Triumph of Hysteria
The riots on the streets of Jerusalem and the international protests against a construction project near Jerusalem's Temple Mount were successful. The work has been suspended for the time being. Accordingly, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lopianski backtracked on Sunday evening. His spokesman Gideon Schmerling announced a pause in the matter of the Temple Mount. The plans for the new construction of a permanent pedestrian access to the temple area - already approved by the city council - are now to be presented to the residents of the city. Any objections from the citizenry would be heard before any further work was done. The process should be transparent so that everyone would be clear that the holy places of Islam would not be affected.
The construction work is likely to be postponed indefinitely, as Schmerling expects thousands of reservations. The renovation measures had become necessary because the old pedestrian ramp had been destroyed by a snowstorm and an earthquake in 2004. For the time being, only a temporary wooden walkway will lead to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the vicinity of the Wailing Wall.
After the Six Day War and the conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel also claimed control of the Temple Mount. But this did not happen. Today, the Waqf, a Muslim religious foundation, manages and protects the area. However, according to the Israeli authorities, the pedestrian crossing outside the actual site is under their sovereignty.
But wherever construction takes place in Israel, archaeological excavations must first take place – as required by the country's law. And even if this work does not take place either on or under the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the rumor circulates among Muslims that the construction of the footbridge was intended to cover up other secret machinations inside the Temple Mount. The darkest suspicion on the Arab side: Israel keeps taking on and working under the Temple Mount to hollow out the hill and ultimately bring down the mosque.
It's always the same song: Muslim sites are threatened, believers' feelings are hurt, the Prophet is insulted, then it shrills in the key of indignation. Israel has known the sermon for years, and now the rest of the world has heard it too during the protests against the Mohammed cartoons.
But what interest would the city of Jerusalem or the state of Israel have in destroying the Dome of the Rock? Should "the Jews" plan to bulldoze a tourist attraction just so that Palestinians and other Muslims can no longer pray in the 1,400-year-old house of worship? And besides, what threat could the construction of a pedestrian bridge on the perimeter wall of the area for the church in its center pose?
No matter how absurd the threatening backdrop is portrayed, it is always enough for a hysterical outcry of outrage when Israeli authorities act in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. The Palestinian militiamen from Hamas and Fatah had been shooting each other down for weeks, and now suddenly unity was needed again. No sooner had Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Islamist counterparts Prime Minister Ismael Hania and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal agreed on a government of national unity in Mecca than they took on this problem, which is enormously important for the survival of an independent Palestinian state. "Our people can't help but resist these measures," said Abbas, who is considered moderate, while flags were burning in Jerusalem and stones were being thrown on one side and tear gas grenades on the other. They were assured of the support of their Muslim brothers. From Morocco to Turkey, from Indonesia to Egypt, heads of state warned the authorities in Jerusalem to be considerate of Muslims' feelings.
But there is something completely different on the Islamist agenda. Basically, it's not really about the mosque or the Temple Mount alone, it's about Jerusalem and who has sovereignty over the city. Ever since 1967, an unfortunate year for Palestinians, Islamic scholars have increasingly denied that Judaism had any connection to the city. Only briefly, say six or seven decades, has Jerusalem been Jewish in the past, so there is no justification for Israeli authorities holding sovereignty over the area.
Moreover: Not only was Solomon's temple never stood there (in fact, there is no archaeological evidence for this to this day), but also the western wall - the remainder of the Herodian temple known as the Wailing Wall - is actually part of a Muslim building. Some particularly eccentric minds even go so far as to claim that the mosque goes back to Abraham, i.e. to a time long before Mohammed. Well…
At the same time, however, there is also the suspicion that the Israeli measures were intended as a provocation and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would have accepted the riots with approval. As early as 1996, when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, the opening of a tunnel near the Temple Mount caused serious unrest in which 69 Palestinians and 16 Israelis died. And Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in 2004 triggered the second Intifada. Now the ailing prime minister wants to distract from the problems he has been in since the ill-fated Lebanon campaign last summer. There may be something to it.
In any case, the loud and violent protest against the renovation of a pedestrian bridge bore fruit within a few days. However, the triumph of hysteria is a Pyrrhic victory. The preparatory archaeological excavations on the edge of the Temple Mount were not stopped. Maybe by next Friday prayer someone will say that to the sensitive Muslims.