When a prime minister has to stop the demolition and replacement of a dilapidated pedestrian bridge due to concerns that widespread rioting might erupt, it shouldn’t be hard to guess that this is yet another story where Muslim “sensibilities” dictate what can and what can’t be done. Fixing a pedestrian bridge may seem like a rather mundane chore, but if those generally oh so moderate and pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood types choose to regard the repairs as yet another “violent act that amounts to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem,” even the most urgently needed repairs have to be postponed. Indeed, as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (who regards Hitler as an instrument of Allah) has warned, there is always the worry that “illegal settlers and Israeli security forces” might use the new bridge.
But unsurprisingly, it’s not just the famously “moderate” Islamists that rant about this supposedly sinister “Zionist scheme of aggression” – other “moderates” (like veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat) are equally eager to denounce Israel’s “determination to judaize Jerusalem and to take over the city’s Muslim holy places.”
It’s worthwhile remembering that Israel could have taken control of these places after its victory in 1967, but in a goodwill gesture that looks rather naïve by now, Israel decided to leave control of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Muslim Waqf. And it’s also worthwhile remembering that this goodwill gesture followed almost 20 years of Jordanian control of the area, when Jews had been prevented from coming to the Western Wall in breach of the armistice agreement, and when Jewish property, places of worship and cemeteries had been systematically destroyed and desecrated.
Israel’s conciliatory conduct in 1967 was just one of many attempts to avoid inflaming Muslim religious passions. Even back then, there was already a veritable “tradition” of using invented Jewish “threats” to the Al-Aqsa mosque to incite violence. In the 1920s, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who later gained notoriety as a Nazi collaborator, began to renovate the “Haram al-Sharif” – as the Temple Mount is known in Arabic – and he started to accuse “the Zionists” of plotting to rebuild the Jewish Temple. His incitement contributed to repeated outbreaks of violence against Jews that culminated in the Hebron massacre of 1929.
Some seven decades later, another popular Palestinian leader – Marwan Barghouti – followed the same script to ignite the so-called “Al-Aqsa Intifada:”
“On the eve of Sharon’s visit I participated in a TV panel, on a local TV station. I found this to be the right opportunity to call upon the public to go to Al Aqsa on the following morning because it is not possible for Sharon to arrive at the Temple Mount [El-Haram Al-Sharif] ‘just like that’ and walk away peacefully. […] I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict. The strongest conflict is the one that initiated from Jerusalem due to the sensitivity of the city, its uniqueness and its special place in the hearts of the masses who are willing to sacrifice themselves [for her] with not even thinking of the cost.”
In 2007, Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, instigated riots at the Temple Mount in order to obstruct archaeological work, threatening: “Whoever is playing with fire should know that the fire will consume him and whoever schemes to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque will have his house destroyed.” Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal accused Israel of “perpetrating a new attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque,” and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel claimed that the archaeological work was a cover for transforming the Al-Aqsa mosque into a synagogue.
The legacy of al-Husseini is obviously well and alive: currently, it serves to prevent the rebuilding of the only access point to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims, because the Mughrabi Gate is the only gate whose keys are in possession of the State of Israel – the other nine gates are controlled by the Waqf and are reserved for Muslims only… Yes, there is such a thing as politically correct Apartheid.