On October 26, 2016 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee adopted a controversial resolution that ignores Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount; Draft Resolution 40COM 7A.13, entitled “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls,” by a ‘majority’ of 10 countries voting in favor, eight abstaining and two opposing the text. Just ten “yes” votes out of the 20 members were needed for the resolution to pass.
While the UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem totally ignores any Jewish or Christian connection to the Temple Mount, what should worry us most is its affirmation of a paranoid conspiracy theory holding that Jews are plotting to harm Islamic holy sites. The UNESCO resolution “condemns the escalating Israeli aggressions” against “Muslims’ access to their holy site Al-Aqsa,” “deplores the continuous storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif by Israeli right-wing extremists,” and “deeply decries the continuous Israeli aggressions” committed by “the so-called ‘Israeli antiquities’ officials.”
There’s a long history to Palestinian claims that Jews, Zionists or Israelis are threatening Al-Aqsa. Such claims are part rallying cry, and part conspiracy theory. The power of this lie, both in inciting violence as well as mobilizing Arab and Muslim public opinion, was first understood in the 1920s by the Mufti of Jerusalem (and future Nazi collaborator) Haj Amin al-Husseini.
He saw Al-Aqsa as a way of turning a local conflict into a regional, religious, and even global conflict. Claims that Jews were seeking to harm Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem in 1928 sparked a wave of Arab violence against Jews, culminating in the Hebron massacre of 67 Jews a few months later.
This method served as a model for each of the future eruptions of violence following false claims of Jewish threats to Al Aqsa, which occurred roughly once a decade. What is clearly a political pathology is treated instead as a possible grievance – and, in the case of UNESCO, a genuine one.
The truth is that immediately after conquering the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel handed control of the Temple Mount to the Islamic Trust, or Waqf, and forbade any Jewish religious rites on the entire Mount, a status quo Israel has maintained to this day. Nor has Israel conducted any excavations under the Mount or the mosques on the Mount, although it has done archeological digs near the outside of the retaining walls.
It is the visits of Jews to the Temple Mount – but never inside the mosques – that is preposterously described in the UNESCO resolution as “storming Al Aqsa.” In fact, the only worshipers regularly harassed on the Temple Mount are the few Jews who Israel allows to quietly visit their religion’s holiest site.
Instead of the Palestinians using false claims that Jews, Zionists or Israelis are threatening Al-Aqsa. and inciting violence the Temple Mount could be sanctified by retelling this ancient tale; transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries, and finally written down in several versions in the 19th century. Some say this happened in the time of Adam and others say in the year that Abraham was born.
Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father, divided the land in half so each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married. One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long term draught that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought. “My brother has a wife and four children to feed and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”
So that night the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother’s barn. Then he returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: “In my old age my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.”
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother’s barn, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself. The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged said “I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I’ll take more.”
That same morning, the older brother standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts. After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn. The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed.
“How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I’ll make no mistake – I’ll take two large sacks.” The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother’s barn.
In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance. When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened.
Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.
God looked down at the two brothers and smiled thinking that their love and concern for each other made them and their their descendants, worthy to build a center of worship in this holy place. Someday their descendants will each build and rebuild a holy House in this valley and on this hill.
When all those, both near and far, who revere this place as a standard, share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then I will do as Abraham requested, and “Make this a land of Peace, and provide its people with the produce of of the land”. (Qur’an 2:126). Then will the children of Abraham live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.
Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Makka. I believe both are right.