Al Aksa Tunnel Riots of 1996
Ad Dustour, Jordan, February 20, 1997
Ad Dustour, Jordan, February 12, 1997
Ad Dustour, Jordan, December 28, 1997
Al Rai, Jordan, February 7, 1997
One Picture is Worth a Thousand Lives
March 2, 1997
By Murray Kahl*
There is a major fight brewing regarding
Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, and George Santanaya's didactic dicta,
"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." has never
been more relevant than today, as the world of Islam speaks of a perceived
threat to their holiest sites in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa.
Daily, warnings are in Muslim media throughout the world:
There are two issues surrounding the al-Aqsa
Palestinian Warns of Explosion London, Feb.
18 (GNA), -- The chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council Ahmed
Korei' (Abu Alaa) has warned of an explosion by the masses in the occupied
territories if Israel continued its policy of settlements and the excavation
of tunnels under Al-Aqsa mosque. Abu alaa was talking in a meeting organized
in London by the 'international campaign for Jerusalem' on the situation
in occupied Palestine. he said the Israeli authorities were now digging
a new tunnel to the south of the old one, at a depth of 35 meters, a matter
which was threatening the foundation of the Al-Aqsa mosque, saying that
such deeds as the building of settlements in Jebel Ghoneim in addition
to the siege imposed on the holy city might lead to an explosion that will
be difficult to contain. Alayam newspaper, Bahrain, February 20, 1997
The first issue is the incitement of the
entire Muslim (not just Arab) World for an imminent Jihad with theme of
preventing (or avenging) the destruction of al-Aqsa and the Dome of the
Rock by Israel. This is a campaign run by Iran and is supported by the
PLO/PA representatives all over the world.
The second issue is the utilization of
the hysteria by the PLO/PA in order to generate support from the Arab World
for their struggle for Jerusalem and a sovereign Palestinian state. Their
main objective here is to generate international pressure on Bibi to compromise
as has in the past.
A very interesting, and worrisome, aspect
of these two simultaneous campaigns is that Arafat is exploiting the Islamist
agitation of the Arab Street in order to generate additional pressure on
Arab Governments to further harden their position against Israel and actively
support his — Arafat's— maximalist positions on the Jerusalem and Palestinian
statehood issues. In this campaign, the PA is using Islamist themes and
language, a clear expression of Arafat's realization and understanding
which effectively dominates the Arab (including Palestinian) street/population.
A major incitement and agitation campaign
is unfolding throughout the entire Muslim World. Muslims are being told
in Friday Sermons in their mosques and by countless media outlets that
Israel is digging tunnels under the Temple Mount in order to destroy the
two holy mosques and build a Jewish Temple instead. This campaign is conducted
by Iranian Intelligence as well as a large number of Islamist organizations
and fronts sponsored by Tehran and its allies with FULL cooperation from
the representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. PA representatives
and diplomats routinely confirm the Islamist allegations and insist that
the opening of the Hashmonaean Tunnel last September, which was used by
Arafat as an excuse for the fighting between the Palestinian "policemen"
and the IDF, was actually a prototype for the new tunnels.
Although, the theme of this campaign is
amazing, Israel is secretly digging tunnels under the temple mount to bring
about the collapse and destruction of the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock
Mosques so that the Jews can build the Temple, it has a wide following
throughout the Muslim World. In recent weeks, the claim has been further
refined to include a time frame for the calamity: The Muslim world is now
being told that the Jews are determined to celebrate Passover (second half
of April 1997) in their new Temple, which means that the mosques will have
to be destroyed beforehand.
Arafat jumped on the al-Aqsa issue in early
1997 after noticing the popular reaction to the bas-relief debacle. In
mid January 1997, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a silver bas-relief of
Jerusalem's Old City to Archbishop Maximus Saloum, head of the Greek Catholic
church in Israel. The relief left out the city's holiest Islamic sites
— the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosques — and instead showed a reconstruction
of the second Jewish temple. Muslim leaders immediately declared the portrayal
of the Temple is a deliberate affront and pointed to the ongoing archeological
digs in Jerusalem as proofs of Israeli conspiracies. Sheikh Hashem Abdel
Rahman, a spokesman for the Israeli Islamic movement, specifically stated
that the bas-relief indicated an Israeli plan to destroy the Temple Mount
mosques and rebuild the Temple. The PA leadership could not miss the difference
in popular reaction between the concurrence with the on going warning about
the Judaization of Jerusalem and the emotional agitation in reaction to
the rumors about a conspiracy to destroy the Mosques. Little wonder that
Arafat immediately adopted the Islamist terminology: Israel's objective
is not only to Judaize Jerusalem, a long-standing theme of the PA, but
also to destroy the Mosques and rebuild the Temple.
Key PA spokesmen, usually identified with
the "moderate trend" and "peace camp" began raising the danger to the Mosques
as a major al-Arab political consideration. In an interview with the official
Cairo Voice of the Arabs that was broadcasted on al-Quds Day (February
7), Ahmad Quray, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, in
Gaza, stressed the centrality of the dangers to the al-Aqsa Mosque:
"In the Legislative Council, we have been
discussing a very dangerous report on the digs taking place under al-Aqsa
Mosque, which have really started threatening the compound. There is a
real danger now which threatens the al-Aqsa Mosque, particularly from the
western side as is known, and from the southern side. Now, there is a new
tunnel which is about 2 kms long at a depth of 30 meters, which they have
started digging secretly. Yesterday, a group of Palestinian Arabs in Israel
and some of our brothers in the Legislative Council entered this tunnel
and saw some parts caving in at the depth of 30 meters. These parts have
begun cracking under al-Aqsa Mosque. These are the dangers surrounding
Quray expects the al-Aqsa issue to be the
dominant factor affecting the PA's position in the negotiations for a permanent
settlement. It is imperative to have a Muslim body — the PA — in control
over sacred Jerusalem to avert the calamity. Otherwise, the fears for al-Aqsa
will become "a fire [that] begins to burn" throughout the Muslim World.
"Once it starts burning, this is a fire that will burn in all hearts,"
Quray warned. He explained that the safety of the Mosques on Temple mount
would top the list of subjects to be brought up in the Arafat-Netanyahu
summit. "There will be a meeting between President Arafat and the Israeli
prime minister in Erez on Sunday [February 9]. This matter will be presented
very clearly and frankly." Quray explained that the PA now considers the
Jerusalem issue as the key to its ability to mobilize the entire Muslim
World to support its maximalist positions vis-a-vis both Israel and the
US. "The issue of Jerusalem is very crucial. There is a call to convene
a meeting of the al-Quds Committee. We call on all our Arab and Muslim
brothers to take note of the dangers of the situation. Jerusalem is being
subjected to a serious and real Judaization campaign by Israel. There is
a fait accompli imposed forcefully and unilaterally every day in Jerusalem."
This propaganda theme dominated the al-Quds
Day (Jerusalem Day) agitation on February 7th. Tehran stressed the unique
importance and urgency of the 1997 al-Quds Day. Radio Tehran's broadcasts
to the Muslim World (in several languages) reported that "Tel Aviv officials
have voiced the regime's plans in building the Suleyman Temple to replace
Bayt al-Maqdas in the near future." This growing danger to Islam's Holy
Shrines is contrasted with the PA's treacherous willingness to compromise
with Israel. "This year, more oppressed than ever, al-Quds witnessed the
protesting rallies of an oppressed nation that for over 50 years has suffered
the suppression of the unscrupulous occupiers, and now the treacherous
compromises of some leaders have dealt new blows on them."
Official Tehran stressed that a primary
objective of al-Quds Day was to incite the Arab World to pressure its leaders
not to cooperate with the peace process. Tehran warns that "political gestures"
allow Netanyahu, "by intimidating the compromising Arab leaders, to gain
more advantage from them. Such ploys, although they may convince some treacherous
Arab leaders, can certainly not deceive the oppressed nation of Palestine.
The International al-Quds Day is a demonstration of the vigilance of the
world Muslim nations and their strong determination in retaking Bayt al-Maqdas
from the Zionist occupiers."
Al-Quds day was indeed observed throughout
the Muslim World. Its main theme was the condemnation of "Israeli occupation
of Bayt al-Maqdas" and the expression of "solidarity with the people of
Palestine who are fighting for liberation of the holy land." In Pakistan,
there were street demonstrations outside the main mosques with protesters
carrying placards inscribed with slogans like: "Down with America, down
with Israel and liberate Muslim holy lands." The sermons and speeches delivered
throughout Pakistan "urged the Muslim Ummah to get united to liberate all
Muslim places including Bayt ul-Maqdas, Kashmir, and other lands." In the
Punjab, all mosques offered "special prayers for the real liberation of
Masjid-e-Aqsa [al-Aqsa Mosque] and Palestine from the occupation of lsrael."
Comparable prayer and agitation sessions took place from Latin America
to the Philippines, and from South Africa to Scandinavia.
The Islamist leaders made certain that
all those attending these emotionally charged sessions will feel committed
to actively participate in, or at the very least contribute to, the forthcoming
Jihad for the liberation of al-Quds. Toward this end, all these attending
the Friday prayers on al-Quds Day were asked to undertake the formal al-Quds
Day Resolution and Vow. The entire resolution was read in Tehran and later
adopted by countless Mosques and communities throughout the Muslim world.
This resolution determined that "the liberation of al-Quds and returning
it to the fold of the Islamic community is only possible through armed
struggle, Islamic belief, and a serious and united Jihad against Zionism."
Since then, the propaganda and media machines
throughout the Muslim World have been intensifying the agitation on the
imminent destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the urgent need to embark
on a Jihad to liberate al-Quds and save the Holy Shrines. This campaign
is not a trivial issue. It is precisely this kind of simplistic, virulent
and most pervasive type of agitation that is most effective throughout
the Muslim World. These types of anti-Islam conspiracies have a far better
following than any analysis about the merits or demerits of the peace process.
In an increasingly radicalized and illiterate Muslim World, one can expect
huge numbers of volunteers for the Jihad to liberate al-Quds on the basis
of this message of hate.
Indeed, the objective of this campaign
is to mobilize the entire Muslim World. The Islamist leadership strives
to build a level of grassroots hostility and hatred toward JEWS, not just
Israel, that will make acceptance of any settlement that legitimizes Israel's
right to exist virtually impossible. In recent months, and in concurrence
with the escalation of the Arab/Iranian preparations for a possible war
in the Middle East, the campaign has not only intensified but assumed a
timely character. The Islamists now prepare the agitated masses for an
imminent eruption later this spring.
This campaign is so prevalent that it has
reached central place in the mainstream Arab media.
The Palestine Times, Issue 68, February
1997 reported that Israel is digging more tunnels beneath Al Aqsa Mosque,
The Israeli occupation authorities in Jerusalem
are trying to open new subterranean tunnels beneath al Masjidul Aqsa, Islam's
third holiest site, Muslim Wakf officials said.
Sheikh Najeh Ktheirat, Head of the Heritage
Committee at the mosque, said an objective investigation carried out by
the Wakf authority revealed that more tunnels and excavation work by Israelis
was taking place beneath the south-eastern corner of the Haram al Sharif.
Expressing anxiety over the immediate and
long-term effect on the safety of the Mosque, Ktheirat said that it was
likely that the opening of the new tunnels and the continued digging in
the area would eventually undermine the Mosque's foundations.
Last month, Sheikh Ktheirat and the Islamist
mayor of the Israeli-Arab town of Umm al Fahm, Sheikh Raed Salah, thoroughly
searched the underground and now-restored prayer-ground known as the Marwani
mosque and found out that tunnels were indeed being excavated and that
their openings were only covered with earth and stones.
Ktheriat stressed that the Israeli authorities
aimed at no less than the ultimate demolition of the Mosque in order to
rebuild Solomon's Temple on its site.
The Wakf official also called on Arab and
Muslim states and ordinary Muslims worldwide to treat this matter with
the utmost seriousness it deserves, or else Muslims would lose the First
Kibla ( the direction to which Muslims turn during prayer) and the Third
Most Sacred Shrine of Islam.
Reacting to reports of new tunnels beneath
the Mosque, Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, Director-General of al Masjidul Aqsa,
said that the Israelis were trying desperately to uncover alleged ancient
Jewish sites, adding that all of their excavations to that effect have
resulted in nothing.
Sheikh Hussein said that, on the contrary,
the Israeli digging uncovered canals and remnants of Arab palaces dating
back to the Ummayad era. However, he added that the fact that Israeli excavations
didn't uncover any Jewish sites in the area has not deterred the occupation
authorities from stepping up the digging.
The Muslim official stressed that the entire
area of the Haram al Sharif of Jerusalem, as indeed all of the town, was
an inalienable Wakf property and that the Israelis had no right being there
in the first place.
Like Ktheirat, Sheikh Hussein urged Muslims
around the world to be vigilant and watch meticulously every Zionist step
at and beneath Jerusalem's Muslim sites.
Quietly, outside of Israel, Palestinian
officials are warning the Islamic world that Israel is undermining the
Dome of the Rock. This is of major import to all Islam and is a call to
arms of considerable meaning as Israel's "demeaning" of Islam's third most
holy site can be a catalyst for a world wide Jihad.
In Jerusalem, the daily Al-Hayyat Al-Jadidah,
February 16, 1997 highlighted a statement issued by Sheikh Ikrima Sabri,
the Expounder of Al-Quds and Palestine, in which he announced the formation
of a technical committee made up of archaeological experts and engineers
to investigate Israeli drilling works beneath the courtyard of al-Aqsa
On February 13, 1997, Faruq Kaddumi, head
of the Palestine Liberation Organization's political bureau said in an
interview with the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram Al-Massai
that Palestinians have contacted several Arab governments to organize an
urgent Arab summit on Jerusalem and the protection of its Moslem holy sites.
He said, "Contacts have been made with Egypt and several other Arab countries
to call an Arab summit to protect Moslem and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
Kaddumi, who lives in Tunis said a special fund should be created to buy
up Palestinian land sold to Jews in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The moment of truth for Prime Minister
Netanyahu is rapidly arriving, as Arafat again makes his bid for a sovereign
state; yet this time Arafat is stronger and will use the Dome of the Rock
and al-Aqsa as a rallying cry ensuring the support of many members of the
Islamic world. The outcry will be predictably deafening as Islam struggles
for its "right" to worship freely in its third holiest site.
If we use the closest analogy we have,
the tunnel incident, the future is predictably bleak.
* Murray Kahl, publisher, Israeli &
This page was produced by Joseph
Middle Eastern Political and Religious
Brooklyn, New York
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