The Islamic world’s most holy site outside Mecca and Medina is the Haram al-Sharif sanctuary in occupied East Jerusalem which is home to two of the most significant religious shrines in Islam – the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque. The Jews claim it as their own, believing it is the site of two temples that were destroyed within a few centuries of each other some two millennia ago. They have named it the Temple Mount where the third and final Jewish temple is to be rebuilt with the coming of the Messiah. This is the prophetic event known as the “Rapture” which has captured the imagination of fundamentalist Christians, particularly the Christian Zionists: hence, their intense interest in Israel and its role in the apocalyptic End Times.
Although the Haram al-Sharif has been a landmark of Jerusalem for some 13 centuries and has suffered from several major earthquakes in that time, the greatest threat to its survival has come since Israel appointed itself the “sovereign state” after it won the 1967 war, occupied the Palestinian city and applied the Protection of Holy Sites Law, giving itself de facto sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem. No sooner had Israel seized the city, it decimated two Arab neighbourhoods in the vicinity Maghriba and Al-Sharaf reducing 135 houses, two mosques and two religious schools to rubble. The following year, a large plaza was built in front of the Western wall of Haram al-Sharif (what the Jews call the Wailing Wall) and Israel registered it as the property of the Jewish state, despite it belonging to the Islamic endowments, known as Awqaf.
Then followed a litany of attacks on both mosques by Jewish terrorists, triggered first by an Australian Christian Zionist, Michael Rohan in 1969 when he set fire to the Al-Aqsa mosque: he was later declared insane. Thirteen years on, the mosque was attacked by an armed Jewish terrorist and not long after that, a shooting spree inside the Dome of the Rock by an Israeli soldier ended up killing and injuring dozens of Muslim worshippers. That same year, the Jewish terrorist leader Meir Kahana and 100 of his followers stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque. Two further attempts were made on the mosque in 1984 and a Jewish terrorist was convicted of plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock. When Jewish extremists attempted to lay the cornerstone for a Jewish temple in the Haram al-Sharif plaza in 1990, protests erupted and Israeli soldiers killed 22 Palestinians and wounded around 100 others.
At various times, Israeli archaeological teams have undertaken extensive excavations beneath the al-Aqsa mosque in fruitless searches for proof of Old Testament stories, but none has surfaced. More seriously, these digs have been the cause of grave concern internationally because they have destroyed the strata of other periods and have weakened the foundations of the Haram-al-Sharif sanctuary. The latest digs, begun in February this year, and also the current construction works on the Maghriba Gate access ramp, are considered provocative acts at a time when peace talks may be revived. The last such provocation happened in 2000 when Ariel Sharon led one thousand armed Israeli police into the sanctuary causing the outbreak of the second Intifada.
Palestinians are well aware that Israel covets this revered holy site in their city and see these most recent works as part of Israel’s plan to complete the Judaisation of Jerusalem. Most alarmingly, Israel’s provocative acts could well ignite a worldwide religious confrontation that would indulge those fanatics who believe Israel is the catalyst for the apocalyptic “Rapture”. If this should come to pass, Israel would have much more to be worried about than if it honourably and peacefully shared the Holy City of Jerusalem with its Muslim and Christian Palestinian citizens.
SONJA KARKAR is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.