Abbas, Temple Denial, and the Distortion of History
As an example of what the insightful commentator Melanie Phillips referred to as a "dialogue of the demented" in her book The World Turned Upside Down, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently continued a long tradition of attempting to de-Judaize Jerusalem by expressing his mendacious notion that "Jerusalem's identity is Arab, and the city's and Christian holy sites must be protected from Israeli threats." The same scholar of history who wrote a doctoral dissertation that questioned the extent and truthfulness of the Holocaust was now making his own historical claim that there has never been a Jewish presence and history in the world's holiest city.
Israeli archeology and biblical links to Jerusalem, and specifically the Temple Mount, "will not undermine the fact that the city will forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian," Abbas crowed, adding that "there will be no peace or stability before our beloved city and eternal capital is liberated from occupation and settlement," suggesting that even Jerusalem itself is in fact occupied and that it was, and still is, the capital of a putative Palestinian state. This airbrushing out of a Jewish presence from Jerusalem -- in fact, all of Palestine -- is not a new message for Abbas, of course. In 2000 he expressed similar contempt for the idea that a Jewish temple had ever existed on the Temple Mount and that, even if it had existed, the offenses committed by Israel against the Palestinians negated any claim Jews might have enjoyed, absent their perfidy. "Anyone who wants to forget the past [i.e., the Israelis] cannot come and claim that the [Jewish] temple is situated beneath the Haram," he asserted in a 2000 article in Kul Al-Arab, an Israeli Arabic-language weekly newspaper. "They demand that we forget what happened 50 years ago to the refugees ... while at the same time they claim that 2000 years ago they had a temple. I challenge the assertion that this is so. But even if it is so, we do not accept it, because it is not logical for someone who wants a practical peace."
In characterizing East Jerusalem -- or any part of Jerusalem, for that matter -- as territory that Israel "occupies" but over which it enjoys no sovereignty, Abbas (and the Obama administration's State Department, too) is misreading, once again, the content and purpose of 1967's U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 that suggested an Israeli withdrawal "from territories" it acquired in the Six-Day War. Critics of Israeli policy who either willfully misread or deliberately obscure the resolution's purpose say that the Jewish State is in violation of 242 by continuing to occupy the West Bank and Jerusalem, including what is mistakenly now referred to as "Arab" East Jerusalem. But the drafters of Resolution 242 were very precise in creating the statute's language, and they never considered Jerusalem to have been "occupied" by Israel after the Six-Day War. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Arthur Goldberg, one of the resolution's authors, made this very clear when he wrote some years later that "Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate[.] ... At no time in [my] many speeches [before the U.N.] did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory."
Along with their unwavering and various demands, including a "right of return" of all refugees and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the Palestinians now insist that Jerusalem must be divided to give them a capital in its eastern portion as the location of their new state. That view is troubling because it reveals a pattern in which Arabs endow Jerusalem with intense significance to serve purposes of political expediency. In fact, observed scholar of Islam and Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, "[a]n historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it." When Jordan illegally annexed the West Bank and purged Jerusalem of its Jews from 1949 to 1967, for example, Jerusalem's stature declined. But Israel's recapture of the territory in 1967 changed the political landscape, including an Arab desire for Jerusalem, suggesting to Dr. Pipes that "the Muslim interest lies not so much in controlling Jerusalem as it does in denying control over the city to anyone else."
Dore Gold, Israel's U.N. ambassador from 1997 to 1999, observed in his book, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City, how many in the Muslim world, and even some individuals in the West, have begun a sinister process aimed at establishing a spiritual as well as political presence in Jerusalem for Islam, while simultaneously diminishing Jewish historical links to the city. Gold believes that this trend began at the 2000 Camp David meetings, when Yasser Arafat first stated loudly and publicly his breathtaking belief that there had never been a Jewish temple at the Temple Mount. Arafat, according to Gold, thereby tossed "a stone of historical lies into a lake and its ripples spread all over the Middle East. 'Temple Denial' became a common theme at seminars in the UAE or in Jordan in the years that followed. European professors joined this anti-biblical trend."
Ever since Camp David, the Palestinians have been relentless in creating a false impression of how important Jerusalem is to them, while, at the same time, they have de-Judaized Jerusalem and tried to obscure the Jewish relationship with and continuing presence in the holy city -- something Middle East scholar Martin Kramer has called their desire to effect "a reversal of history."
Writing in al-Hayat al-Jadida, in March of 2009, for instance, Dr. Tayseer Al-Tamimi, PA chief justice of religious court and chairman of supreme council of Islamic law, absurdly claimed that "Jerusalem is the religious, political and spiritual capital of Palestine," meaning a Palestinian Palestine, and that "the Jews have no rights to it." But the true danger of the Palestinian thinking about Jerusalem -- and, indeed, about all of the Palestine that they covet, including Israel itself -- was crystallized in Yasser Arafat's own view that he expressed in a July 2000 edition of al-Hayat al-Jadida. "I will not agree to any sovereign presence in Jerusalem," he wrote, referring to the thorny issue of who, Israel or the Palestinians, would have sovereignty of the Holy Basin -- "neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, neither in Via De La Rosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem [from them]."
"Liberating" Jerusalem, of course, does not mean transforming it into a pluralistic, open city where members of three major faiths can live freely and practice their religions openly. Liberating Jerusalem for the Palestinians would be more in keeping with the type of liberation that Transjordan's Arab League effected when they burned and looted the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem in 1948; expelled and killed its hapless Jewish population; destroyed some 58 synagogues, many hundreds of years old; unearthed gravestones from the history-laden Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used them for latrine pavers; and barred any Jew from praying at the Western Wall or entering the Temple Mount. That same predilection to destroy religious property was on display again shortly after Camp David, when a crazed Palestinian mob took sledgehammers to Joseph's Tomb, a Jewish holy site, and completely obliterated it as Palestinian policemen stood idly by and watched.
More to the point, Abbas's accusations that Israel threatens or cannot coexist with Muslim and Christian traditions is a most outrageous charge -- not only because Israeli archeologists are fastidious in methodology and practice, but also, given what is happening currently atop the Temple Mount itself -- one of the world's richest archeological and historical sites. Indeed, this tragedy is something that the Muslim world, not the Israelis, should have to answer for.
Scholars and archeologists remember, for instance, the howls of outrage that arose from the Arab world in February 2007, when Israeli authorities initiated a project to rebuild a ramp to the Mugrabi Gate, an entrance to the Temple Mount plaza and the Al Aqsa Mosque platform that had been damaged in an earlier storm. Riots and protests began immediately, with accusations against Israel coming from throughout the Arab world for its "scheme" and treachery in digging under and threatening to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque itself. The committee of Muslim scholars in Jordan's Islamic Action Front, for one, "urge[d] ... jihad to liberate Al Aqsa and save it from destruction and sabotage from Jewish usurpers" -- a spurious claim, since construction was taking place well outside the Mount platform, some 100 meters from the mosque, and clearly posed no possible threat. It is also an oft-repeated charge, suggests Israeli columnist Nadav Shragrai, frequently used by Arabs against Israel as a way of inciting hatred toward Jews for their perfidiousness and guile. This he calls the "Protect the Al Aqsa Mosque" blood libel -- a propaganda tool that has been used since the 1920s to cause mistrust of Jews when the then-Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, Hitler's Middle East ally, exhorted Muslims everywhere to defend Islamic holy places in Jerusalem from the pernicious Jews, causing riots, bloodshed, and 133 Jewish deaths.
And while riots ensued in recent years when Israelis initiated a carefully supervised reconstruction project near the Temple Mount, the Islamic Waqf, the Muslim guardians of the Judaism's holiest site, have felt no compunction in brutally gouging the historic surfaces when it suited their own purposes, either in 2007 when they created a deep trench or as they did in 1999 when they opened a gaping hole -- in what is known as Solomon's Stables -- 18,000 square feet in area and 36 feet deep, for new mosques. Most seriously, 13,000 tons of rubble from that criminal dig, containing rich archeological remnants from the First and Second Temple periods, was scattered clandestinely in the Kidron Valley dump without any professional archeological oversight and before experts could evaluate any unearthed items of significance.
The Arab world's own complicity in playing fast and loose with history, and obscuring the actual "facts on the ground" in their attempt to create a historical narrative conforming to their political agenda, makes Abbas's accusations against Jews bent on the undermining of Muslim and Christian holy sites all the more disingenuous. In yet another example of "turnspeak," the Arab world has accused Israel of the misdeeds, lies about history, and destruction of a nationhood that they themselves are committing. It is part of a relentless and continuing effort to delegitimize Israel and finally eliminate it through a false historical narrative that is repeated in Palestinian schoolbooks, in sermons, in the Arab press, in Middle Eastern study centers at universities, and in the politicized scholarship and dialogue generated by Israel-haters, anti-Semites, and Palestinian apologists around the world -- something Shragai has aptly called a "tissue of lies."
Dr. Richard L. Cravatts, author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University's Jihad Against Israel & Jews, is president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.