February 18, 2007 - About three years ago a pedestrian ramp leading to the Temple Mount was damaged by a snowstorm, making it unsafe. The Israeli Government finally decided to start repairs this month. Construction began on a walkway to replace the damaged ramp. In compliance with the law, the Israeli Antiquities Authority also conducted a salvage excavation to preserve any archaeological artifacts that might be found in the area.
These excavations were taking place outside the Temple Mount and at a distance of over 75 yards away from it. They were no danger to any of the mosques or holy sites. Nevertheless Muslim reaction was vehement.
Muslim leaders condemned the "Jewish assault of the Mosque" and accused Jews of trying to undermine the foundation of the al-Aqsa mosque to prepare for the building of a third Temple.
Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, a leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, proclaimed: "The aggression happening now is a tragedy and a crime." He accused Israel of starting "a regional, religious war."
Muhammad Hussein, Jerusalem's highest Muslim cleric, said that "What is happening is an aggression. We call on the Palestinian people to unite and protect Jerusalem."
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, called upon all Muslims to "retaliate" and make Israel "regret" its actions.
After Friday prayers Muslim worshipers started throwing rocks at police.
At the Mount of Olives, Palestinian protesters attacked with rocks a bus carrying Canadian tourists.
Palestinian terrorists, claiming retaliation against the archaeological work, fired rockets from Gaza into Israeli cities.
And amid this violence and intimidation came calls from many sources that the Israelis - and not the Arabs - should desist.
How should we understand this Muslim sensitivity to the integrity of holy places?
Only since 1967, after Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, have Muslims, Christians, and Jews enjoyed free access to their holy sites. Before 1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian control, Jewish synagogues and cemeteries were desecrated, and Jews were not allowed to visit the Western Wall, a remnant of Herod's Temple. In 1967, out of respect for Muslim religious sensitivities, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan handed the keys to the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that administers the holy sites on the Haram ash-Sharif ("Noble Sanctuary"), the term by which the Temple Mount is known to Muslims.
How have Muslims returned the gesture? Here are some examples of how Muslims have treated Jewish holy places:
The Muslim Waqf, zealous in defense against threats to mosques whether real or imagined, has treated Jewish antiquities with consistent disregard.
Around the world there is little awareness of these offenses. Yet everybody knows that cartoons of Muhammad were published in a Danish newspaper.
It seems the world will take notice and react only to a threat of violence.
Such threats continue to resound. Sheikh Salah has called for an "intifada" against the Temple Mount excavation. And Mohammed el-Katatny, a member of the Egyptian Parliament and President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party, announced to an angry assembly: "That cursed Israel is trying to destroy al-Aqsa mosque.... Nothing will work with Israel except for a nuclear bomb that wipes it out of existence."
The hypocrisy of Muslim reaction to the Israeli repair work seems obvious. What it actually signifies may not be so obvious. It must be understood against the background of Muslim efforts to delegitimize Israel by denying any historic connection between Jews and the Holy Land.
Muslims have politicized archaeology by destroying Jewish artifacts, then saying there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This is just part of a larger effort to portray Jews as alien invaders who don't belong in greater Palestine and who must be thrown out. Elsewhere Arabs employ the strategy of accusing Israelis of precisely the crimes of which they themselves are guilty ("terrorism," "genocide"), and they do the same thing with archaeology. The Arabs have committed real archaeological crimes. Yet not only are they unrepentant, they accuse Israelis of doing what they themselves have done.
One example is Nadia Abu El-Haj, formerly Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and now teaching at Barnard College, who writes in her book Facts on the Ground (pp. 280-281):
Archaeology emerged as a central scientific discipline because of the manner in which colonial settlement was configured in a language of, and a belief in, Jewish national return. In producing the material signs of national history that became visible and were witnessed across the contemporary landscape, archaeology repeatedly remade the colony into an ever-expanding national terrain. It substantiated the nation in history and produced Eretz Israel as the national home. It is within the context of that distinctive history of archaeological practice and settler nationhood that one can understand why it was that “thousands of Palestinians stormed the site” of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, looting it and setting it alight during the renewed intifada that rocked Palestine and Israel in the fall of 2000.... Joseph’s Tomb was not destroyed simply because of its status as a Jewish religious shrine. The symbolic resonance of its destruction reaches far deeper than that. It needs to be understood in relation to a colonial-national history in which modern political rights have been substantiated in and expanded through the material signs of historic presence. In destroying the tomb, Palestinian demonstrators eradicated one “fact on the ground.” Archaeology remains salient in this world of ongoing contestation. It is a sign of colonial presence and national rights, of secularism and science, as various groups in Palestine and Israel engage in struggles to (re)configure the Israel and polity and to determine its territorial limits.
In other words, archaeology is a Jewish contrivance that became a propaganda tool to produce a Jewish national home and "settler nation." Therefore Palestinians were justified in destroying Joseph's Tomb, because by doing so they were really resisting colonialism. Describing Israel as a "colonial settlement," El-Haj defends the destruction of archaeological evidence ("facts on the ground") as a political act.
Joseph's Tomb was not the only "fact on the ground" that Muslims eradicated. They eradicated many facts on the ground, Jewish artifacts, and over every site sacred to Jews they built a mosque. This is religious supremacy and cultural warfare. It is an assertion of the belief that Islam is meant to dominate other faiths, and that the proper role of Jews and all non-Muslims in the Muslim world is to be dhimmi, subservient subjects who know and stay in their place.
What did the Jewish archaeologists do? They contributed to the store of scientific knowledge by discovering artifacts supporting Jewish and Christian as well as Islamic history. The controversy affects Christians as well, for if there had never been a Temple in Jerusalem, then Jesus could not have preached in the Temple nor thrown out the money changers. The religious supremacy of exclusionist Islam affects all other faiths. It cannot abide any challenge to the notion of Jerusalem as an eternally and exclusively Muslim city. Apparently some Muslims are so threatened by the idea that Jews had a history in Israel that they consider it an act of colonialist oppression or even heresy, deserving a violent response.
Unlike their Muslim counterparts, Jewish archaeologists have taken care to preserve not only artifacts from their own history but from the history of other faiths as well. They have brought to light many details of Muslim tradition, and restored and preserved a magnificent Umayyad palace at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. The palace, from the turn of the eighth century, was the residence of the Caliph when he visited Jerusalem.
Who is really politicizing archaeology? The Jewish architects who make discoveries of interest to the entire world, or the Muslim authorities who want to suppress and destroy evidence of those discoveries in order to discredit a historical Jewish presence in the area? It is clearly political cant to justify hate-inspired vandalism as "resisting colonialism." Calling Israel a "settler nation" implies that Jews have no rightful place in that land, in spite of the fact that Jews have been living there for thousands of years. It supports the ideology that Israel is a nation of invaders, that Israel itself is a colony that rightfully belongs to the Palestinians, and therefore that Israel has no right to exist.
This is the real subtext underneath Muslim outrage at the walkway. In the eyes of those calling for violence, the Jews who have no business even being anywhere near the Noble Sanctuary are messing around, digging up things, trying to fabricate a national history that justifies their presence and that might even lead to building another Temple to replace the el-Aqsa Mosque. These violent protesters cannot for a minute consider accepting that Jews and Muslims both have a right to live in that land, that both have sacred sites and should be allowed to visit them. It is a completely absolutist agenda that excludes Jews entirely.
For years Arabs have tried to deny any historical Jewish connection to the Holy Land. The world has said nothing, and even the Israeli government appeared not to take it seriously. But we see now where all of this has been leading. The denial of Jewish history is the first cousin of the denial of the Holocaust. Both Jewish history and the Holocaust are seen as justifications for a Jewish presence in Israel. Deny them both, and Jews have no right to be there. And if Jews have no right to be there, then they are only settlers and colonizers. And if they are settlers and colonizers, then Arabs are morally justified in killing them.
The violent reaction to Israel's repairing a broken bridge, coupled with the ongoing effort to erase any trace of Jewish history in Israel, is further evidence that Palestinians are not simply "resisting an occupation," unless by "occupation" one means Israel's very existence ("settler nation"). The Palestinians use slogans very effectively to mask the true goal, which is to eliminate any place for Jews in the Middle East except as a persecuted minority within the vast Arab world.
The fact is that both Jews and Arabs have a right to be there because they are there. The only sensible attitude towards the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is to support the right of both sides to exist in peace and to determine their own futures. This can never happen as long as one side insists on denying and destroying the historical heritage of the other.
Ami-El, Mark. "The Destruction of the Temple Mount Antiquities." "Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, August, 2002.
Associated Press. "Egyptian MP: Nothing Will Work with Israel Except Nuclear Bomb." Ha'aretz, February 11, 2007.
Copans, Laurie. "Clashes by Jerusalem Holy Site Continue." Washington Post, February 10, 2007.
Coren, Michael. "The Palestinians’ Blind Eye to History." National Post, February 13, 2007.
Glick, Caroline. "As We Bumble into War." Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2007.
Hadid, Diaa. "Israeli Police, Muslim Rioters Clash." Washington Post, February 9, 2007.
" Israel's Mugrabi Gate Project: The Facts." Anti-Defamation League, February 12, 2007.
Jerusalem Post Staff. "Intimidation Tactics." Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2007.
"Jerusalem: Umayyad Administration Center and Palaces." "Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 29, 1998.
Lis, Jonathan. "Salah Calls for 'Intifada' Against Temple Mount Excavation." Ha'aretz, February 17, 2007.
Saul, Jonathan. "Olmert Spurns Bid to Reconsider Jerusalem Dig." Washington Post, February 8, 2007.
Shragai, Nadav. "Digs, Lies and the Mugrabi Bridge." Ha'aretz, February 11, 2007.
Peace with Realism