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Palestinian Leaders Deny Jerusalem`s Past

Bari Weiss  |
Jews have no history in the city of Jerusalem: They have never lived there, the Temple never existed, and Israeli archaeologists have admitted as much. Those who deny this are simply liars. Or so says Sheik Tayseer Rajab Tamimi, chief Islamic judge of the Palestinian Authority.

His claims, made last month, would be laughable if they weren't so common among Palestinians. Sheik Tamimi is only the latest to insist that, in his words, Jerusalem is solely "an Arab and Islamic city and it has always been so." His comments come on the heels of those by Shamekh Alawneh, a lecturer in modern history at Al Quds University. On an Aug. 11 PA television program, "Jerusalem—History and Culture," Mr. Alawneh argued that the Jews invented their connection to Jerusalem. "It has no historical roots," he said, adding that the Jews are engaging in "an attack on history, theft of culture, falsification of facts, erasure of the truth, and Judaization of the place."

As President Barack Obama and his foreign-policy team gear up to propose yet another plan for Israeli-Arab peace, they would do well to focus less on important but secondary issues like settlement growth, and instead notice that top Palestinian intellectual and political leaders deny basic truths about the region's most important city.

For the record: Jerusalem is the holiest city in Judaism, mentioned more than 600 times in the Hebrew Bible. Three times a day, religious Jews face eastward toward the city when they pray. At Jewish weddings, the couple's joy is diminished as they shatter a glass to acknowledge Jerusalem's still unfulfilled redemption. It is a widespread custom then to recite the 137th psalm ("If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate. . ." ).

According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem's designation as Judaism's most sacred city made it the obvious place for King Solomon to build the Holy Temple following the death of his father, King David. After the temple's destruction by the Babylonians, it was rebuilt by King Herod before being destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.

Earlier this month, archaeologists with the Israeli Antiquities Authority discovered a 3,700-year-old Jerusalem wall—the oldest and biggest ever uncovered in the region—that they believe was built by the Canaanites before the First Temple period. It's true: there is scant archaeological evidence of the First Temple. But not so for the Second Temple, which is accepted as historical fact by most archaeologists. From the Herodian period, aside from dozens of Jewish ritual baths surrounding the temple that have been uncovered, one retaining wall of the temple, the Western Wall, still stands.

But Sheik Tamimi doesn't need to take the Jews' word for any of this, or that of legions of world-class scholars. For proof of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, he need only look at writings from his own religious tradition.

The Quran, which references many biblical stories and claims figures like Abraham as Islamic prophets, also acknowledges the existence of the Jewish temples. The historian Karen Armstrong has written that the Quran refers to Solomon's Temple as a "great place of prayer" and that the first Muslims referred to Jerusalem as the "City of the Temple." Martin Kramer, a historian who has combed through Quranic references to the temples in Arabic, notes surra 34, verse 13, which discusses Solomon's building process: "They [jinn/spirits] worked for him as he desired, (making) arches, images, basins large as wells, and (cooking) cauldrons fixed (in their places)."

There is still more recent official Muslim acknowledgment of Jerusalem's Jewish history—a booklet put out in 1924 by the Supreme Muslim Council called "A brief guide to al-haram al-sharif." Al-haram al-sharif, the Arabic name for the Temple Mount, is currently the site of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque. It is, according to Islamic tradition, where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Yet it is also, according to the council's booklet, a site of uncontested importance for the Jews. "The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps from pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute." And the booklet quotes the book of Samuel: "This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which 'David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offering and peace offerings.'" Later, the booklet says the underground structure known as King Solomon's Stables probably dates "as far back as the construction of Solomon's Temple." Citing the historian Flavius Josephus, it claims the stables were likely used as a "place of refuge by the Jews at the time of the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus in the year 70 A.D."

So why do those like Mr. Tamimi deny what their predecessors acknowledged? To undermine Israel, which earned statehood in 1948 and captured the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War of 1967. Since then, Palestinian leaders have fought to erase any Jewish connection to sacred places, particularly the Temple Mount.

While Israel has never hesitated to acknowledge Jerusalem's holiness in Islam—albeit saying that it has less importance than Mecca—Palestinian leaders insist that Jews are transplants in the region, nothing more than white European colonialists. This denial has formed the foundation for their argument that Jerusalem should become Palestine's capital. This is why the previous mufti of the Palestinian Authority, Sheik Ikrama Sabri, dismisses the Western Wall as "just a fence." Yasser Arafat classified it, bizarrely, as "a Muslim shrine." As Saeb Erekat, Arafat's chief negotiator, said to President Clinton at Camp David in 2000: "I don't believe there was a temple on top of the Haram [holy site], I really don't."

These sentiments are echoed in Palestinian primary-school textbooks, preached at mosques, and printed in official newspapers. The Palestinian leadership isn't bellyaching over borders—it is stating, in full voice, that Israel has no right to its most basic historical and religious legacy.

This is no foundation for "peace talks."

—Ms. Weiss is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W13

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