‘Al Aqsa is in danger’: Palestinians incite violence utilizing Jerusalem Motif
“Al Aqsa is in danger’ is a libelous slogan that is utilized to incite the Palestinian masses and the Arab world at large against Israel and the Jewish people for the past century. According to the libel, the Jewish people are seeking to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount and to replace them with a Third Jewish Temple. In other variations of the libel, the Jewish people are accused of “Judaizing” and “colonizing” Jerusalem, the eternal capital city of the Jewish people.
The Palestinians continue to engage in this libel even though the Jewish people have constituted the largest ethnic group within the Holy City since 1840, have lived within its walls for 3,000 years and possess history within the city spanning back 4,000 years, when Avraham, the founding father of Judaism, decided to sacrifice a lamb instead of his son Yitzhak on the Temple Mount. The Palestinians also frequently deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and refer to the city as a land of Ribat (Holy Islamic land).
A Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report claims that the “Al Aqsa is in danger’ libel originates with Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini, who exploited a Jewish campaign to pray at the Western Wall in order to accuse the Jews of seeking to destroy the Temple Mount mosques and to replace them with a Jewish Temple. His incitement that “Al Aqsa is in danger” led to the 1929 riots, where “inflamed Arab masses attacked Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the pogroms spread to Jewish agricultural settlements such as Motza, Be’er Tuvia, and Hulda, Jewish urban concentrations such as Haifa and Tel Aviv, and the mixed cities of Hebron and Safed. The mayhem went on for a week. 133 Jews, mostly in Safed and Hebron, were butchered. 339 Jews were injured. Eight Jewish settlements had to be abandoned and the events came to be etched as a terrible calamity in the collective memory of the Jews of Israel.”
There is a solid reason why the Arabs utilize the slogan “Al Aqsa is in danger,” even though it is a myth. Dr. Yitzchak Ben Gad, former Israel Consul General to Chicago, former Israel Consul General to Miami and former Deputy Mayor of Netanya, stated in an exclusive interview: “The Arabs beginning with the Mufti knew that the only thing that would incite the people to kill Jews is the religious issue. That is why in 1929, he said that the Jews wanted to destroy Al Aqsa. In the past, the Arabs never cared about Jerusalem. Jerusalem was only ever the capital city of the Jewish people. When the Arabs ruled the area, their provincial capital city was in Ramla. Mecca and Damascus are Muslim capital cities, not Jerusalem. Under the British Mandate, the Arabs never discussed the idea of establishing a Palestinian Arab capital city in Jerusalem. When the Jordanians controlled the Western Wall, it was littered with camel and donkey dung. This shows how important the Western Wall was to them. Therefore, religion is the only weapon that they have to use against Israel.”
Prominent Anti-Semitism Scholar Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has a different idea regarding why the Palestinian leadership utilizes the ‘al Aqsa is in danger’ myth and incites their people with Jerusalem as a main motif. He explained the rationale behind the ‘Al Aqsa is in danger’ and other Jerusalem-related Palestinian libels is as follows: “The Palestinian slogan ‘Al Aksa is in danger’ is a smart way of incitement. The Palestinians promote a future threat which is not real but has emotional appeal. As long as the imaginary threat has not materialized, it can always be recycled as a rallying cry. One has to understand the core of the manipulation. If one wants to attack people in a way which is difficult for them to refute, one accuses them of what they supposedly are going to do in the future. For example, the accuser may say about somebody else that he is a future rapist. The accused cannot prove that he will never rape anybody even if the accusation is entirely invented. Only when the accused dies, it becomes fully clear that his accuser is an extreme liar. The cry ‘Al Aqsa is in danger’ uses the same manipulation mechanism. One must see through the hate propaganda war of the Palestinians and identify the verbal tools they use in it.”
The myth that ‘Al Aqsa is in danger’ has haunted the Jewish people for the past century. It did not end with the Arab riots of 1929. One must recall how the libel played a role in ignoring violence in December 2000, only a few months before the outbreak of the Second Intifada. At that time, Mahmoud Abu Samra, an intelligence officer with the rank of colonel in the Fatah Movement, sent a letter to Former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat declaring that the Zionists “plan to destroy the Al Aqsa mosque with an artificial earthquake.” At the time, Arafat ordered that Samra’s letter be distributed to important Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem, even though it was a conspiracy theory that contained no element of truth. However, Arafat had good political reason to promote this falsehood.
Itamar Marcus, the founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch, a research center that monitors the Palestinian media and social media for incitement and anti-Semitism, stated in an exclusive interview: “Whenever the PA leaders need violence for their own political purposes, they pretend that there is some new crisis related to Jerusalem and specifically the Temple Mount, which they call the Al Aqsa Mosque. That ends up being the trigger for terror. In 2000, when Yasser Arafat was the lowest he ever was in the PA polls and in fact Palestinians were so pessimistic that they expected everything to get worse, that is when Arafat decided that he needed personal support. Arafat then proceeded to use the Sharon visit to the Temple Mount to trigger violence.”
“We know from a book by Mamdouh Nawfal, Arafat’s advisor on Internal Affairs, that Arafat called two meetings before the Sharon visit to the Temple Mount, one with the political leadership and one with military leadership,” Marcus related. “He told them that he knew he could get the Palestinian masses to rise up in violence in defense of Al Aqsa. It was a serious and planned out action. Violence started when Sharon was there. It led to Palestinian violent clips with Sharon on the Temple Mount. One of them said, ‘The oppressors have stepped over the bound and therefore, jihad is incumbent on us.’ They ran this over and over again. The PA calls it’s the Al Aqsa Intifada for Arafat wanted them to believe when they went out as suicide bombers, they did it for Al Aqsa.” Such incitement led to the commencement of the Second Intifada, which resulted in over 1,000 Israelis being murdered and thousands more being injured during a series of suicide bombing attacks that targeted civilian population centers in the Jewish state.
Arafat was not the only modern Palestinian leader to follow in Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini’s footsteps and to play the Al Aqsa card. In 2014, Marcus noted that Mahmoud Abbas was also very low in the polls: “We just had the Gaza War after the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. The polls showed that Hamas was two to three times as popular as Abbas for they fought this war. Abbas needed violence and that is what he did. He called for violence in defense of Al Aqsa. We documented dozens of statements claiming that Israel seeks to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. Abbas and the PA cabinet knew it was not true but still he created this fictitious issue of the Al Aqsa Mosque. In 2015, he needed violence again and then he started the Knife Intifada in defense of the Al Aqsa Mosque. So the basic fundamental question is, whenever the PA wanted violence, they turned to this. The PA does not consolidate people over PA nationalism but they do it for the Al Aqsa Mosque.”
Sadly, not much has changed since 2015. Sheikh Raed Salah of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, has also incited violence utilizing the libel “Al Aqsa is in danger.” According to Yedioth Achronot, “For years, Salah sponsored an annual conference in Umm al-Fahm under the banner ‘Al-Aqsa is in danger’ and the speakers—led by Salah himself—grew increasingly radical every year. The alliance with Hamas became much more open and Ismail Haniyeh referred to Salah as ‘the person carrying the honor of the Palestinian people, of the Arab and Islamic nation and of Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa.’ And it got worse and worse. According to Salah, history is marching towards the establishment of ‘the global caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital,’ which will be ‘the last stage in the history of the Islamic nation till the end of days.’”
A few months ago, Israel Hayom reported that the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement led by Salah, which was outlawed by the Israeli government, have partnered with ISIS in order to incite violence on the Temple Mount utilizing the slogan “ Al Aqsa is in danger.” Their incitement proclaiming that “Al Aqsa is in danger” has led to frequent unrest around the Temple Mount. In February, a mob of Arabs broke into the Gate of Mercy and announced their intention to build an unauthorized mosque there. Last month, an Arab rioter hurled a firebomb at the Israel Police on the Temple Mount. More recently, the Israel Police thwarted an attempt by hundreds of Palestinian rioters to hurl firebombs and riot on the Temple Mount. Several years ago, attacks like this occurred all the time and they only became less frequent due to increased Israeli security measures, not because the Palestinian incitement utilizing the Al Aqsa motif has waned.
Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and now also ISIS continue to incite that “Al Aqsa is in danger” so that the Jerusalem motif can be utilized to create unrest in the Holy City. As Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas proclaimed, “All means must be used to prevent Jews from going up to the Temple Mount.” He continues to proclaim that no Jewish Temple ever existed in the area and that the Jews “desecrate” the Al Aqsa Mosque, knowing full well that such public statements will serve as a battle cry for the Palestinian masses to instigate violence against the State of Israel.
For example, Palestinian Media Watch reported that the PA official daily Al Hayat Al Jadida published a cartoon depicting a Palestinian woman standing in front of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the background. In the cartoon, the Palestinian woman is weeping as her identity is being erased by three Jewish men wearing kippahs, who are painting over her portrait from bulldozers clearly marked with a Star of David. Earlier this year when Israel declared that it was expanding the Jerusalem Light Rail to the Mount of Olives, the PA Islamic-Christian Council for Jerusalem and the Holy Places told Al Hayat Al Jadida that the extension of the Jerusalem Light Rail constitutes a “clear insistence on Judaizing Jerusalem and its landmarks, and making it foreign to its sacred Arab Islamic-Christian reality.”
Palestinian Media Watch also reported that Supreme Shariah Judge and Abbas’ advisor on Religious and Islamic Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash proclaimed: “They [Israelis] want to find or make a foothold for themselves in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. And this will not happen as long as we are alive… Because whoever thinks that they can forsake one millimeter of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is also liable to forsake the noble Kaaba [in Mecca] or the Quran… Let them search elsewhere for the realization of their fairy tales. But here, this mosque is ours and it will remain ours as long as the world exists… Al-Aqsa is not up for bargaining and every inch of the Al-Aqsa Mosque including the Gate of Mercy and the Al-Buraq Wall (i.e., the Western Wall of the Temple Mount) and the Al-Buraq Plaza – all of it is an Islamic Waqf (i.e., inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law).”
In a separate instance, Al Hayat Al Jadida conducted an interview with Sheikh Ismail Nawahda, who said that “Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are going through a cultural, historical, humanitarian, and geographic nakba (catastrophe).” Nawahda added that “Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are subject to renewed danger these days, and we are witness to dangerous steps by the occupation that cannot be taken lightly, amid an exploitation of the situation in the region. This is by erasing the characteristics of the holy city [Jerusalem] and changing its Islamic Arab identity, falsifying its history, and reducing the Palestinian presence in it.” In another instance, Al Hayat Al Jadida reported that the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council emphasized “the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque with all its domes, plazas and courtyards aboveground and underground is entirely Islamic and any interference in its affairs by non-Muslims is illegitimate. Neither the occupation nor any power in the world can change the description of this mosque that belongs solely to Muslims.” Repeatedly, official PA media outlets deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. As Al Quds Open University President Younes Amr explained on PA TV, Jerusalem “is connected only to the Islamic and Christian religion, and not the Jewish religion.”
All of the incitement listed above is highly charged emotionally and it leads directly to calls for violence. For example, a post published on Fatah’s official Facebook page conveyed “blessings of honor to the men and women carrying out ribat (religious conflict) in Jerusalem. You are the nation’s glory and the first line of defense for our cause.” In another instance documented by Palestinian Media Watch, official PA TV showed a video clip glorifying suicide bombers Ayat Al Akhras and Wafa Idris while proclaiming: “Al Aqsa has called and its call is precious; For its sake, life is insignificant, even if it’s precious; God, grant us martyrdom there; God, promise us, we beg you; A million grooms and brides at the celebration; Have written their marriage contract in the blood on the veil; Filled with desire, they are going to the paradise of immortals; To a wedding procession with angels that fill Palestine with light.”
On Hamas’ Al Quds TV, the following inciteful poem was broadcasted: “We’ll make the enemy live in fear, in fear, in fear; I’ll dig your grave with my hands. I’ve reached you from all fronts and with the will of heroes; We don’t have planes but we have men; At the gates of the precious Al Aqsa Mosque; Leave, leave O foreigner; We’ll turn your day into night; From Rafah to the Galilee; the powerful wave will reach you; If the settler thinks to take a walk in the Al Aqsa plaza, set out towards him with the sharp sword; Strike, strike, strike; we won’t let him approach the Al Aqsa Mosque; the response, the response, the response, the response; we’ll punish the occupier; whether during the day or at night, I go to the Al Aqsa Mosque; I go down with the Quran and the knife to die as a martyr while fighting; We will die and Palestine will live; This is what the self-sacrificing fighters have said.” The entire Hamas video clip showed footage of Palestinians waging terror attacks.
Aside from the official incitement towards violence in Palestinian media and social media outlets, the Palestinian population in Jerusalem is routinely exposed to incitement inside of the Al Aqsa Mosque itself. For example, according to a report by MEMRI, a research institute that monitors Middle Eastern media outlets, Palestinian cleric Sheikh Issam Amira recently delivered a sermon inside of the Al Aqsa Mosque, where he proclaimed that once an Islamic state is established in the Holy Land with Jerusalem as its capital city, the Muslims will first try to convince the ‘infidels’ that they should convert to Islam and when they refuse, “the Islamic armies would set out, and missiles and fighter gets would be launched, and we will turn those people into a lesson for the entire world.” In another sermon inside of the Al Aqsa Mosque by Palestinian cleric Nidhal Siam, America, Great Britain and Russia were referred to as devils who will be shackled: “They know that each and every member of the Islamic nation constitutes a time bomb that will explode, as soon as the Caliph of the Muslims gives the order: Come to Jihad!”
Aside from the political component, there is also an economic motive that stands behind the libelous claim ‘Al Aqsa is in danger,’ which is not widely discussed in the media. Apparently, in recent years, the myth ‘al Aqsa is in danger’ has transformed into a “money making motif because mentioning Al Quds to other Muslims in the world especially ones from the Gulf states who can afford to pay has become a successful business,” a Palestinian analyst from East Jerusalem who spoke on condition of anonymity explained in an exclusive interview. “It brings in money regardless of the kind of danger it is in. The danger is always looming for the simplest of reasons. For any reason, they start crying out Al Aqsa is in danger and thus turning the focus away from the people of Jerusalem, their needs and their problems.”
The Palestinian analyst noted that Al Aqsa has never been in danger for the Dome of the Rock is holy to the Jews, not Al Aqsa. However, he added that the myth that ‘al Aqsa is in danger’ is easy to promote in the wider Muslim world because most Muslims “cannot tell the difference between the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. If they are that ignorant, then they are easy to fool with the billions of dollars coming in and going into peoples’ pockets. After all, it is very intimidating to hear that Al Aqsa is in danger when they don’t know what kind of danger it is in. This causes hatred in the hearts and minds of people in the Arab and Muslim world. Thus, ever since the establishment of the Al Quds Fund after Al Aqsa was set on fire in 1969, donations have poured in from all over the Muslim world. The funds are still coming in but God knows where they are going. Unfortunately, that is the situation. They are still manipulating. It is an ongoing thing. It is not something that is new to the people of Jerusalem.”
Regardless of the reasoning’s behind the libel, the myth that ‘Al Aqsa is in danger’ has spread like wildfire throughout the entire world. What started with Haj Amin Al Husseini, the Palestinian Authority, the Islamic Movement and the Palestinian terror groups does not end with them. Not only have many Arab and Muslim nations bought off on the ‘Al Aqsa is in danger’ myth but so too have too many individuals in the West, who believe in the libel’s modern variation that Israel is Judaizing and colonizing Jerusalem. The National Students for Justice in Palestine condemns Israel’s Judaization and “colonization of East Jerusalem,” as does the UN, a number of Western politicians, a number of anti-Israel NGOs and too many academics on Western college campuses. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once stated, “A lie gets half way around the world before the truth gets a chance to put its pants on.” Furthermore, Niccolo Machiavelli once declared: “One who deceives will always find those that allow themselves to be deceived.”
Given that this is the reality, Gerstenfeld believes that the only way that Israel can defend itself against this libel is to go on the offensive for the best defense is a good offense. He believes that being non-responsive to their hate propaganda does nothing but stimulate their incitement and help it to grow, thus leading to even members of the American Jewish community ignoring the criminality of the PA and Palestinian terror leadership: “By Western democratic standards, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are not only totally immoral but also profoundly evil organizations. This evil has to be shoved continuously under their noses. Israel pays a high price for not systematically exposing PA criminality and the similar criminality in parts of the wider Muslim world.”