The Temple Mount and UNESCO

You do not have to be a historian to know that Jerusalem was originally a Jewish city with, later, Christian connections and, later still, weak Islamic connections. The second Jewish Temple, completed by King Herod in 19 BCE, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE (depicted at left in a 1626 painting by Nicolas Poussin). The current Aqsa Mosque (right) on the Temple Mount was first built in the year 705, seventy-three years after Muhammad’s death in 632, and rebuilt several times after earthquakes. (Images’ source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

  • The attempts to deny any ancient and ongoing Jewish presence in Jerusalem, to say there was never a first let alone a second Temple and that only Muslims have any right to the whole city, its shrines and historical monuments, have reached insane proportions.
  • Is this really what it boils down to? The Islamic State rules the international community? Including UNESCO?
  • The world is outraged when it sees the stones of Palmyra tumble, or other great monuments of human civilization turn to dust. But that same world is silent when the Palestinian Arabs and their supporters Islamise everything by calling into question the very presence of the Jewish people in the Holy Land.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is known throughout the world for the many places it designates as World Heritage Sites. There are more than one thousand of these, distributed unequally in many countries, with Italy at the top, followed by China.

The largest single category of sites consists of religious sites, categorized under the heading of cultural locations (as distinct from natural ones). Within this category, UNESCO has carried out many dialogues with communities in order to ensure that religious sensitivities are acknowledged and guaranteed. UNESCO has undertaken many measures in this field.

In 2010, the organization held a seminar on the “Role of Religious Communities in the Management of World Heritage Properties.”

“The main objective of the [seminar] was to explore ways of establishing a dialogue between all stakeholders, and to explore possible ways of encouraging and generating mutual understanding and collaboration amongst them in the protection of religious World Heritage properties.”

The notion of dialogue in this context was clearly meant to avoid unilateral decisions by one nation or community to claim exclusive ownership of a religious site.

Alleged or actual claims to multiple ownership of religious sites are not uncommon. A collection of essays entitled, Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution, examines such disputes over shared religious sites in Turkey, the Balkans, Palestine/Israel, Cyprus, and Algeria, providing powerful analyses of how communities come to blows or work reconcile themselves in a willingness to share shrines and other centres. Sometimes people come to blows over these sites, and sometimes one religion can cause immense pain to the followers of another, as happened in 1988 when Carmelite nuns erected a 26-foot-high cross outside Auschwitz II (Birkenau) extermination camp in order to commemorate a papal mass held there in 1979.

Muslim invaders did indeed destroy or modify thousands of “idolatrous” temples and sacred sites in India, just as they did elsewhere on a lesser scale, and just as the Islamic State has been doing for several years in modern Iraq and Syria. This is not simply the sort of destruction normally associated with wars, invasions, or civil disputes. For Muslims, it has a theological basis. Islam, as it has existed since the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632, is predicated on three things: the belief that there is one God without partners or associates; the belief that Muhammad is the messenger of that one God; and the belief that Islam is the greatest and last religion revealed to mankind, authorized by God to destroy all other religions and their artefacts:

“He (God) has sent his prophet with guidance and the religion of the truth in order to make it prevail over all religion” (Qur’an 9:33; 61:9).

It is this last belief that has, for over 1400 years, instilled a deep sense of supremacism within the Muslim world.

As many Muslims believe that Islam is the final revelation and Muhammad is the last prophet, so they believe that they cannot possibly live on equal terms with the followers of any other faith. Jews and Christians may live in an Islamic state, but only if they submit to deep humiliation and abasement and in return for the payment of protection money (the jizya tax). Churches and synagogues may not be repaired or, should they collapse, be rebuilt. Islam trumps everything.

This last doctrine is used repeatedly in the works of modern Salafi ideologues such as the Pakistani Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi and the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb. Here is a fairly typical statement by Qutb, from his best-known publication, Ma’alim fi’l-tariq, (“Milestones”):

“Islam, then, is the only Divine way of life which brings out the noblest human characteristics, developing and using them for the construction of human society. Islam has remained unique in this respect to this day. Those who deviate from this system and want some other system, whether it be based on nationalism, color and race, class struggle, or similar corrupt theories, are truly enemies of mankind!”[4]

Here is a recent comment by a modern Salafi writer:

“this worldwide domination of Islam which has been promised by Allah does not necessarily mean that every single person on earth will become Muslim. When we say that Islam will dominate the world, we mean as a political system, as the messenger Muhammad prophesied that the authority on earth will belong to the Muslims, i.e. the believers will be in power and the Sharee’ah [Shari’a] of Islam will be implemented in every corner of the earth”.

Under Islamic jihad law, any territory once captured for Islam must remain an integral and inviolable possession of the Muslim authorities.[5] In other words, even entire countries like Spain, Portugal, India, Greece or the Balkan nations that had been colonies under Ottoman rule, should be reclaimed for Islam, either by re-conquest or through the current “cultural jihad.”

It is through mass immigration, separatism, gradual introduction of Islamic law, and ghettoization that many countries in Europe have grown to be victims of a more determined Islam. But one territory remains under the threat of a violent takeover: the state of Israel.

The dispute is not primarily political. After the First World War, a system of international law was created, and that mutually agreed system was expanded after World War II to all countries joining the United Nations. Israel was created, not to displace the Arab inhabitants of what the British named Palestine, but to provide a homeland for the Jews alongside an Arab state. But all the Arab countries turned down this proposal. The Palestinians today still refuse to accept a state of their own, even while clamouring loudly for one.

Their deepest motive lies in a religiously-determined rejection of the nation state,[6] combined with the conviction that the Holy Land is an Islamic territory that cannot ever be awarded to the Jews.

That denial of international law and ethics allows many Muslims to claim the city of Jerusalem as an Islamic city, a city that can never be treated as the capital of a Jewish state, a holy place that has meaning for Muslims and Muslims alone.

You do not have to be a historian to know that Jerusalem was originally a Jewish city with, later, Christian connections and, later still, weak Islamic connections. More than that, it is the holiest city in the world for Jews, and it contains the most sacred site in the Jewish religion, the Temple Mount — the area on which not one but two Jewish temples were built.

There, Jews worshipped until the temples were destroyed, first by the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar (in 586 BCE), and again by the Romans in 70 CE. Jews have always turned toward the Temple Mount in their prayers.

Muslims, too, faced the Temple Mount when they prayed for several years while Muhammad and his small band of followers lived in Mecca. They continued to do so for many months after they emigrated to the oasis town of Yathrib (now Medina) in 622. They originally prayed facing Jerusalem because Muhammad was at first a great admirer of the Jews, from whom he learnt most of what he knew. But in Medina, he found he did not get on so well with the Jews of the city, who refused to convert to his new religion.

So, sixteen or seventeen months after the emigration, a revelation came to Muhammad that the Believers had to turn round about 180 degrees to face the city from which most of them had come, Mecca. In mid-prayer, the entire congregation turned their backs on Jerusalem. The holy city of the Jews was no longer of the least interest to them.[7]

The Qur’an could not be more explicit in this matter. Muhammad does not follow the direction of prayer used by the Jews. The Ka’ba in Mecca has erased all thought of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. At that point in time, there was not a single rock or stone or tree or building in Jerusalem that was Islamic in any way.

There is no reason why Muslims should not venerate the spot, whether from afar or while living in Jerusalem itself. In that way, the Temple Mount would be another religious site with connections to more than one religion — in this case to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Unfortunately, that sense of dominance over all other religions, as described above, means that Muslims are having none of that.

For them the Temple Mount and its surroundings are Muslim and nothing else. In the modern period, this is an offshoot of the wider view that all Israel is Islamic territory.

The Islamic concept of supremacy has overtaken UNESCO in direct contradiction to its acceptance of multi-religious sites.

In October 2015, six Arab states, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and others, proposed to UNESCO that it should change its designation of the site, turning it from a Jewish holy place to a Muslim one, as part of the al-Aqsa Mosque. A vote was set for October 20, but was postponed following an indignant protest by UNESCO’s head, Irina Bokova, who said she “deplored” the proposal.

But that vote may still go through in favour of the PA and its supporters. One day later, it was announced that UNESCO had voted to designate two other important Jewish holy sites as Muslim — the “Cave of the Patriarchs” in Hebron, and the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem.

The “Cave of the Patriarchs” is where tradition says the bodies of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are buried. It is the most ancient of Jewish holy places, second in importance only to the Mount on which the two temples were built. It will now be known as al-Haram al-Ibrahimi, the Sanctuary of Abraham, so named because Abraham is described in the Qur’an as the first Muslim. Bizarrely, that is enough to make it a “Muslim” site.

The Tomb of Rachel, situated toward the northern entrance to Bethlehem, is regarded as the resting place of the matriarch Rachel, the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Considered the third holiest Jewish site and a place of pilgrimage for Jews since ancient times, it has been holy to both Jews and Christians for centuries. Since the tomb fell under Muslim hands in the seventh century, it has also been a place venerated by Muslims, because Jacob and Joseph are Qur’anic figures, although Rachel herself is not mentioned by name in the book.

The attempts to deny any ancient and ongoing Jewish presence in Jerusalem, to say there was never a first let alone a second Temple and that only Muslims have any right to the whole city, its shrines and historical monuments, have reached insane proportions. The most extreme expressions of this gamut of ahistorical claims, supremacist assertions and conspiracies are the many speeches and comments of the above-mentioned Shaykh Raed Salah. Here is part of a speech he made at a rally in 1999:

“We will say openly to the Jewish society, you do not have a right even to one stone of the blessed Al-Aksa Mosque. You do not have a right even to one tiny particle of the blessed Al-Aksa Mosque. Therefore we will say openly, the western wall of blessed Al-Aksa is part of blessed Al-Aksa. It can never be a small Western Wall. It can never be a large Western Wall… We will say openly to the political and religious leadership in Israel: the demand to keep blessed Al-Aksa under Israeli sovereignty is also a declaration of war on the Islamic world.”

Salah is far from alone. The current head of the Supreme Muslim Council, Ekrima Sabri, has for many years done his best to invalidate Jewish claims to the area. He claims that Solomon’s Temple is an “unproven allegation” — something that the Jews dreamed up out of “hatred and envy.” He claims the Western Wall, too, is “a Muslim religious property” to which Jews “have no relation.”

In a recent statement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that, “The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours… and they [the Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.”

According to UN Watch,

“Ambassador Shama Hohen [Carmel Shama Hacohen, Israeli ambassador to UNESCO] asked Palestinian delegate Mounir Anastas why Palestinians are not prepared to recognize the Jewish right to the Temple Mount and include the term ‘Temple Mount’ in the resolution, alongside the Arab term, Haram al-Sharif. Anastas replied… that if the Palestinians were to recognize the Temple Mount, then Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah would become number one targets of ISIS.”

Is this really what it boils down to? The Islamic State rules the international community? Including UNESCO?

On April 15 this year, the Executive Board of UNESCO’s Programme and External Relations Commission convened for its 199th session. The earlier Temple Mount resolution was moved by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan — all members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. That vote then passed to the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee during its 40th session in Istanbul, which had been scheduled to run from July 10 to July 20.

By mere chance, July’s military coup attempt in Turkey disrupted the event, and the vote has now been scheduled for an autumn meeting. That may be based on a draft resolution created by the European Union, which is, in fact, just another denial of the historical Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. But, considering the one-sidedness of this resolution, just where is UNESCO’s above-stated commitment to bring about “a dialogue between all stakeholders”?

Turning the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, Rachel’s Tomb, the Cave of the Patriarchs, and other sites into exclusively Muslim holy places is directly linked to the growth of Islamisation in the modern era. By destroying churches, shrines, tombs, whole sites of antiquity deemed idolatrous, and even mosques deemed heretical, the Islamic State seeks to wipe out all traces of what is termed the era of Jahiliyya, the “Age of Ignorance” that held the world in its grip before the advent of Islam.

The world is outraged when it sees the stones of Palmyra tumble, or other great monuments of human civilization turn to dust. But that same world is silent when the Palestinian Arabs and their supporters Islamise everything by calling into question the very presence of the Jewish people in the Holy Land.

Full article: The Temple Mount and UNESCO (Gatestone Institute)

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