as the author Daniel Levin wrote in The Forward in 2009, that “Temple denial has become a central tenet of Palestinian nationalism.”
But while Temple denial has become popular in recent decades, the usefulness of inciting religious passions to mobilize Muslims for the fight against Jews and Zionism was first realized by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the notorious Palestinian leader whose alliance with Nazi Germany eventually earned him the epithet “Hitler’s Mufti.” Husseini started his career as a political and religious leader in the 1920s with an ambitious campaign to raise funds for the renovation of the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount, which were in utter disrepair because the Muslim rulers of the Ottoman Empire allowed Jerusalem to languish for centuries as a neglected backwater. In order to convince potential donors of the importance of his project, Husseini claimed that Zionism envisaged the “rebuilding of the Temple that is called Solomon’s Temple in place of the blessed Al-Aksa Mosque and the conducting of religious worship in it.” Soon enough, this utterly spurious accusation was used not just to raise funds, but also to incite deadly violence against the Jews—a tactic that has by now cost thousands of Jewish lives, starting with the murderous Arab riots of 1929, to the bloody “Al-Aqsa intifada” in the early 2000s and the wave of recent terror attacks.
Some of the rhetoric that was used in the late 1920s to incite violence against Jews is not all that different from the tenor of the recent UNESCO resolution. In October 1928, the Muslim Supreme Council, which was headed by Husseini, accused the Jews of “competition with the Moslems for the Holy Burak, the Western Wall of the Mosque Al-Aqsa,” and declared:
Having realized by bitter experience the unlimited greedy aspirations of the Jews in this respect, Moslems believe that the Jews’ aim is to take possession of the Mosque of Al-Aqsa gradually on the pretence that it is the Temple, by starting with the Western Wall of this place, which is an inseparable part of the Mosque of Al-Aqsa.Almost 90 years later, UNESCO echoes this incitement: the text [PDF] of the resolution refers to the Western Wall plaza only in scare quotes while pretending the site is really the “Al-Buraq Plaza;” the Temple Mount is exclusively referred to as “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” which is described in its entirety as “a Muslim holy site of worship.” Similar to the term “Al-Aqsa mosque compound”—a term that is regularly used by Al Jazeera to denote all of the Temple Mount—UNESCO’s exclusive use of “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif” fails to distinguish between the actual al-Aqsa Mosque building at the southern edge of the Temple Mount and the rest of the vast platform. But if all the Temple Mount is “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif” (or the “al-Aqsa Mosque compound”), and if all of it is “a Muslim holy site of worship,” then the presence of any Jew or any non-Muslim anywhere on the Temple Mount quickly becomes an intolerable provocation that UNESCO sternly denounces as “continuous Israeli aggressions.”
The praise UNESCO received from Izzat al-Risheq, a spokesman for the Islamist terror group Hamas, was therefore well-deserved: “We commend the vote at the UNESCO that denied any historic claims between Jews and the al-Aqsa Mosque and its Western Wall.” Likewise, Abbas can now rightly feel validated by UNESCO in his view that the Jews must not be allowed “to defile” al-Aqsa “with their filthy feet” and that “every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem…is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah.” And while UNESCO denounces “continuous Israeli aggressions,” the supposedly “moderate” Grand Mufti Abbas appointed ten years ago has not only denied the existence of Jewish temples and repeatedly threatened war in order to assert exclusive Muslim control of the Temple Mount, but he has also endorsed suicide bombings and approvingly quoted the infamous Islamic prophecy that features prominently in the Hamas charter, because it envisages a divinely ordained apocalyptical battle in which Muslims kill almost all Jews.
Palestinian views on these issues haven’t changed all that much since the days of the notorious Haj Amin al-Husseini, and with its recently adopted resolution, UNESCO has rewarded almost a century of Palestinian intransigence and deadly incitement.
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