Denying the Temple
The belief that no Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem has become a mounting problem.
On the ninth day of the 2000 Camp David Summit, Yasir Arafat, then Palestinian National Authority President, told President Bill Clinton that “Solomon’s Temple was not in Jerusalem, but Nablus.” Arafat’s remark, known as “Temple Denial,” shook the foundation of the negotiations, as the leading Palestinian figure denied the existence of Judaism’s holiest site. Temple Denial is historical revisionism that runs counter to classical Islamic tradition and archaeological evidence. Since the 1967 Six-Day War, after Muslim control over the Temple Mount was lost to Israel, the belief that no Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem has developed and become internalized within Palestinian academic, religious, and political circles. Since Camp David, Temple Denial has transformed into a virulent delegitimization campaign that attempts to deny both Jewish authority and access to the Temple Mount and Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem.
JEWISH TIES TO JERUSALEM AND THE TEMPLE MOUNT
For Jews, the Temple Mount is the holiest place in the world. The Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount originates in the biblical narrative, as it is said to be the location of the binding of Isaac. The Talmud, Judaism’s supreme canonical text, says that the foundation stone on the Temple Mount is the location from which the world was created. In Samuel II 24:18-25, King David bought the bedrock for the Temple from Araunah the Jebusite. Subsequently, Solomon, David’s son, used the bedrock to build the First Temple. Solomon’s Temple was eventually destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 586 BCE.
For Jews, the Temple Mount is the holiest place in the world.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple, many Jews were sent into exile. However, under the Persian King Cyrus, the Jews were allowed to return and began to rebuild the Temple. The Second Temple was completed in 516 BCE and expanded by King Herod in 19 BCE. In 70 CE, the Roman Empire, led by Emperor Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. Jews have maintained an unbreakable connection to Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount since that time.
Today, Jews follow a number of different customs in remembrance of their fallen Temple. When Jews pray, they pray toward Jerusalem. Within the daily liturgy, there are numerous calls for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. During the week, after meals, Jews recite a grace, which includes the recitation of Psalm 137 (“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”). At the end of a wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a glass, which signifies the Jewish people’s continued mourning over the Temple’s destruction. In addition, many have the custom of leaving a wall in their home unfinished in remembrance of the destruction. All of these customs play a significant part in the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, which former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated “represents the purist expression of all that Jews prayed for, dreamed of, cried for, and died for in the two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple.” In addition to the customs and ideology, the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem is internationally recognized.
ISLAMIC LITERATURE AND THE TEMPLE MOUNT
Classic Islamic literature also recognizes the existence of a Jewish Temple and its importance to Judaism. This makes Palestinian Temple Denial all the more puzzling.
In Sura 17:1 of the Koran, the “Farthest Mosque” is called the al-masjid al-Aqsa. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a well-respected Sunni exegesis of the Koran from the 15th and 16th centuries, notes that the “Farthest Mosque” is a reference to the Bayt al-Maqdis of Jerusalem. In Hebrew, the Jewish Temple is often referred to as the Beyt Ha-Miqdash, nearly identical to the Arabic term. In the commentary of Abdullah Ibn Omar al-Baydawi, who authored several prominent theological works in the 13th century, the masjid is referred to as the Bayt al-Maqdis because during Muhammad’s time no mosque existed in Jerusalem. Koranic historian and commentator, Abu Jafar Muhammad al-Tabari, who chronicled the seventh century Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, wrote that one day when Umar finished praying, he went to the place where “the Romans buried the Temple [bayt al-maqdis] at the time of the sons of Israel.” In addition, eleventh century historian Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Maqdisi and fourteenth century Iranian religious scholar Hamdallah al-Mustawfi acknowledged that the al-Aqsa Mosque was built on top of Solomon’s Temple.
This is a small sample of the Islamic literature attesting to the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. Innumerable other writings from other faiths attest to this fact, as well.
THE TEMPLE MOUNT DURING THE PALESTINE MANDATE
The modern phenomenon of Temple Denial began during the Palestine Mandate. During this period, the Temple Mount was under the authority of the Supreme Muslim Council, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husayni. The Supreme Muslim Council published yearly guide books to the Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount). Drawing from those available, the 1924, 1925, 1929, and 1935 guide books all stated that the Haram al-Sharif’s “identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. 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.” The recognition of the Temple Mount’s importance to Jews in the guidebooks continued until 1950, two years after Israel’s establishment. However, by 1954, the references to Solomon’s Temple disappeared. At some point between 1950 and 1954, the Muslim waqf (religious authority) that governed the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque inexplicably began to remove the references seen in earlier guide books.
One of the earliest cases of Temple Denial occurred in the aftermath of the Arab disturbances of August 1929, which erupted over disputes between Jews and Muslims regarding access to the Western Wall. These riots led to the Hebron and Safed massacres and the death of 133 Jews and 116 Arabs. Following the riots and due to pressure from the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, an international investigative body examined Jewish and Muslim claims to the Western Wall. This investigation led to the Report of the Commission Appointed by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the Approval of the Council of the League of Nations, to Determine the Rights and Claims of Moslems and Jews in Connection with the Western or Wailing Wall at Jerusalem.
The report acknowledged Jewish claims to the Temple Mount, noting, “It was Solomon who built the first Temple of Jerusalem."
The report acknowledged Jewish claims to the Temple Mount, noting, “It was Solomon who built the first Temple of Jerusalem, the grandeur and beauty of which have become widely renowned, thanks to the holy books and the historians. The Temple was situated on Mount Moriah on the platform, now known as the Harem-esh-Sherif area.” Despite this acknowledgement, the Muslim claim formulated within the report stated, “It is here a question about property which has belonged to the Moslems for many centuries. The Buraq forms an integral part of the Haram-esh-Sherif, not a single stone of which dates back to the days of Solomon.” This claim played a pivotal role in the commission’s conclusion, which recognized the significance of the Western Wall to Jews, but deemed the site a Muslim property.
THE RISE OF TEMPLE DENIAL
During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel launched a preemptive strike against its neighboring enemies and conquered all of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, including the Temple Mount. Following the Israeli victory, Israel claimed sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the government immediately passed the Protection of Holy Places Law. While Israel now controlled the Temple Mount, it left administrative control in the hands of the waqf. Yet Israel’s claim of sovereignty did not sit well with many in the Muslim world, sparking fears of Jewish aspirations to usurp all of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Defending Jerusalem from the Jews quickly became the centerpiece of the nascent Palestinian political ideology. The first step in denying Jewish control was denying the Jewish connection to the site. Palestinian historians soon launched a campaign to deny the importance of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to Jews. The new writings quickly spread throughout the Arab world.
These texts typically argued that any Jewish presence in Jerusalem was less significant than the Muslim one. To that end, the existence of Solomon’s Temple was denied. In cases where the existence of Solomon’s Temple was acknowledged, it was described as a minor prayer room. In addition, the Western Wall was deemed a Muslim holy site, while the Jewish connection was declared to be a falsehood. These claims have only risen in popularity throughout pro-Palestinian circles in the Muslim world since 1967.
In the more recent writings, the denial of Solomon’s Temple is expressed through the use of the word al-maz’um (alleged) with al-haykal (the Temple). The use of the word al-maz’um is a direct attempt to negate the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount. The main argument made by those who deny the existence of the Jewish Temple is that no proof of the Temple’s existence has ever been found. Palestinian officials have adopted this position. Former Director of Foreign Publications for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Ministry of Information Walid Awad stated, “The fact of the matter is that almost thirty years of excavations did not reveal anything Jewish… …Jerusalem is not a Jewish city, despite the biblical myth implanted in some minds.” Jordanian academic Arafat Hijazi wrote, “42 archaeological teams excavated at al-Aqsa between 1891-1925 and hundreds have excavated since 1967, but not one archeologist has found a remnant of the Temple or any indication of the existence of Jews in Palestine.” Abd al-Rahim Rihan Barakat, the director of antiquities in the Dahab region of the Sinai, further declared, “The legend about the Jewish Temple is the greatest historic crime of forgery.”
TEMPLE DENIAL WITHIN ACADEMIC, RELIGIOUS, AND POLITICAL CIRCLES
Temple Denial is now a popular narrative in universities in the Muslim world. The denial of the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and the Land of Israel often take on traditional anti-Semitic motifs, even in academic settings. Jordanian academic Muhammad Dohal, for example, asserted that the Jewish connection to Palestine is a modern creation that is part of a Jewish plan to rule the region “through active control, media control, or economic control.” Just as the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is viewed as an imperialist plan, the belief in the Temple is viewed as an imminent threat to the al-Aqsa compound. Former Chief Justice of the Religious Court of Palestine and Chairman of the Islamic-Christian Council for Jerusalem and the Holy Places Shaykh Taysir al-Tamimi declared, “The worrying silence of the nation is what is encouraging the occupation [Israel] to carry out its plans against Al-Aqsa… The Al-Aqsa Mosque is currently subject to domination and desecration and transformation into a synagogue.”
In 2005, Shaykh Dr. Ahmad Nawfal, a lecturer at the Shari’a Faculty of the University of Jordan, argued, “The Jews dug 40 meters into the ground, and found nothing. There is no indication that a temple existed there. Brothers, they are making fun of you. Unfortunately, we are unwittingly legitimizing this nonsense of theirs. This is nonsense. This is heresy and blasphemy against God, history, human beings, and common sense.” The idea of the Temple Mount having a Jewish connection is worrisome for many Palestinians, thus they argue that until hard evidence is shown, it is a forgery; and when pro-Palestinian writers and scholars admit that the Temple did exist, it is usually argued that it was not near the al-Aqsa compound.
Former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Shaykh Ikrima Sabri, arguably the leading Temple denier, stated on many occasions that the Jewish connection to the Temple was a myth. In a 1998 interview with the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon, Shaykh Sabri voiced his opinion:
Moslems have no knowledge or awareness that the Temple Mount has any sanctity for Jews. Why should we allow the Jews to share in places which are holy to us and to Islam… The Moslems ruled the land, since the Caliph Omar, and only now have the Jews remembered to demand a right to the Temple Mount. The Moslems will never permit anyone to enter the Temple Mount. If the Jews really want peace, they must absolutely forget about having any rights over the Temple Mount or al-Aksa Mosque. The Western Wall also belongs to Moslems, and was given to the Jews as a place of prayer only because the British asked and the Moslems agreed out of the goodness of their hearts. The Western Wall is just a fence belonging to a Moslem Holy Site.
Similarly, the aforementioned al-Tamimi stated, “I know of Muslim and Christian holy sites in [Jerusalem]. I don’t know of any Jewish holy sites in it… Israel has been excavating since 1967 in search of remains of their Temple or their fictitious Jewish history.” The current Mufti of Jerusalem, Shaykh Muhammad Hussein asserted that Jews “claim that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built over the ruins of the alleged Temple. The construction of these buildings [by Israel], and the synagogues with the large, wide domes [in Jerusalem] – all of this is meant to erase the remains of the Islamic culture and to replace them with [their] alleged culture, through the power of occupation.” For some, like the Al-Aqsa Institute for Religious Affairs and Heritage, Jewish activity in Jerusalem is viewed as part of a satanic plot:
There is increasing Israeli occupationist madness [aiming] to harm the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to realize a dark and fabled dream–the establishment of the alleged Temple in place of the Al-Aqsa Mosque… All the Israeli actions in Jerusalem and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque are part of a satanic plot, and therefore the position is worrying and most dangerous. Action must be taken to halt this criminal occupationist activity against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem.
While the denial from religious leaders is troublesome, since many Muslims take their cue from their clerics, the most damaging narrative may come from Palestinian politicians, among whom this phenomenon has risen sharply since the 2000 Camp David Summit. At Camp David, while meeting with President Clinton, Arafat declared that “Solomon’s Temple was not in Jerusalem, but Nablus.” In addition, Saib Arikat, a leading Palestinian negotiator said, “This whole issue of the Temple… is a Jewish invention lacking any basis.” These claims were retorted by President Clinton, who said that “not only the Jews but I, too, believe that under the surface there are remains of Solomon’s Temple.”
In late July 2000, Nabil Sha’ath, a Palestinian minister, said, “Israel demands control of the Temple Mount based on its claim that its fictitious temple stood there.” Two years after Camp David, Arafat changed his claim as he asserted that there is “not a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there, because historically the Temple was not in Palestine [at all].” Arafat furthered his claims in 2003 during a presentation to a delegation of Arab leaders in which he argued that the Jewish Temple never existed in Jerusalem, but rather it existed in Yemen and that he had personally visited the site.
Mahmoud Abbas also engaged in Temple Denial when he said that Jews “claim that 2000 years ago they had a holy place there. I challenge the assertion."
Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, also engaged in Temple Denial when he said that Jews “claim that 2000 years ago they had a holy place there. I challenge the assertion [that there has ever been a Jewish temple].” More recently, Yasir Abd Rabbo, Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee, asserted, “[Israel] entered the [Muslim] holy sites [in Jerusalem], in order to fulfill a legend and basing themselves on it… in order to build what is called the false Temple.” Temple Denial has spread throughout many circles because the al-Aqsa compound has become the centerpiece of Palestinian political thought. The fact that the al-Aqsa compound is viewed as a national symbol has moved the denial beyond just the Temple Mount.
DENYING JEWISH TIES TO THE WESTERN WALL
The phenomenon of Temple Denial today includes the Western Wall. The denial of a Jewish connection to the Western Wall is an attempt to restrict the Jewish right to pray at the holy site. Indeed, the attempt to deny Jewish rights to pray at the Western Wall was seen in the aforementioned 1930 League of Nations report. The report, which claimed that the Western Wall was Muslim property, provided the foundation from which current Palestinian scholars, religious, and political leaders reject the Jewish connection to the site.
In general the Palestinian denial of the importance of the Western Wall to Jews is based on three principles. First, there is the claim that Muhammad tethered his steed, al-Buraq, to the Western Wall on his night journey before having the Koran related to him. This implies that Islam’s claim on the site supersedes that of the Jews. Second, and as a possible means to strengthen their own claims, they posit that Jews invented the Western Wall as a holy site. Third, Jews have no historical claim to the site. These ideas are regularly presented by Palestinians and their supporters in the Muslim world. In 2002, Arafat Hijazi wrote that Muslims “must redeem from its state of desecration occupied al-Buraq, whose sanctity has been violated by the Jews… They can wail anywhere, while the Muslims have no other place where the Prophet tethered al-Buraq.” These ideas were supported by Shaykh Ikrima Sabri who said:
There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish History. Our right, on the other hand, is very clear. This place belongs to us for 1500 years. Even when it was conquered by the Crusaders, it remained Al-Aqsa, and we got it back soon afterwards. The Jews do not even know exactly where their temple stood. Therefore, we do not accept that they have any rights, underneath the surface or above it… There is not a single stone in the Wailing-Wall relating to Jewish History. The Jews cannot legitimately claim this wall, neither religiously nor historically.
Shaykh Sabri, along with Dr. Nasr Farid Wasil, the former Mufti of Egypt, also issued fatwas (religious edicts) that prohibit Muslims from referring to al-Buraq as the Wailing Wall. In September 2010, a PA TV documentary showed Jews praying at the Western Wall, during which the narrator said, “They [Israelis] know for certain that our [Palestinian] roots are deeper than their false history. We, from the balcony of our home, look out over [Islamic] holiness and on sin and filth [Jews praying at the Western Wall].”
In a study published by the PA Ministry of Information in November 2010, al-Mutawakil Taha, the author of the report, wrote, “The Zionist occupation falsely and unjustly claims that it owns this wall, which it calls the Western Wall or Kotel… this wall was never part of the so-called Temple Mount, but Muslim tolerance allowed the Jews to stand in front of it and weep over its destruction.” The study, which is the official position of the PA, concluded that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone of Al-Buraq Wall or other religious sites.” Following strong condemnations by Israel and the United States, the study was removed from the official website of the PA’s Ministry of Information. However, it soon reappeared on the official website of the Palestinian Authority’s news agency, Wafa.
Despite running counter to Islamic tradition, Temple Denial has since 1967 remained an integral part of the Palestinian nationalist ideology, which is predicated on the rejection of Zionism and Jewish ties to the Land of Israel. The continued spread of Temple Denial poses a serious problem to a peace process based on coexistence and mutual recognition. As the debate intensifies over the final status issues, including the Temple Mount, Temple Denial must now be addressed.
This article originally appeaered on www.gloria-center.org
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