Why is this man unhappy? He is Raed Salah, the head of the Islamic movement in Israel, which perhaps is a sufficient enough explanation, since heads of Islamic movements are usually outraged about one imagined affront or another.
(By the way, the phrase "head of the Islamic movement in Israel" alone exposes the falsehood of former President Carter's accusations that Israel is an "apartheid state" that discriminates against its Muslim minority. Is there a head to the "Jewish movement" or the "Christian movement" in Saudi Arabia or Iran? Of course not, because the Islamic governments of those countries would never allow a political movement in the name of a non-Islamic religion. In Saudi Arabia, it is not even permitted to practice Christianity or Judaism. In Israel, a Western democracy, religious minorities are protected, their rights to practice their religions are guaranteed, and they may even participate in political movements in the names of their religions. But I digress.)
Salah's immediate unhappiness, however, arises out of the reconstruction by Israel of a ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate at the top of the Temple Mount. The old ramp, which was the main tourist access to the Al Aksar mosque compound and the Dome of the Rock, partially collapsed in a snowstorm some three years ago.
Yet, it is not the ramp construction that irritates Salah, but rather the archeological excavation below the ramp, which has uncovered breathtaking discoveries from the time of the Second Temple. As this press release from the Israeli Antiquities Authority relates
"Among the ancient finds: a section of the lower aqueduct, which conveyed water from Solomon’s Pools to the Temple Mount; a rock-hewn and plastered ritual bath (miqve) that dates to the Second Temple period; remains of a magnificent colonnaded street - the Eastern Cardo - from the Roman-Byzantine period; a covered stoa; and a row of shops.
"At the top of the bedrock cliff, in an area that lay within the Upper City, a section of the lower aqueduct was exposed that conveyed water from Solomon’s Pools to the Temple Mount. A rock-hewn, plastered miqve that was originally situated in the foundation level of a private residential building from the time of the Second Temple was also exposed. The miqve was damaged at a later date when the bedrock cliff was being hewn into a vertical wall that rose up to a maximum height of about ten meters."
Salah and other Moslem leaders have reacted to the archaelogical dig with anger and threats of religious war. As reported in this story in the Jerusalem Post
, Salah has accused Israel of "the crime of demolishing a part of the blessed Al Aksa compound" and of "pushing the whole region to religious war."
The accusation is a patent lie; the excavations are located dozens of yards from the Temple Mount. There has never been any archeological excavations on the Temple Mount, precisely due to Moslem religious sensitivities.
(This official Israeli attitude, by the way, stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of the Moslem Waqf, which with Israeli government permission administers the Al Aksa mosque compound at the top of the Temple Mount. During its excavation on the Temple Mount, near the location of Solomon's Stables (a fanciful name, they are neither Solomon's, nor Stables), for the foundation of the largest mosque in Israel, the Waqf refused to allow archeological supervision, in blatant definance of Israeli law, and dumped dozens of truckloads of antiquities mixed with tons of rubble in a garbage dump outside the Old City. The Waqf's actions were described as an "unprecedented archeological crime" by Israel's top archeological body for its massive destruction of antiquities at the site, but the Israeli government, always oversensitive to Moslem sensibilities, refused to intervene and enforce Israeli law.)
Perhaps even more serious than the threats of Salah, the Fatah-affiliated Aksa Martyrs Brigades threatened on Wednesday to attack synagogues if Israel continued the excavation. In a press release sent to newspapers, the group announced that all synagogues would become legitimate targets and that "the sanctity of the Al Aksa Mosque should not be less than that of the synagogues."
Egypt and Jordan have also now lodged official protests, saying that the dig threatens the resumption of Middle East peace talks.
So what's all the fuss, if no damage is being done to the mosques on the Temple Mount? The discoveries from the Second Temple do terrible damage to the Palestinian fantastic claims that a Jewish Temple never existed on the Temple Mount. Yassir Arafat, may his name be erased, was particularly adamant on this point. Arafat's steadfast denial of any Jewish historical claim or interest in the Temple Mount or in Jerusalem generally nearly drove President Clinton to distraction during the Camp David negotiations, as related by Dennis Ross in his book, "The Missing Peace."
Of course, the intellectual and logical inconsistencies of Arafat's positions are incredible. He would proudly insist that Jesus was a Palestinian
, harassed, persecuted and ultimately killed by the Jews; and that Jerusalem is legitimately holy to Moslems and Christians, but not Jews. Yet, if there was no Holy Temple on Temple Mount, how could Jesus have preached and taught in the Holy Temple, and why did Jesus come to Jerusalem for his last Passover?
Saleh and his like are simply following their late master's lead. The objective: to delegitimize the historical foundation for restoration of a Jewish State in Israel. Arafat knew then, and Saleh knows now, that if the Arabs can get the Israelis themselves to repudiate their Jewish heritage in the Land of Israel, and particularly in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, they will have achieved a major victory in their campaign to destroy the Jewish State. The Palestinians recognize that they cannot prevail over Israel militarily, and cannot match Israel's economic strength, but they can destroy Israel's morale and will to live, by depriving Israel of its spiritual foundation.
Sadly, the Moslems understand this point better than the Jews. At Camp David, Barak was ready to give up all Jewish claims to the Temple Mount. Just this past week,
it was revealed that Prime Minister Olmert has agreed to allow the King of Jordan to build a fifth Moslem minaret on the Temple Mount, the first new minaret to be built there in over 600 years. At the same time, the government turned down a Jewish application to build a synagogue in the corner of the Temple Mount where the minaret will be located. Today, in the face of hysterical Moslem protests based on blatant falsehoods, left-wing Jewish members of the Knesset are calling on Israel to stop the excavations.
As one might expect of persons with such weak ties to their own religious heritage, placating Moslem sensibilities, no matter how baseless the supposed offense, always takes precedence over Jewish sensibilities.
This attitude, so Western, so modern, and so tolerant of everything but Judaism, inevitably takes its toll. Due to left-wing secular control over the Israeli public school curriculum, today students in the secular public schools learn next to nothing about Judaism's ancient historical ties to the Land of Israel. This sharply contrasts with the practice of the first two decades of Israel's existence, when the Bible was thoroughly studied in Israeli public schools, not as a religious text, but as the historical foundation of the modern State of Israel. That approach seemed to die out with the generation of Israel's founders.
And so imagine the secular Israeli college graduate of today, who is extremely well-educated and technologically savvy, but knows little of his heritage in the land where he was born. He can live and prosper anywhere in North America or Western Europe. Whys should he sacrifice to live in the Land of Israel? Why should he face the continued threat of terrorism, war, and even nuclear annihilation to live in Israel? Denied of Jewish religious training and even of factual knowledge of his historical roots; and following the example set by Barak, Olmert and other left-wing politicians, who continually display little regard for Jewish heritage in the Land of Israel, he reaches the logical conclusion, and emigrates. (One should not be surprised to learn that Olmert's adult children have emigrated.) That is the result that Arafat hoped for. That is the goal of Saleh today, and, yes, of Mubarak and King Abdullah as well.