While in the U.S.A, an Arab or a Muslim may hear many an American protest: “… but the Christians have the Vatican, and the Muslims have Mecca. So why can’t the Jews have Jerusalem?!”. The implied condemnation in that rhetorical question naturally turns Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and supporters of the Palestinian cause everywhere into contemptible fanatic poachers, “anti-semitic” to be sure, who are conspiring with the rest of the world to deny Judaism a holy center of faith of its own!
By extension, the following question is also frequently posed: “why are Arabs and Muslims so incensed that the Jews are digging for the Temple of Solomon beneath Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock?!”. Read: what do you have to hide? Are you afraid that the Temple of Solomon would be found, practically proving that those Arab Islamic and Christian holy places were built on stolen Jewish property by “an Arab occupation”? Let them dig for their long-lost temple for goodness sake, and if they find nothing, what do you have to lose?!
Mind you, the excavation has delved so deeply and extensively underneath Al Aqsa Mosque, reaching the pre-Hebrew Canaanite Epoch, dating back several millennia, still without hitting any Temple of Solomon or even a shred of Jewishness!
More importantly, the earth beneath the structure of Al Aqsa Mosque has been so disemboweled, which made the grounds beneath it so shaky, a somewhat powerful underground explosion or an earthquake would probably bring the Holy Muslim edifice down altogether like a crumbling house of cards.
Thus, there is no longer any doubt in the minds of concerned people everywhere what the real purpose of the digging is. The massive underground network of tunnels, inroads, and state-sponsored synagogues is simply meant to physically undermine Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock; that is, it is meant to usurp the Arab identity of Jerusalem, and to make Jewish history out of nothing at all!
Consequently, contrary to what may seem at the surface, those issues are not purely about religion as much as they are about the identity of the land and whether it’s Arab or not. For archaeological and religious issues here are nothing but thin veneer for a vexing contemporary and worldly question: is Jerusalem, and by extension Palestine, Arab or Jewish? Whose birthright is it? And, hence, who gets to keep it and rule over it? THAT is the crux of the matter that secularly-minded individuals in the West and the East gloss over when they gloat or grumble about ‘fanatics on both sides’ killing each other over slabs of earth and stone.
For example, in the movie The Kingdom of Heaven (2005) by Ridley Scott, that many mistook for an atypically pro-Arab picture, the hero Balian of Ibelin (Actor Orlando Bloom) wonders before the invader community of Crusaders in Jerusalem as it braces for the impending Arab attack: “What is Jerusalem? Your holy places lie over the Jewish temple that the Romans pulled down. The Muslim places of worship lie over yours. Which is more holy?… The wall? The Mosque? The Sepulchre? Who has claim? No one has claim… All have claim!”.
So, if no one has claim, certainly the Arabs don’t! And if all have claim, certainly the Arabs can’t claim that Jerusalem is Arab, can they? In the end, we’re talking about the question of who wields political power here, and about the need to justify the presence of invaders in Palestine, as rulers, not as pilgrims passing through for example. Certainly we are not talking about freedom of worship here (which was guaranteed under Muslim rule in the life of Jerusalem more than any other). We are talking about falsifying history to rationalize foreign occupations. If Arabs are an occupation, then they shouldn’t complain about another which replaced them, especially if it allegedly predated them.
But after more than six decades of Zionist occupation, no Jewish Temple was ever found, and if there ever was one in Palestine, who is to say it used to lie exactly where Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are today?! Never mind that alleged Jewish archaeological remnants in the land have been extremely scarce and suspect. Never mind that even according to the Torah the Canaanites existed in Palestine long before, during, and after the Hebrews allegedly came through. Never mind the fact that the Canaanites descended upon the land from the Arabian Peninsula and that their tongue is an ancient Arabic one. After all, this is not some abstruse academic debate on history.
Yet when some claim that Palestine belongs to no one, we have to insist that it has been Arab since time immemorial, in the face of all transient foreign occupations, and that we have the historical and cultural ties to prove it, including Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Palestine is not a land without an identity any more than it is a land without a people. Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians and Palestine belongs to the Arabs just like Le Seine belongs to the French and Shanghai to the Chinese. Furthermore, when those who tell us that Jerusalem belongs to no one and to all declare their own countries as belonging to no one and to all, we promise to solemnly consider their propositions for Jerusalem seriously.
Setting questions of history and identity aside, the point remains that Jerusalem in modern times has become the locus of festering political contradictions at many levels. For the Arabs, Jerusalem stands as a symbol of Arab defeat before Western colonialism. For Palestinians under occupation and in the diaspora, Jerusalem represents the essence of the conflict with the Zionist movement over the right of ownership to the land here and now. For the Islamic World, Jerusalem signifies another crusader incursion at the cultural and religious levels. Finally, for anti-imperialists worldwide, Jerusalem pertains to the liberation struggle against Zionism and imperialism on the very front where that two-headed monster has thrown all of its colossal might. Although Jerusalem might mean more of this and less of that to different people, there is no question whatsoever that the demise of “Israel” and the liberation of Palestine will mark a watershed in human history, as it will help spell the end of the imperialist order everywhere.
Surely, Jerusalem is not a substitute for Palestine. It’s just the mascot of the cause of Palestinian liberation. Neither are Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock a substitute for Jerusalem. They are but its crowing jewels along with all the other Arab Muslim and Christian Holy places in the city. The southwestern wall of Al Aqsa Mosque, the alleged “wailing wall”, what we call in Arabic the wall of the ‘buraq”, is definitely not a substitute for Al Aqsa Mosque either. Therefore, it’s no wonder on the eve of the 1967 occupation of the eastern sector of the city, where Al Aqsa Mosque is located, that Moshe Dayan, an overtly a-religious former “Israeli” Minister of Defense, led a bunch of Rabbis to pray at the Wall of the Buraq. He understood the significance of that wall to be more than religious, for it condenses the fragments of the Arab-Zionist struggle into one bloc, literally.
To highlight the connection delineated above, it should be pointed out that the whole of Jerusalem and vicinity today, not only Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is being subjected to a process of forced Judaization. The infamous “Wall of Separation” meandering through the West Bank has actually separated Jerusalem from the West Bank and subdivided Arabs within the city into three semi-isolated cantons. The Wall has severed the city from Arab villages in its vicinity, and has cut off Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem from the Old Town where Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock lie. In the meantime, hundreds of Jerusalemites get their identity cards withdrawn by Zionist occupation authorities every year. Dozens of Arab houses are either confiscated or demolished, while locations are given Hebrew names instead of Arab ones, for example “Har Homa” for Mount Abu Ghnaim.
In the meantime, Zionist settlement and construction in the city continues to expand and grow at the expense of the Arabs, as it has since the first half of the Twentieth Century. As a result, Arab Christians have effectively been evacuated from Jerusalem, with only a few thousand left. Now the Zionists are working on thinning out Arab Muslims. This is why preserving the Arab identity of the city requires all concerned to support Jerusalemites remain steadfast in their city, at least until liberation comes.