Israeli Excavation Will Not Destroy al-Aqsa

In 1988, the late King Hussein, father of Jordan’s current ruler, renounced his country’s claim to the West Bank. However, Hussein maintained Jordan’s authority to look after the holy Islamic locations in that region, a custodial role that Israel continues to recognize.
An archaeological dig in Jerusalem which began earlier this month has sparked aggressive demonstrations by Muslims throughout the world.
On Feb. 23, because of increasing pressure, Israel suspended plans for a footbridge from the Western Wall to the Mughrabi Gate entrance into the Temple Mount. Pressure from much of the international community, particularly Europe, has also contributed to placing the repairs on hold.
The encouragement for violence over al-Aqsa is rooted in an 80-year-old Palestinian claim that the Western Wall is actually the Muslim holy site al-Buraq, which is named after the horse in Muhammad’s mythical ‘Night Journey’ to Jerusalem.
The proposed work, a footbridge, was to replace a wooden slope built on a mound of fill material collapsing from heavy rains in recent years. The feeble ramp leads to the Mughrabi Gate, the only access for non-Muslims entering the Temple Mount, which also happens to be the holiest site in Judaism.
The project first required meticulous archeological excavations to recognize any antiquities beneath the planned bridge, an area rich with layers from the Second Temple, Byzantine and early Islamic periods. Once excavated, the bridge pilings were to be secured in such a way as to conserve any antiquities located in the area.
Israeli authorities had quietly evaluated the proposed project and approved it, even receiving an affirmation from the Jordanian-controlled Waqf which serves as the Islamic trust that oversees the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount. But when the digs began in early February, frenetic Muslim leaders incited riots after Jewish Friday prayers in Jerusalem, alleging that the work will destroy al-Aqsa.
Israeli officials, moreover, have issued repeated reassurances that the excavations were safely outside the al-Aqsa compound. But Palestinian leaders countered that the Western Wall is ‘occupied territory,’ as well as an exclusively Islamic holy site. Sheikh Raed Salah, the militant leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, implored Arabs to violently oppose Israeli officials and police.
Al-Aqsa sits on the Temple Mount and is considered the third-holiest site in the Islamic religion. Therefore, agitation about anything to do with al-Aqsa is one of the few things that can unite the entire Arab world. Imams and mullahs are calling for riots in Jerusalem and for all Arab countries to cut ties with Israel.
Throughout the world, Muslim protesters have been marching the streets, shouting things like ‘With our blood we sacrifice our souls to al-Aqsa’ and ‘Oh, Jewish people, the army of Muhammad will return.’ Many protests have become increasingly brutal, such as the ones in Kashmir.
The controversy surrounding al-Aqsa Mosque is just another example of an attempt to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the international community. Israelis were aiming at completing work well outside the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem. The goal of this work, moreover, was to simply rebuild a ramp to the mosque that collapsed a few years ago. Notions that Israel was planning to damage anything in that region, as many radical leaders have claimed, are complete fabrications.
It is clear that no matter what Israel does or doesn’t do, the blame will always be placed on it. Even the incidents with the Danish cartoons, for example, were presented as a Zionist-Israeli conspiracy against Arabs.
Imams and mullahs, furthermore, are apparently manipulating the situation through vicious lies, painting a grizzly picture in the Arab world and depicting the incident as an assault on al-Aqsa and Islam.
The fact remains that Israel should not have had to capitulate in this matter, as the protests serve as another method for radical Muslims to produce propaganda attacking the state of Israel.

Reut R. Cohen is a third-year English major. She can be reached at rrcohen@uci.edu.