The already debunked accusation that Israel's archaeological dig in Jerusalem's Old City threatens the Temple Mount continues to be used as an excuse to charge Israel with attacking Muslim religious freedom. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Omar Ahmad claims that "Israeli government excavations and construction projects continue to chip away at the mosque's foundation." (See our communique for details on why this is patently untrue.)
Ahmad claims that Israel is "violating American principles of equality for all religions. American leaders must insist that Israel's respect for Jewish religious sites extend equally to Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem."
Facts and talking points:
- The US State Department itself recognizes that Israeli law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government respects this right.
- Respect for all religious sites only existed following the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli control. Prior to this, Jewish religious sites were desecrated by the Jordanians and access for Jews to their holy sites was prevented.
- Although it is the holiest site in Judaism, Israel has left the Temple Mount under the control of Muslim religious authorities.The Islamic authority, the Waqf oversees all day-to-day activity there. An Israeli presence is in place at the entrance to the Temple Mount to ensure access for people of all religions.
- The rights of the various Christian churches to custody of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem were defined in the course of the nineteenth century, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire. Known as the "status quo arrangement for the Christian holy places in Jerusalem," these rights remained in force during the period of the British Mandate and are still upheld today in Israel.
Ahmad also conveniently ignores the archaeological vandalism carried out by the Waqf on the Temple Mount that has caused irreparable damage to artifacts from the First and Second Jewish Temple periods.
Other issues raised by Ahmad include the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance, which, he claims, "is constructed -- literally -- over the dead bodies of a Palestinian population that was expelled from its homeland." Ahmad, while attempting to portray Israel as a desecrator of Muslim sites, fails to add important context, including the fact that this issue is currently before the Israeli Supreme Court.
Facts and talking points:
- Over forty years ago, an Islamic court ruled that the land was no longer sacred and could be used for construction or other purposes. Even four decades before that ruling, in 1922, the infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, built a luxurious hotel on part of the land. The Mufti ruled that construction was possible if the tombs were removed and reburied in another place, and he made plans to build a Muslim university on the same tract of land.
- The cemetery has been abandoned for well over a century and, in 1964, an Islamic court ruled that its status was mundaras (erased), meaning that its holiness had expired. Muslim scholars and religious leaders have allowed the "recycling" of cemeteries that have not been used for more than a generation. The Islamic Movement, however, sees the dispute as an opportunity to claim part of Jerusalem as a Muslim enclave.
- The Israel Antiquities Authority has been especially careful in removing remains found at the site for reburial. The Wiesenthal Center has also offered to re-inter all of the remains in the part of the cemetery that still exists, and plans to renovate and fence off the area.
Ahmad quotes the then Israeli army chief rabbi Shlomo Goren as advocating the destruction of Al-Aqsa in 1967. While this view was expressed by Goren at a time before he became Chief Rabbi of Israel, this in no way represents the religious or political view of Israel's Chief Rabbinate or indeed any Israeli government, which has always respected the rights of Muslims to their holy sites, as outlined above.
Ahmad also refers to a number of attacks by extremists against the Temple Mount, falsely comparing this to current Israeli government activities. In fact, Israeli authorities have consistently attempted to stop fanatics - of all faiths - from desecrating religious sites or committing acts of violence near them. When it has been unable to stop such acts from occurring, Israel has severely punished the perpetrators.
In short, Omar Ahmad has launched a thoroughly inaccurate and misleading attempt to paint Israel as a desecrator of religious freedoms, when, in fact, the opposite is true.
(For more on many of the issues raised here, see Mitchell Bard's Myths & Facts Online, and particularly the section on Jerusalem.)
Please write to the San Francisco Chronicle - firstname.lastname@example.org - asking why the paper has published an op-ed so riddled with inaccuracies and poor journalism from a writer with such an obvious and false agenda.
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