Thursday, April 24, 2008


BY ADIL RASHEED (Khaleej Times Editorial Page Issues) / 24 April 2008

The Majestic Qubbat Al-Sakhra Mosque or 'Dome of the Rock

ALMOST every night a loud rumble shakes their tenements. Palestinians living close to Occupied Jerusalem's Al Haram Al Shareef compound complain of being frequently awakened in the wee hours by the distinctive noise of a mechanised dig.

Many of the residents are convinced that slowly and surely Israelis in the area are burrowing their way toward the holy compound in order to weaken the foundations of its two Holy Mosques.

However, the international community rather ingenuously accepts Israeli explanations. For some strange reason, the issue has remained buried under the pile of other intractable problems fomenting Palestinian-Israeli hostilities. Even the news of this dig barely makes a blip on the radar of the world's free media.

Still, Palestinian concerns should not be taken lightly. Any untoward fallout of this dig could have enormous, potentially cataclysmic, implications for global peace and security.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is respected by roughly a fifth of mankind, the approximately 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe. To them, Al-Aqsa Mosque is the site of their 'first Qibla,' the second house of prayer established on Earth, and the third holiest Islamic site after the two Holy Mosques at Holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. It was from a rock within the Holy Al-Sakhra Mosque that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had ascended to the heavens. The sanctity of this holy site can only be understood by the profuse allusions to it in the Holy Quran and Hadith.

Al-Haram Al-Shareef lies at the heart of Jerusalem. At its southern end is Al-Aqsa Mosque and at its centre is the celebrated Qubbat Al-Sakhra Mosque or the 'Dome of the Rock.' However, for Muslims everything enclosed within the walled Al-Haram Al-Shareef precinct is sacred and inviolable.

What makes the excavation work, from the Silwan area to the Western wall, near the Al-Aqsa compound more dubious is that nobody, not even any Western journalist, is allowed to inspect the dig. Moreover, it is not the Israeli government but an Israeli settler outfit, the Ir David Foundation, which is financing the dig.

Claimed to be based on a late 19th century British excavation, Israeli diggers assert the quarry has exposed an ancient tunnel that veers close to the mosque complex but does not pass under it. However, many Palestinians believe the real plan behind this excavation is to dig secret tunnels beneath Al-Haram Al-Shareef to weaken the foundations of its sacred shrines.

Palestinian fears are by no means unfounded. They are aware how on August 20, 1929, extremist Jews aided by the British army raided the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque complex and seized control of its western part, including Al-Buraq Wall (now known as the Wailing Wall by the Jews). In a span of 15 days, 338 Palestinians are said to have been killed in their effort to thwart Zionist plans.

Then in 1967, the Israeli army entered Haram Al-Shareef in tanks. Thereafter, the then chief rabbi of the Israeli Army, General Shlomo Goren, entered the mosque courtyard and pointed toward a spot, which he said should be the site for the construction of the Third Jewish Temple. He clearly stated that he had planned a project for establishing the temple in the place of the Holy Al-Aqsa and Al-Sakhra Mosques.

On August 21, 1969, an extremist by the name of Dr Dennis Michael Rohan set the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque on fire. The flames caused extensive damage to the mosque, especially its historic 'minbar' (pulpit). However, Rohan was absolved of all charges on grounds of insanity.

Then on April 11, 1981, an American-born Israeli soldier named Alan Harry Goodman was able to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, after which he started firing randomly. Two Palestinians were killed in the firing.

The Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque

In 1968-69, Israel carried out excavations close to Al-Aqsa Mosque and 'opened' two tunnels that penetrate beneath it in the area of the Hulda and Single gates. Then from 1970 to 1988, Israeli authorities dug up a tunnel passing northwards from the Western wall of the holy mosque. In doing so, they used mechanical excavators, which caused cracks and structurally weakened the buildings.

In 1996, the digging of an archaeological tunnel near the sacred compound again triggered unrest. Sixty-one Arabs and 15 Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes. On September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa compound, which provoked the Second Intifada. In the ensuing bloodshed about 6,000 Palestinians were martyred.

Then again in February 2007, Israeli forces demolished the historic road leading to Bab Al-Maghreba, for the building of a huge bridge in its place, to provide easy access for Israeli security forces and Jewish extremists groups to the courtyard of the holy site. These incidents clearly demonstrate the reasons why Muslims are apprehensive of Israeli intentions of carrying out excavations near Al-Haram Al-Shareef.

However, the current threat to the holy compound seems to be the greatest and most organised of its kind. Apart from their aforementioned dig, they are also building a ring of new settlements in the area, which Palestinians say will bolster their claim to the city of Jerusalem in any future peace deal. Last month, Israel invited tenders for 750 new housing units in this area of East Jerusalem.

However, despite all the archeological digs, authentic remains of ancient Jewish temples have not been found at the site. In fact, Israeli excavators have been baffled by the failure of the excavations in exhuming the so-called "Jewish era" of Jerusalem.

Therefore, far from establishing any Jewish legitimacy over the holy Islamic sites, present excavation work near Al-Haram Al-Shareef would merely weaken the foundations of the sacred mosques in the holy compound. In doing so, Israel is not only aggravating its existing tensions with the Muslim world, it is also risking the disastrous consequences of any untoward development caused by the dig. 

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