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Israeli Eradication of History: Disappearing Mosques

The eradication of ancient Mosques has been one consequence of Israeli occupation (h/t: J.Perry).

A must read:

Israeli Eradication of History: Disappearing Mosques

By: Jonathan Cook (English Al-Akhbar)

The discovery of a rare aerial photo of Jerusalem in the 1930s, taken by a Zeppelin, has provided the long-sought after proof that when Israel occupied the Old City in 1967 it secretly destroyed an important mosque that dated from the time of Saladin close to the al-Aqsa mosque.

The destruction of the Sheikh Eid mosque – in an area widely considered to be the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – revives questions about Israel’s continuing abuse of Islamic holy places under its control.

The issue has been in the spotlight recently because of a growing number of arson and vandalism attacks by Jewish extremists on mosques in Jerusalem and the West Bank, in what are termed “price-tag” attacks designed to dissuade the Israeli government from making diplomatic concessions to the Palestinians.

Following the torching by Jewish settlers of a mosque near Ramallah two weeks ago, Dan Halutz, a former military chief of staff, admitted there was no political will to find the culprits. “If we wanted, we could catch them, and when we want to, we will,” he told Army Radio.

The question of whether Jerusalem’s Sheikh Eid mosque had survived up until modern times had been the subject of heated debates between Palestinian and Israeli scholars.

The discovery of its location is not of only historic and academic interest. Earlier this year, before the aerial photo was unearthed, development at the spot where the mosque once stood led to damage of what was left of the building below ground, archaeologists now admit.

Israel’s Antiquities Authority, its chief archaeological institution, dug up the mosque’s remaining foundations and disinterred a human skeleton, believed to be Sheikh Eid himself.

The site of the mosque is next to the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), a raised compound of Islamic holy places that includes the al-Aqsa mosque and is flanked on one side by the Western Wall, a major Jewish prayer site.

Control over the Haram al-Sharif is contested by Israel, which believes that the mosques are built over two Jewish temples destroyed long ago. There is growing pressure from Jewish religious groups to be allowed to pray on the Haram al-Sharif, and some extremists have threatened to blow up the mosques so that they can build a third temple.

A provocative visit in 2000 to the site by Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s opposition, backed by more than 1,000 police triggered the second intifada.

The remains of Sheikh Eid mosque were destroyed during excavations carried out as Israel prepares the area next to the Haram al-Sharif for the construction of a large visitor centre.

The plan is part of a series of changes by Israel to the area near the Western Wall that has been fuelling tensions with Palestinians. The alterations violate international law because Jerusalem’s Old City is occupied territory.

Benjamin Kedar, vice-president of Israel’s National Academy of Sciences, who discovered the old photo after searching archives in Germany, called the treatment of Sheikh Eid mosque “an archaeological crime.”

The mosque, which originally served as an Islamic school, built by Malik al-Afdil, one of Saladin’s sons, is said to have been one of only three such buildings remaining in Jerusalem from that period.


Its provenance and location are described in a 15th-century document. After the burial of its most famous preacher, Sheikh Eid, two centuries later, it became a major pilgrimage site for Muslims.

The mosque, it now emerges, was destroyed during the wholesale levelling of the Mughrabi quarter of the Old City – a war crime that has been largely overlooked by historians – in the immediate wake of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Under cover of dark, Israel sent in bulldozers to clear the area, forcing nearly 1,000 Palestinian residents out so that a wide prayer plaza could be created in front of the Western Wall.

The plaza became the nucleus for the re-establishment of an enlarged Jewish quarter in the Old City, which is gradually encroaching on the Muslim and Christian quarters through the activities of settlers and armed guards assigned by the Israeli authorities to protect them.

The visitor center is the latest plan in a long-running campaign by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who is in charge of the Western Wall, to strengthen Israel’s hold on the area around the Haram al-Sharif, in what is seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to bolster Israeli claims to sovereignty over the compound of mosques.

The rabbi’s Western Wall Heritage Foundation oversees the Western Wall tunnels, which were opened in 1996 during current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous premiership. The opening sparked violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces that led to dozens of deaths.

The Heritage Foundation is also attempting to relocate the Mughrabi bridge, a ramp now used chiefly by non-Muslims and Israeli police to reach the al-Aqsa compound, to further expand the prayer plaza in front of the Western Wall.

The visitor centre, which would be built close to the Mughrabi bridge, has aroused opposition from a group of dissident Israeli archaeologists. Yoram Tzafrir a professor at Hebrew University, recently told the Haaretz newspaper: “It might be said that the demolition of the Mughrabi quarter in 1967 was necessary … to allow masses to reach the Western Wall – not to build a new [visitor] building.”

The Heritage Foundation has justified its activities by saying that excavations destroying Islamic history are necessary to unearth older, Jewish archaeological remains. In a statement referring to the Sheikh Eid controversy, it said: “Excavations in the area of the Western Wall are intended to reach the earliest levels possible. Clearly this cannot be done without destroying later periods, whatever they may be.”

The historic and current abuses of the Sheikh Eid mosque are reflected in Israel’s repeated dismal scores in international surveys on religious freedom.

In 2010 the US State Department published a report placing Israel in the same category as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sudan. “Non-Jewish holy sites do not enjoy legal protection under [Israel’s 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law] because the government does not recognize them as official holy sites,” the report stated.

The 1967 law stipulates a punishment of seven years’ imprisonment for anyone found guilty of desecrating a holy site, and five years for impeding access to a holy site. But Israel has given such status only to Jewish places of worship.

The State Department’s findings were confirmed last year in a freedom of religion index organized by US academics at Binghamton University, who awarded Israel a zero score.

The treatment of Sheikh Eid mosque has echoes of a current and more prominent dispute close by, in West Jerusalem, where Israel has approved a plan by the California-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre to build a Museum of Tolerance over the ancient Muslim cemetery of Mamilla, which includes graves believed to be those of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions.

Israeli media reported in 2008 that more than 100 skeletons had been unearthed and mistreated in excavations to prepare the site for construction work. The building of the museum has been delayed by financial problems caused by the global economic downturn.

While these high-profile cases have made headlines, violations of religious freedoms for the 1.3 million Palestinian Muslims living under occupation, who have citizenship, have gained far less attention.

The core grievance dates to Israel’s creation in 1948, when all land and property held in trust for the Muslim community was confiscated inside the borders of the newly established Jewish state. These properties – donated by generations of Palestinians to a waqf, or religious endowment – comprised not only holy sites and cemeteries but also schools, public buildings, shops and farmland.

After 1948, all of the waqf’s holdings, which constituted a tenth of the territory of the Holy Land, were seized by the state and, along with property belonging to more than 750,000 Palestinian refugees, passed to an official known as the Custodian of Absentee Property.

Only the mosques in the 120 Palestinian towns and villages that survived Israel’s establishment have continued to operate, though under strict supervision. Israel, which pays the salaries of mosque employees, controls all appointments and monitors sermons.

Some 500 other villages, which were emptied of their Palestinian population in 1948, have been razed, often along with any local mosques or churches.

In cities that are now almost exclusively Jewish, such as Tel Aviv, mosques and cemeteries were simply developed over. In one notorious incident, the large Abdul Nabi cemetery was passed to a development company in the 1950s and a five-star hotel and several housing complexes for Jewish immigrants built over it.

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  • Carr

    Jack, selective indeed. Compare Israel’s treatment of historical sites and Palestinians to the Arabs treatment of Christian and Jewish sites. It’s no wonder Arabs don’t allow any news from Israel into their countries. The made up history they like to propagate selectively one sided, laced with breathless accounts of how Jews control the media, the world, the minds of the common man, the economy, the banking, the Senate, the Congress, every corridor of power, seen and unseen, would come falling down like a badly stacked deck of cards, when confronted with the truth.

    Islams third holiest place and the gold domed mosque sits atop Judaism’s holiest site which is adminstered by Jordan.

  • Jack

    [[[[ when Israel occupied the Old City in 1967 it secretly destroyed an important mosque that dated from the time of Saladin close to the al-Aqsa mosque.]]]

    Wait!! How does that compare to the 18 years of Jordanian occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where every last Jew was either expelled or murdered, and every last synagogue desecrated, with ancient torah scrolls and texts either destroyed or burned.

    Selective history again, eh?

  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Thank you, Emperor, for this indepth, important and, indeed, very tragic post.

    May we learn to live and build together rather than destroy.

  • Géji

    “Level hundreds or even thousands of Palestinian holy places–meh, if you’re Israel.”

    Except that those holy places they’re trying to erase from history and memory aren’t “Palestinian” holy places, but Muslim and Christian holy places, this is a religious issue, not an ethnic or race one.

  • Daniel

    The double standards are amazing. Blow up a couple of ancient Buddahs–certainly a crime against the world’s religious heritage–and you are cursed by the world, if you’re a Muslim nation. Level hundreds or even thousands of Palestinian holy places–meh, if you’re Israel.

    If Israel ever wants the respect of other nations (besides the US, of course, who decided to become their lap dog), then they need to play by the rules of civilized nations. If Israel has a “right” to exist, it also has responsibilities that go with that right.

  • Khalid

    This is desecration – the Israeli military should protect these sites as vigorously as they protects the Temple mount because after all Israel has a significant and historic Muslim population

    But hey, who cares?

    These “Mooslamic” sites just aren’t holy enough for Israel!

    I have a question:

    If Masada can be declared a world heritage site and protected by UNESCO then why are Muslims thrown to waste and left to fend for their sacred sites by created groups like Waqf

  • mindy1

    This is so wrong, history should never be destroyed 🙁 G-d if he is up there is wondering WTF ARE YOU DOING IN MY NAME??? STOP THIS CRAP, PLEASE.

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