A myth is now in the making in the process of changing the history of Palestine to fortify the myth of Jewish earlier presence at one of the most important Palestinian sites in the old city of Jerusalem. Newly constructed small 'synagogue' in a tunnel underneath the Aqsa Mosque area will almost certainly be claimed on some Zionist websites to be an old one constructed at the time of the Temple, and in October 2008 a small synagogue has been constructed 50 metres away from the Western Wall on Arab confiscated property. Extensive excavations underneath the Mosque on what is called in the West the Temple Mount have failed to unearth any trace of a Temple, large or small, in the Mosque area. Allegations of discovery of items related to the Temple have been made, perhaps the most famous of which has been the stone tablet alleging the repair of the Temple at the hands of one of the kings of Israel. That tablet was so perfectly done as to the age of the stone used, the script and vocabulary, that it at first fooled Israeli experts. Doubts as to its authenticity started to show up when the forger evaded questions as to the location where the find was made. He first alleged that it was sold to him by a Palestinian, later to declare that this Palestinian had died. The story could have ended there and a myth could have been started. What saved the day was the discovery by one of the Israeli linguists, who decided to look at the stone perhaps for the umpteenth time, of the use of one word, which was modem Hebrew. This discovery alerted the experts to the forgery, only to find that the forger had a forgery factory in his basement and had passed so many of his forgeries of ancient Israel to museums in many countries. In view of a gullible doctrinated market ready to pay for such finds, one only wonders as to how many forgers may be actively engaged in this kind of business and how much forged items are already there.
Fortunately, there are serious Israeli archaeologists who are searching for the truth. In an article published in the Israeli Ha'aretz Weekly Magazine on 29th October 1999, Professor C. Z'e'zv Herzog, of Tel Aviv University reviewed, for the benefit of the ordinary reader, the results of excavations carried out over the last century and a half. In the first paragraph of this article he sums up the results as follows:
"This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: The Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign, and did not pass it on to the twelve tribes of Israel. Even harder to swallow is the fact that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom."
He says that this information is widely published, but the general Israeli public does not want to know and gives his reason:
"Any attempt to question the reliability of the biblical descriptions is perceived as an attempt to undermine "our historic right to the land" and is shattering the myth of the nation that is renewing the ancient Kingdom of Israel. These symbolic elements constitute such a critical component of the construction of the Israeli identity that any attempt to call their veracity into question encounters hostility or silence."
"It turns out that part of Israeli society is ready to recognize the injustice that was done to the Arab inhabitants of the country ...but is not up to adopting the archaeological facts that shatter the biblical myth. The blow to the mythical foundations of the Israeli Identity is apparently too threatening, and it is more convenient to turn a blind eye."
One can only pray that, for the cause of peace and the restoration of the positive co-existence between Arabs and Jews that prevailed for centuries before the invention of Zionism by East European Jews, the Israelis would release themselves from the myths that have directed their leaders for long and had brought so much misery and bloodshed for both Palestinians and Jews. One can only hope that Uri Avniri was wrong when he said, in concluding an article on the same subject, that it seems that 'myth is stronger than fact'.
The Western Wall (known in the West as the Wailing Wall) lies on the western side of the Aqsa Mosque in the old city of Jerusalem. It forms part of a wall that runs around the area, interrupted in some parts with buildings in service of the Mosque or Islamic Awqaf (charitable foundations). It has been alleged that it is a remnant of an old wall of the Temple. Neither history nor persistent archeological excavations in the alleged area where the Temple is supposed to have been nor independent consideration of the question support this.
"[T]he privileged site of Jewish prayer in later times [i.e. after the Romans] was located on the Mount of Olives. Toward the end of the medieval age, gradually Jews began to turn instead to the Western Wall for their prayers, and were authorized to do so by the [Islamic] waqf authorities."
Accordingly, the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) was not originally the 'privileged' site of prayer after the assumed destruction of the Temple, and it became so only toward the end of the medieval age, and, even then, it happened 'gradually'. Why was that? It should have happened much earlier, particularly after the Arab Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century and before the construction of the Aqsa Mosque. Under Arab Muslim rule, the Jews enjoyed full religious freedom and there was no persecution as under Christian rule. However, the Jews preferred to live in other parts of the Muslim world, particularly in Spain. The same source, in the first paragraph of the article on the subject asserts
"The Western Wall ... is a Jewish religious site located in the old City of Jerusalem. The Wall itself dates from the end of the Second Temple period, being constructed around 19BCE."
Surely if it dates from that period, and had formed part of the wall of the Second Temple, Jews would not have treated the location on the Mount of Olives as their "privileged" site of prayer after Roman times. Evidence searched for by Dr Shiomo Sand, of Tel Aviv University, in his book When and How was the Jewish People Invented?" has led him to different conclusions.
“I was not raised a Zionist," he says, "but like all other Israelis I took it for granted that the Jews were a people living in Judea and that they were exiled by the Romans in 70 A.D. But once I started looking at the evidence, I discovered that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were legends."
There was no evidence of exile. I have already quoted his statement that most of the early Zionist leaders, including Ben Gurion, believed that the Palestinians were the descendants of the area's original Jews, and that these Zionist leaders believed that the Jews later converted to Islam. On this basis, one would assume that these Jews who were not exiled, before conversion to Islam, would have known where the Temple and its walls were, and would have continued to pray there. There seems no evidence that the area of the Wailing Wall was their privileged site for prayer. The transfer happened much later, most probably because the myth took hold and the Jews who knew better had already converted to Islam. It was then that prayer at the Wall was allowed by the Muslim authorities by way of "sufferance," as the Commission of Enquiry has found."
Return to Jerusalem itself by the Jews seems to be conditional. According to Dr Sand, "Zionism changed the idea of Jerusalem. Before, the holy places were seen as places to long for, not to be lived in. For 2000 years Jews stayed away from Jerusalem not because they could not return but because their religion forbade them from returning until the messiah came." This is of course the view held by those religious Jews who refuse to recognize the state of Israel. Dr Sand argues further that most of today's Jews have no historical connection to the land called Israel, and that the idea of a Jewish nation is a myth invented little more than a century ago.
The ownership of the Wall was raised for the first time during the British mandate over Palestine in the 20th century. Attempts to buy the pavement in front of the Wall and adjacent buildings (not the Wall) from the Muslim waqf authorities had been made by rich Jews; but these attempts failed. A proposal to the Mandatory to expropriate the Wall for the Jews was rejected.
It is not necessary for the purposes of this article to go into the details of events that led to the appointment of the international commission which was charged with resolving the dispute that has arisen between Palestinians and Jews in respect of the Western Wall12. Suffice it to say that by 1928-9 demonstrations and riots occurred between Arabs and Jews over the extent of rights of worship the Jews had at the Western Wall and the use of the pavement, courtyard and dwellings in front of or adjacent to the wall. After the disturbances, the British government, as the Mandatory, appointed an ad hoc International Commission to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall at Jerusalem. On 15 May 1930, the Council of the League of Nations approved the composition of the International Commission of three persons as follows: Eliel Lofgren, formerly Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of the Upper Chamber of the Swedish Riksdag (to act as Chairman); Charles Barde, Vice-President of the Court of Justice at Geneva, President of the Austro-Romanian Mixed Arbitration Tribunal, and C. J. Van Kempen, formerly Governor of the East Coast of Sumatra, Member of the States-General of the Netherlands. The Commission arrived in Jerusalem on 19' June 1930, visited the site, held twenty three meetings and heard fifty two witnesses, twenty one presented by the Jewish side and thirty by the Muslim side, and one British official called by the Commission. It examined all reports, dispatches, memoranda connected with the Wall, and made discreet enquiries with the full knowledge of the parties. At no time did the Jewish side claim ownership of the wall or the pavement or the buildings adjacent to it, known as the Moghrabi Quarter. Rather, it asked the Commission "to give recognition to the immemorial claim that the Wailing Wall was a Holy Place for the Jews, not only for the Jews in Palestine, but also for the Jews of the world."
In its report, the Commission stressed that the Jewish side "[did] not claim any property right to the Wall." Nevertheless, it thought proper to explore this issue, which was, in effect, to explore the propriety of the Muslim claim of ownership, and arrived, inter alia, at the following conclusions:
A - To the Moslems belong the ownership of, and the sole proprietary right to, the Western Wall, seeing that it forms an integral part of the Haram-esh-Sherif area, which is a Waqf property.
To the Moslems there also belongs the ownership of the Pavement in front of the Wall and of the adjacent so-called Moghrabi (Moroccan) Quarter opposite the Wall.
Such appurtenances of worship and/or such other objects as the Jews may be entitled to place near the Wall either in conformity with the provisions of this present Verdict or by agreement come to between the Parties shall under no circumstances be considered as, or have the effect of, establishing for them any sort of proprietary right to the Wall or to the adjacent Pavement.
This last caviat was of special importance to the Arab side as explained to the Commission.
The Commission recognized the right of access to the Wall for the Jews on the basis of long usage which is recognized by Muslim law. In the view of the Commission, Muslim law seems "to justify the conclusion that the mere access of the Jews to the Wall has not been held by the Arabs as an infringement of the Moslem Law for if it had, the visits would long ago have been prohibited. " In holding this, the Commission cited in particular the relevant Article of the Ottoman Civil Code, The Majalla, "Everything which is not in itself illegal and which has been practiced from immemorial times, shall be respected as a right," which is a Shari'a long-established rule. The Commission did not establish when these immemorial times have started; nevertheless the Muslim side did not question that the practice has been allowed for long time under Muslim rule of Jerusalem.
The Jewish side asked the Commission "to decree that the drawing up of any regulations that may be necessary to Jewish devotions and prayers at the Wall shall be entrusted to the Rabbinate of Palestine". It asked further that the Commission may suggest to the Mandatory authorities to make a valuation of the Moghrabi Quarter and relocate it ' somewhere else in Jerusalem. Both requests were denied by the Commission. As to the devotional rights of the Jews, the Commission ; decided to maintain the then existing status quo.
After the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel in 1967, Israel annexed the whole of Jerusalem, including the old city which, in law and all resolutions of the Security Council and UN General Assembly as well as the opinion of the International Court of Justice is classified as 'occupied territory', and started changing the Arab character of the city. Its bulldozers destroyed the entire historic Moghrabi Quarter and other Arab properties near the Wall and created a very large area in front of the Wall. It laid its hands on the Muslim waqf properties and raided the offices of the Sharia court and carried away all its records. The world unique Dome of the Rock Mosque bounded on the west by the Western Wall, which dominates the city and whose pictures adorn Israeli embassies and Israeli tourist brochures, is threatened with demolition because of the endless excavations beneath it. Muslim authorities who had maintained the Wall for centuries and allowed Jews to pray at it, face considerable difficulties in maintaining religious sites and other waqf properties that have remained theoretically under their control. The 'Separation Wall' cuts the city from its Palestinian natural surroundings and permanent road blocks control entry of Palestinians, not Israelis, to the city. Thousands of Palestinians are denied entry to the Mosque, particularly on Fridays, and forced to pray in the open or streets outside the Mosque. Licenses to build to meet demographic natural growth for Palestinians in the city are rarely, if ever, granted, and houses or additions to them without such licenses are pulled down. To add insult to injury, owners are ordered to pull down what they had built or pay the cost of demolition. Although Palestinian Jerusalemites pay full Israeli taxes and municipality dues, they hardly receive any services in the 'united' capital of Israel. Economic life is at its minimum. The whole purpose is to create intolerable conditions for them so that they leave the city.
The Security Council, in Resolution 252(1968) adopted on May 21, 1968, "urgently" called upon Israel "to rescind all measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any action which would alter the status of Jerusalem." The same Resolution "considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status".
The tolerance by Arab and Turk Muslims which permitted the creation of a right, which did not exist before, to pray at the Wall and to use the pavement to rest and place devotional articles, both declared by the Commission Muslim properties, has been rewarded by Israel by measures of utter disregard for their rights and the destruction of their heritage. The positive co-existence that prevailed during Muslim rule of the city has given way to bigotism, racism and exclusiveness, in a state considered by the world as the 'only democracy' in the Middle East. Inside Israel, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine did not stop at the expulsion of the Palestinians, but this step was followed by the complete destruction of towns, villages and neighbourhoods, the deletion of their names from signposts and road signs, and the invention of stories to describe the little that has remained. Mosques are desecrated: some have been turned into storehouses, others into coffee bars by those to whom the authorities passed ownership, although mosques are waqf property and may never be privately owned. It is ironic that when the Israeli settlements were removed from the Gaza Strip, none other than Peres (if I remember right), the present President of Israel, was of the opinion that the synagogues could be left alone because Muslims would not desecrate them. He was right. In the centre of the city of Nablus, the base of Palestinian nationalism, there is still standing a tomb reputed to be that of Joseph son of Jacob. It was kept and maintained by Palestinian Arab Muslims right until the occupation of the city by Israel in 1967. Near the Dead Sea, far from inhabited areas, there is a reputed tomb of Moses, which has been made the object of annual pilgrimages to Palestinians by none other the great Salahuddin (Saladin). Near Jericho, again far from civilization, there still stands a small synagogue of old, and in Al-Khalil (Hibron), named by the Arab Muslims after Abraham, there are the tombs respected and maintained by the Palestinians and honoured by the construction of a mosque in their vicinity. In fact, every reputed site of pertaining to Judaism in Palestine has been preserved for centuries by the indigenous people of Palestine and their rulers. The same goes for Christian holy places, the Church of the Holy Sepulchure, the Church of the Nativity, the Church of Annunciation, and other Christian holy places. The keys to the Church of Holy Sepulchure have been entrusted for centuries to this very day by all Christian sects to two Arab Muslim families of Jerusalem who every day of the year open the doors of the Church for prayer and close them at the end of the day. In Jerusalem there are more churches than mosques. The respect for the City, its spirit and culture cannot be more demonstrated than by the fact that the Caliph himself, the great Omar, travelled on his camel all the way from Medina (in present Saudi Arabia) to receive the surrender of the City to the Arab Muslim army from its Christian Patriarch, at the request of the latter. No head of state in recorded history has ever done this before or after. Not only that, but the time for prayer arrived while the Caliph was visiting the Church. The Patriarch invited him to pray in the Church. Omar refused lest future generations might think of building a mosque where he had prayed. He left the Church and prayed outside, and there stands now a small mosque, as Omar had predicted, outside the Church called the Mosque of Omar. "Despite their [the Jewish] remarkable contributions in all aspects of society, many Jews were killed and others driven from place to place by Christian rulers. Although not given the same rights as Muslim's, both Christians and Jews who lived in Islamic countries often fared better than non-Christians in Christendom, because the Prophet Muhammad commanded his followers to recognize the common origins of their faith through Abraham, to honor their prophets, and to protect their believers."
Visitors to the University of Tel Aviv would not know, and may not enquire, that this centre of learning has been built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Shaykh Muwannis and that the University's faculty club is the village's few remaining houses.
This is the spirit of Jerusalem and Palestine and that of their people which is threatened by an ideology of racism and exclusiveness, of ethnic cleansing and erasure of history, no matter international law, international humanitarian law or resolutions of the Security Council or UN General Assembly. There is an Iron Wall, supported by a world power, to protect all these transgressions. And a Supreme Court that seems to tilt the balance only in one direction.
Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Victor Kattan “The Legality of the West Bank Wall: Israel’s High Court of Justice v. the International Court of Justice”, Vanderbilt Journal of International Law, Vol. 40, pp.1424-1521.
The Western Wall
A Tale of Theology and Division