Countering historical evidence and a publication released decades ago by a precursor to his office, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem denied the historical presence of Jewish temples atop a contested holy site, which has been a flashpoint in the ongoing violence wracking the Jewish state.
Speaking in Arabic to Israel’s Channel 2, Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein said that the Temple Mount, known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, was a mosque “3,000 years ago and 30,000 years ago” and “since the creation of the world.”
The grand mufti, who was appointed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2006, said in the same interview, “This is the al-Aqsa mosque that Adam, peace be upon him, or during his time, the angels built.”
During the interview, the Times of Israel reported, Hussein denied there had ever been a Jewish presence atop the Temple Mount, in clear contradiction of historical evidence, including “A brief guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif” published by the Supreme Moslem Council in 1924.
The document, which has circulated widely online, acknowledges the sanctity and long history of the site.
“Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute,” the document reads in part. “This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.’”
There’s a sentence associated with the holy site, said Dr. Robert Satloff, executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that “the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is the site of Solomon’s temple and al-Aqsa is the site of Muhammad’s ascension to heaven.”
“One is a faith statement and the other is rooted in fact. Both are powerful and relevant, but it’s a mistake to equate the two statements,” said Satloff. “And that’s regrettably what the mufti has done, and in so doing, he erases history, which is self-defeating, because the whole point of building the al-Aqsa mosque” was to enshrine the history of the space. Many Jews and Muslims believe that the site is where the binding of Isaac occurred and the point from which the world was created.
The al-Aqsa mosque was commissioned in the eighth century by Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.
What Hussein said on Israeli television underscores “the fact that the current denial of the historical Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is a political statement of recent origin,” said Satloff. “It’s a political fact that reflects a political dispute and in that sense needs to be addressed in a political fashion.”
Hajj Amin al-Husseini was the grand mufti of Jerusalem in pre-state Israel when the pamphlet was published. He is the same Husseini whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said inspired Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews. Netanyahu walked back his comments after harsh criticism from prominent historians and Holocaust memorial organizations, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated Germany’s responsibility for the genocide of six million European Jews during World War II.
Still, Husseini, who died in exile in Beirut in 1974, was a fierce anti-Zionist and ally of Hitler. He met with the Nazi leader in November 1941, extracting support for the eradication of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, although there is no evidence that he told Hitler to exterminate the Jews. Husseini focused his meeting on obtaining Nazi backing for “the independence and unity of Palestine, Syria and Iraq” under Arab rule.
The Temple Mount is frequently a flashpoint in Jerusalem. Non-Muslims may visit, but only Muslims may pray there. The site is overseen by the Jordanian Waqf, with security provided by Israeli forces. Palestinian authorities blamed unspecified Israeli moves to change the status quo for the flare-up of violence that has seen Palestinians resort to stabbing attacks against Israeli civilians. The Israeli government vehemently denies that any change had taken place atop the holy site.
Whether Jews should visit the site at all is contested. Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef issued a statement last week reiterating a previous decree barring Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, lest they accidentally stumble upon the site of the biblical “holy of holies,” where only specific people may tread, and “infringe on the purity” of the sacred place. Others, such as Rabbi Yehuda Glick, campaign for expanded Jewish access on the Temple Mount. Glick was shot in the chest four times last year by Mutaz Hijazi, who allegedly said “I’m very sorry, but you’re an enemy of al-Aqsa, I have to” before firing.
Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Europe and then Jordan last week in an effort to resolve the ongoing violence.
Kerry, speaking alongside Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Saturday, announced that Netanyahu and King Abdullah II had agreed to 24-hour video coverage of all sites on the Temple Mount. Kerry characterized the installation of cameras as a “game changer” that could discourage “anybody from disturbing the sanctity” of the site.
Satloff believes that while the cameras may offer a technical solution, because they do not address the political nature of the issue, the cameras are “regrettably, unlikely to impact the situation.”
Judeh underscored Jordan’s interests in the contested holy site and called Jordan a “stakeholder” in any negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“When it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli peace, all of the final status issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis touch the very heart of Jordan’s national security and national interests,” as Jordan is home to millions of Palestinian refugees, said Judeh.
Israeli police intervened on Monday when technicians, at the behest of the Muslim Waqf in charge of the Temple Mount, began installing cameras. Israel maintains that the cameras will only be installed after Israeli and Jordanian technical teams finalize the arrangements.
In remarks to the press days before, Netanyahu said, “I think it’s time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas: Stop spreading lies about Israel, lies that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the al-Aqsa Mosque and lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All that is false.”
JTA contributed to this report.
Melissa Apter covers politics for Mid-Atlantic Media. She can be reached at email@example.com.