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The Al-Aqsa Arson

A fire at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, became in the Arab consciousness another perennial symbol of demonic Israel. Its anniversary has even been observed as an occasion for anti-Jewish violence.

What really happened?

On the morning of August 21, 1969, fire broke out in the great mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The southeastern wing of the mosque was destroyed, including a historic pulpit, made of wood and ivory, presented to the mosque by Saladin in the 12th century.

Arabs gathered along the Via Dolorosa shouting "Death to Israel!" and "Long live al-Fatah!" From that day onward, the official Palestinian line has been that the Israeli government fomented a conspiracy to destroy the mosque and that the arsonist acted on Israel's behalf.

Here are the words of Taissir Rajab Al-Tamimi, the Chief of Judges and Chairman of the Islamic Law High Council in the Palestinian Authority, in an interview broadcast on Palestinian Authority TV, August 23, 2004:

The Israeli government conspired and formed an alliance with this criminal - who came from Australia, and is a Jew - for the burning of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque....

There is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that Israel is the one that planned the burning, [including] the delay of the fire engines to the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. If it were not [for the delay] of the fire engines from Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, and other cities in the West Bank, the fire would not have spread to the whole mosque.(1)

Here is a report from the Palestine Chronicle, whose honorary editorial board members include Hanan Ashrawi and Noam Chomsky: Washington, DC - Tomorrow marks the 32nd anniversary of the burning of Al Aqsa by extremist Michael Rohan. Rohan, an Australian Jew, set fire to the mosque, burning Saladin's pulpit and destroying approximately one third of the total area. Israeli occupying forces cut off the water supply and prevented the fire engines from arriving on time to extinguish the fire.(2)

The truth is much different. Michael Dennis (or Dennis Michael) Rohan, while Australian, was not a Jew. He was an evangelical Protestant. And the Israelis did not interfere with efforts to put out the fire. On the contrary, the Israelis acted responsibly in trying to extinguish the fire, but some Palestinians interfered with their efforts.

Rohan was no Israeli agent. Israeli authorities arrested him and put him on trial, making special arrangements to show how seriously they took the incident:

Israeli officials are preparing a modified version of the Eichmann trial for Dennis Michael Rohan, the Australian Christian who is accused of having set fire to the Mosque of Al Aksa in Jerusalem last month.

Mr. Rohan, who is reported to have confessed to the crime and to have re-enacted it for Israeli officials, will be protected behind glass, as the Nazi official was, for his trial.(3)

Rohan was found to be mentally ill, was committed to an asylum, and was later deported.

What was Israel's response to the fire?

The president of the Muslim Council claimed arson and charged deliberately slow response on the part of the fire brigades, although brigades from West and East Jerusalem fought the blaze together for four hours while an angry Muslim crowd chanted "Allahu Akbar" and "Down with Israel." The fire was put out by Israeli firemen, despite attacks upon them by Muslim bystanders, who also cut some of the fire hoses. Onlookers stoned Israeli fire trucks summoned to extinguish the fire, claiming they brought gasoline instead of water to the fire.

By the following day, it become apparent that a non-Jewish tourist from Australia was responsible for the blaze. On August 23, Dennis Michael Rohan was arrested for arson, suspected of starting the fire. Rohan was an Australian Protestant follower of an evangelical sect known as the Church of God.(4)
A number of firemen were beaten and stoned as they sought to enter the mosque.(5)

Palestinians have even charged that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir laughed in reaction to the event (see note 1). This is how she actually reacted:

Mrs. Meir, pale and visibly shocked, expressed her sorrow in the mosque to a Moslem Council leader. "I know how you feel," she said softly, "and you have our sorrow." She spoke in English and he replied in English, saying simply, "Thank you."(6)

Once again the Palestinians have promoted, and continue to promote, a version of events completely opposite to what actually happened. And once again, the truth hardly matters. Many still believe the lie about Israel's involvement in the Al-Aqsa fire; indeed, it has become part of a folklore impervious to questioning. Even official Palestinian channels continue to propagate this myth, with total disrespect for what the evidence, and history, actually show.

March 2005


1. Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, "PATV: Israel Conspired to Burn Al-Aqsa Mosque, Golda Meir 'Laughed'," Palestinian Media Watch.

2. "32 Years Since the Burning of Al Aqsa: Israeli Discrimination Against Non-Jews Continues," Palestine Chronicle, August 22, 2001.

3. James Feron, "Suspect in Mosque Fire Faces a Trial Similar to Eichmann's," New York Times, September 29, 1969.

4. "Who Was Responsible for the Al-Aqsa Mosque Fire in 1969?,"

5. Tad Szulc, "Old-City Mosque Badly Damaged," New York Times, August 22, 1969.

6. Ibid.

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