The surest way to whip up the Palestinians, to provoke their anguish and anger, is to claim that “Al-Aqsa is in danger.” More on this charge, and its malign consequences during the last century, can be found in this enduringly relevant article from mid-May: “‘Al-Aqsa Is in Danger’: The Anatomy of a Lie,” by Chaim Lax, Honest Reporting, May 18, 2023:
Over the past 100 years, one of the most dangerous lies to emerge from within Palestinian society is the claim that “Al-Aqsa is in danger.”
This allegation holds that Jews / Zionists / the State of Israel are planning on destroying Al-Aqsa Mosque and replacing it with the Third Temple.
Unlike other myths spread about Israel and the Jewish People, this libel is particularly dangerous as it has – and continues to – inspire deadly anti-Jewish violence….
The myth that Jews and Zionists are threatening to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque can be traced back to 1921, soon after the establishment of the British Mandate of Palestine.
This antisemitic libel was originally manufactured and disseminated by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.
For the Grand Mufti, the purpose of spreading this libel was to incite against the Zionists and local Jewish community, to deride his political opponents as those who were giving up the mosque to the Jews and to aid in the creation of a national Palestinian ethos.
What was originally a Palestinian Arab myth confined to the British Mandate was soon spread to other parts of the Muslim world by Sheikh Abd al-Qadir al-Muzaffar, a Muslim religious leader and Palestinian nationalist.
Between 1922 and 1924, al-Muzaffar led various delegations to large Muslim communities in the Middle East, North Africa and India, collecting funds for the renovation of the Dome of the Rock and the Haram Al-Sharif (which Al-Aqsa Mosque is a part of).
As part of his financial appeals, al-Muzaffar claimed that the collected funds would be used not only for the renovations but also for the “defence of the Haram Al-Sharif.”…
It was easier for al-Muzaffar to gather money from Muslims around the world if he could alarm them about a supposed “Jewish threat” to the Haram al-Sharif, and the need for donations to be given to him, al-Muzaffar, in order that he might “defend the Haram al-Sharif” from that nonexistent threat. Worried Muslims were ready to open their wallets for such an effort. It would be fascinating to know how much al-Muzaffar kept for his own care and feeding, as the Defender of the Mosque. We have a right to be suspicious.
Throughout the 1920s, the lie that ‘Al-Aqsa is in danger’ permeated the atmosphere of tension that existed within the British Mandate.
For example, in September 1928, after a religious partition was set up at the Western Wall, the Jewish community published a letter openly stating that this should not be construed as a threat to the mosques.
However, two months later, the General Muslim Conference passed a resolution that served as a “statement of the danger which threatens the Mosque owing to the ambitions of the Jews to expropriate it from the hands of the Moslems.”
The Muslims refused to accept the assurance of the Jewish community that a religious partition at the Western Wall was no threat to them, and had nothing to do with what went on at Al-Aqsa, which – it could have been pointed out — stands 2,428 feet above the level of the Western Wall where the Jews put up the partition, intended to separate Jewish sects from each other.
This tension came to a head in August 1929 when Palestinian Muslims, incited by rumors of an imminent Jewish plot to destroy Al-Aqsa, rampaged throughout the land. In total, 133 Jews were killed over six days, including 67 members of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron.
Every few years during the Mandatory period, the Palestinians would whip themselves up into a frenzy about the putative Jewish threat to Al-Aqsa. They never asked themselves what exactly that threat consisted of. Had the Jews given any sign that they were planning to set fire to. Al-Aqsa? Or to turn it into a synagogue? Or raze it and build a Third Temple in its place? When have the Jews ever tried to touch a hair on the head of Al-Aqsa?
During the 1930s and 1940s, when the political fight over the future of the Land of Israel took on a much more important role, the centrality of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Palestinian national narrative diminished, and – with it – the libel that the mosque was under the threat of destruction by Jews and Zionists.
Then, with the Jordanian conquest of eastern Jerusalem in 1948 and the banning of Jews from the Old City, the libel virtually vanished from the public sphere.
The “threat to Al-Aqsa” disappeared when the Mosque, and the Temple Mount, and the entire Old City, were in the hands of the Jordanians between 1949 and 1967. The only real threat of destruction during that period was not to Al-Aqsa, but to Jewish sites in east Jerusalem. The Jordanians blew up 56 of the 57 synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Not content with that effacement of the Jewish presence, they vandalized and destroyed tens of thousands of tombstones in the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world, the Mount of Olives Cemetery, which held 150,000 ancient graves. The Jordanians pulled up those tombstones from the cemetery. Some they crushed into gravel for use in road building, and others they used to line the latrines of Jordanian army barracks.
Following Israel’s liberation of eastern Jerusalem (including the Old City) in 1967, the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” libel resurfaced, particularly in Jordan and Palestinian society.
In fact, the Israelis did nothing after 1967 to endanger the Muslim hold on Al Aqsa. The Mosque continued to be off-limits to the Jews. But what was surprising was the host of prohibitions concerning the Temple Mount that were placed by Israeli authorities not on Muslims, but on Jews visiting the Temple Mount. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan unilaterally decided, just after the end of the Six-Day War, that Jewish visitors to the Mount would be forbidden from saying prayers, whether openly or silently, and would not be allowed to bring with them onto the Mount any prayerbooks, prayer shawls, or tefillin. Jews would not be allowed to visit the Temple Mount on Fridays, out of solicitude for Muslim feelings. Furthermore, while Muslims could visit the Temple Mount at any time of day, seven days a week, Jews were allowed to visit only on five days of the week, and then only for three hours in the morning, and one hour in the afternoon. Were the Muslims grateful to Israel for limiting Jewish access to the Mount, and forbidding Jewish prayer on the site? Not in the slightest. Their aim remains unchanged: to drive the Israelis off the Mount, and out of the Old City, entirely, as part of a campaign to squeeze Israel back within the 1949 armistice lines, before trying again to destroy the Jewish state.
In the years following 1967, two events occurred that helped to solidify the popularity of this libel on the Palestinian street: In 1969, an Australian national named Denis Rohan, while suffering from psychosis, set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, damaging a prayer hall.
Then, in 1982, an Israeli-American named Alan Goodman opened fire with his army-issued rifle in the Mosque’s courtyard, killing two and wounding several more.
Even though both Rohan and Goodman acted alone and were promptly arrested by Israel and sentenced to lengthy incarceration periods, these two attacks helped feed into the conspiracy theory that Al-Aqsa Mosque was under threat from Jews, Zionists and the State of Israel.
Even today, Rohan’s arson attack is commemorated annually throughout the Muslim world as a Jewish attack against the Islamic holy site, notwithstanding the fact that Rohan was a devout Christian.
In other words, the actions of two lunatics – Denis Rohan and Alan Goodman – one trying to set fire to Al-Aqsa and the other, while suffering a mental lapsus, shooting at worshippers inside the Mosque – are blamed by many Palestinians on Israel, even though Israel tried, convicted, and gave long sentences to, both of these madmen.
In 1990, the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” libel inspired 3,000 Muslims to gather on the Temple Mount after a rumor was spread that a Jewish organization was planning to march on the site. This devolved into the October riots, which led to the deaths of 17 Muslims and a number of wounded on both sides.
There was no Jewish organization in 1990 planning “to march on the Temple Mount” and, presumably, continue right into Al-Aqsa. But the truth hardly mattered then, or now. It had never mattered before 1990, when Arabs ran amok over the rumors of Jewish plans on Al-Aqsa. This led Arabs to riot, and to attack Jews all over Jerusalem. Seventeen Muslims died in the course of these absurd frenzies; many more – including Jews too – were wounded. For a while this calmed things down: it’s as if the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs had a need to every so often let off a kind of murderous steam, after which they would relapse into sullen hostility, and after a few years of relative quiet, they would again allow themselves to be whipped up over the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” libel and the attacks on Jews would again erupt, be violently suppressed, and quiet would again reign for several years until the next eruption of madness over that nonexistent “threat to Al-Aqsa.”