By: Salim Mansur; gatestoneinstitute.org
- It was over the ruins of these sacred Jewish sites, left behind by the Romans, that Arab conquerors of Jerusalem in the seventh century built two mosques, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa, to lay claim on the City of David for Islam.
- There can be no dispute about Jewish links with Jerusalem, and Jewish rights to their sacred sites that long pre-date the arrival of Arabs bearing Islam to the City of David. This latest effort by the UNESCO, however to deny the Jewish nature of Jerusalem is much more than a scandal; it is a Stalinist measure to airbrush history by an organization which, according to its own charter, is supposed to be devoted without prejudice to the preservation of historical records.
- There is precedent for such a resolution to nullify the recent UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem. In December 1991, the UN General Assembly voted to repeal the UN resolution passed in 1975 that declared, “Zionism is a form of racism.”
- Muslim denial of the Jewish links to the City of David and their ancestral rights over Judea and Samaria, or Palestine, is ironically contrary to the Word of God in their own sacred scripture.
- Their claim on Jerusalem, or the holy land, on the basis of Islam is simply not found in the Quran. On the contrary, the Quran is explicit in addressing Jews as “children of Israel” and speaking of them, as in “Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favoured you above all other people.” (2:47)
A resolution on “Occupied Palestine” this past October, at the 200th session of the Executive Board of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris, France, was orchestrated by Arab and Muslim member-states as another attempt to diminish Jewish links with Jerusalem. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, despite Israel’s opposition, adopted the resolution by a vote of ten countries in favour, two opposed, and eight abstentions.
In 1975, UNESCO was already an official supporter of the UN declaration that “Zionism equals racism.” So it should come as no surprise that in October 2016, a UNESCO resolution pointedly ignored the Biblical Jewish connection to two of the faith’s holiest sites in Jerusalem: the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, which pre-date Islam by hundreds of years.
Instead, the resolution refers to the Temple Mount compound solely in Arabic: The Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif, as it is called by Muslims. The resolution also unfairly rebukes Israel’s caring oversight of these sacred places.
In effect, the passage of this resolution amounts to diplomatic jihad by Qatar and Arab-Muslim countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) against Israel. As usual, unaffected by historical fact, a corrupt UN agency, which should protect heritage sites and not debauch them, has provided support to the knife-wielding jihad of Palestinians — the same who are encouraged to commit murder and who then are praised for it by Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestine Authority (PA).
The Arab-Muslim countries together, as the 57-member OIC, including the “Palestine Authority” — form the largest single bloc in the UN; their numbers alone are mostly responsible for the one-sided prejudicial treatment of Israel in the UN.
Any fair-minded individual, however, will agree with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, “To say that the Jewish people has no connection to Jerusalem is like saying that the sun creates darkness.”
A reasonable response at UNESCO, or in any other forum, to this deranged effort of OIC members to delegitimize Jewish and Israeli links to Jerusalem, would rest on evidence, and not on airbrushing historical records.
One may note how often the stories of the Old and New Testament were enacted in the precinct of the Jewish Temple, as in the story of Jesus’s confrontation with the moneychangers. Then one may take into account the eyewitness testimony of Josephus Flavius, a priest in the Jewish Temple during the Herodian era and a rebel against Rome who eventually surrendered to the Romans. Josephus witnessed the Romans destroy the Jewish Temple in AD 70 and wrote an account of what occurred in his book, The Jewish Wars, which we have at hand to give us evidence of events in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.
In Rome, any present-day tourist can behold, on the ancient Arch of Titus, the engraved likeness of the Jewish candelabra (Menorah), which the Romans brought back from Jerusalem after ransacking the Jewish Temple.
Then those who want to study the history of the sacred sites of Jews in their ancient city may read The Temple of Jerusalem by Professor Simon Goldhill of Oxford University. It was over the ruins of these sacred Jewish sites, left behind by the Romans, that Arab conquerors of Jerusalem in the seventh century built two mosques, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa, to lay claim on the City of David for Islam.
There can be no dispute about Jewish links with Jerusalem, and Jewish rights to their sacred sites that long pre-date the arrival of Arabs bearing Islam to the City of David. This latest effort by the UNESCO, however, to deny the Jewish nature of Jerusalem is much more than a scandal; it is a Stalinist measure to airbrush history by an organization which, according to its own charter, is supposed to be devoted without prejudice to the preservation of historical records.
In such circumstances, when the UN is abused by the numerical weight of Muslim countries, it might be asked on the basis of fairness: would UNESCO adopt a resolution that declares Muslim claims on Jerusalem as a sacred city for Islam untrue? It might not be far-fetched to imagine such a resolution submitted at some future session of the UNESCO, and adopted by a majority vote.
The likelihood of reversing the UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem by another resolution that affirms Jewish rights to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall has increased with the forthcoming change of administration in Washington, led by Donald Trump elected as the 45th President of the United States. There is precedent for such a resolution to nullify the recent UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem. In December 1991, the UN General Assembly voted to repeal the UN resolution passed in 1975 that declared, “Zionism is a form of racism.”
It is undeniable that the Muslim claim on Jerusalem as one of Islam’s sacred cities — the other two, far more major ones, being Mecca and Medina — rests on exceedingly shaky grounds.
It is an article of Muslim faith that the Quran is the Word of God. And there is no explicit mention of Jerusalem in the Quran.
At the beginning of Muhammad’s prophetic mission, he prayed in the direction (qiblah) of Jerusalem. Then, according to a verse in the Quran, he was directed to pray by turning “toward a qiblah which is dear to thee” (2:144), that is the Ka’aba (the cube) in Mecca.
Then follows the claim based on the story of Muhammad’s heavenly “night journey” from “the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far Distant Place of Worship the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed” (17:1). Again, there is no explicit mention of Jerusalem in this opening verse from the chapter in the Quran known as Bani Israil or “The Children of Israel.”
It was much later, and after Muhammad’s demise, that the ulema (religious scholars) agreed the location of the “far distant place of worship” was the Temple Mount. It is a stretch, however, by Muslims to take the Quran’s elliptical reference to the Temple Mount and deny any link the site has with the Jewish faith and history. It is simply dishonest to make such inference in delegitimizing Jewish rights to the site that is indisputable historically as the grounds on which the Jerusalem Temple once stood.
According to the earliest historians of Islam, the grounds of the Temple Mount was piled high with garbage, deposited there over the centuries by the Byzantine Christian inhabitants of the city. The same historians — Tabari (d. AD 923) was the most notable — report that when the Arab armies took Jerusalem in AD 638, the Byzantine Patriarch or ruler, Bishop Sophronius, indicated he wished to surrender the key of the city to the Muslim leader in person. Hence Umar, the second Caliph, or Successor of the Prophet (AD 634-44), came to Jerusalem, and Sophronius received him on the steps of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
When it was prayer time, as we find in the narratives of Syed Ameer Ali and F.E. Peters, based on the earliest Muslim sources, the Bishop invited the Caliph to pray inside the Church. Umar declined Sophronius’s invitation by observing that if he did, then those Muslims who came after him in following his example might lay claim on the Church. Umar obviously knew well the mentality of his people. Instead, Umar prayed outside in an open area where now stands the Mosque of Umar adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But when Umar wanted to learn about the sacred sites of Jerusalem, the same historians record that it was a Jew by the name of Ka’b al-Ahbar, who had embraced Islam and was accompanying the Caliph, who guided him around the sites. Umar ordered the removal of garbage from the Temple Mount area, and Jews were granted permission to pray on the site that had been denied them under Byzantine rule.
When Arabs and Muslims deny Jewish links to Jerusalem, they are also then in denial of their own history. Their claim on Jerusalem, or the holy land, on the basis of Islam is simply not found in the Quran.
On the contrary, the Quran is explicit in addressing Jews as “children of Israel” and speaking of them, as in “Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favoured you above all other people” (2:47). Or, as the Quran recalls the words of Moses to his people, “O my people! Go into the holy land which God hath ordained for you. Turn not in flight, for surely ye turn back as losers” (5:20-21).
An objective reading of the Quran — setting aside the later exegesis of the ulema as more or less politically motivated — and the accounts of the earliest Muslim historians does not give unequivocal support to claims of Muslim countries over Jerusalem. Indeed, Muslim denial of the Jewish links to the City of David and their ancestral rights over Judea and Samaria, or Palestine, is ironically contrary to the Word of God in their own sacred scripture.
It is Muslims who are in the wrong over Jerusalem. And no amount of their fallacious efforts in UNESCO, or at the UN, can airbrush the historic links of Jews with the City of David and deny Jews their rights to the sites most sacred to them, in the words of the Quran, as the people of the Book.