Haaretz, an Israeli daily, reports that the Military Rabbinate issued a presentation for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah including a picture of the Western Wall plaza without the Dome of the Rock, a mosque that is visible from the Western Wall plaza. The Dome of the Rock is located in the Haram al Sharif compound that includes al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Sunni Islam.
One of the slides in the presentation, which described Hannukah as a “Festival of Jewish heroism” and included a quiz and article about the ancient Maccabean revolt against the Greeks. The picture, however, was not a reproduction of the temple as it appeared in the Maccabean times but, rather, the Western Wall plaza as it exists today. The Dome of the Rock was photoshopped out of the image.
The IDF presentation is part of Israeli authorities’ continued efforts to change the political and religious status quo in the areas surrounding Haram al Sharif. It is not the first time that the military’s religious authorities have gotten involved in the place–in the past the army’s Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Goren, initiated excavations in the area.
After the 1967 war, the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs began the project of exposing the entire length of the Western Wall. This operation involved tunneling beneath residential neighborhoods that had been constructed on ancient structures along the Western Wall. Major unrest erupted when the tunnels opened in 1996.
The Western Wall plaza was built in the place of Harat Al-Magharbia (also known as the Mughrabi Quarter), a Morroccan neighborhood that was demolished at the end of the 1967 War. The neighborhood was built in the time of the Ayyubid dynasty. It is believed that the son of Salah al-Din gave the area to the Mughrabi community at the end of the 12th century as waqf, Islamic religious endowment.
In 1967 the neighborhood had 135 houses, two mosques, Al Buraq and Al Afdali, Sufi prayer halls and hostels, and was home to approximately 650 people. By June 12, the quarter had been completely flattened. Most of its inhabitants ended up in the Shu’fat refugee camp.
According to Haaretz, the IDF explained that the image was used for illustration only and was intended to depict the events that took place during the Maccabean war with the Greeks, when the Dome of the Rock had not yet been built.
Israel has also attempted to assert control over Muslim religious sites inside Haram al Sharif.
Last week the “Al Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage” reported that Israel has installed closed circuit TV cameras to monitor the Aqsa Mosque from the side of the Mughrabi Gate. The foundation claims that this step aims to restrict and intimidate worshippers inside the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Jerusalem’s waqf holdings, said that “this is a serious precedent…the cameras must be removed immediately.” He added that he has filed a complaint with the Israeli police, demanding that the cameras come down.
Haram al Sharif, which Jews call the Temple Mount, and the surrounding areas were a constant point of tension between Muslims and Jews since the beginning of the British mandate. In April 1920, British attempts to change praying traditions in the area of the Western Wall sparked clashes between Jews and Muslims. When Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited Haram al Sharif in September 2000, clashes erupted between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police; seven Palestinians were killed in clashes the following day. The events led to the outbreak of the Second Intifada, known as the Al Aqsa Intifada.
The current actions by Israeli authorities in the area, including the closing of the Maghraba gate and the construction of a new bridge there, are dangerous provocations that could lead to violence.
* This article was published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)