The clearing of Jerusalem's Abu Ghunaim hillside for a new Jewish
settlement has raised hopes among many religious Israelis that the long-awaited rebuilding
of Solomon's Temple may at last be at hand. The windows of many Jewish shops and houses in
Jerusalem now display posters showing the reconstructed temple, over the ironically
premature caption, 'The Temple Today'. Many rabbis in Jerusalem have urged the Israeli
government to make a public statement on the rebuilding of the Temple as the 'culminating
symbol of the return of the Jewish people to their land'.
The ritual candelabras and other objects to be used in the new Temple building have already been lovingly recreated on the basis of Biblical descriptions, and are on public display in a rabbinical college in Jerusalem.
Jewish hopes for the speedy reconstruction of the vast shrine have been raised by the recent release from an Israeli prison of the Jewish pietist Yehuda Etzion, after a conviction for his previous attempt to blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock which now stand on the Temple Mount site. Etzion and his followers had attempted to disable key security systems, and had amassed sufficient explosives to reduce the Muslim structures to rubble. Etzion, looking tanned and fit, recently appeared on British television gazing out over the Temple Mount, and speaking of his undiminished longing to try again and again, until the Muslim monuments are triumphantly razed to the ground.
Secular Israelis have expressed misgivings over the scheme, pointing out that Israel's international image would be severely dented by the deliberate destruction of Islam's third holiest mosque. Others, however, look forward to the chaos and violence that would ensue. One Israeli scholar, Gideon Aran, has summed up their views: "The bombing of the "abomination" would arouse hundreds of millions of Muslims to a jihad, sweeping all mankind into an ultimate confrontation. This they interpret as the War of Gog and Magog, with cosmic implications. Israel's victorious emergence from this longed-for trial by fire will then pave the way for the coming of the Messiah."
A group of academics at Harvard's Centre for International Affairs concluded that if Etzion had succeeded in his first attempt, "it might have started a third world war." The current extreme right-wing prime minister Netanyahu, while attending functions sponsored by reconstructionist groups like the Temple Mount Faithful, has in public neither supported nor opposed the plans, although some have insisted that he sympathises with them privately.
The idea of dynamiting Al-Aqsa Mosque is relatively new. It was of little interest to the largely secular first generations of Zionists, who concentrated their efforts on expelling non-Jews from the land. Most religious Jews continued to be sceptical about the whole Zionist enterprise. But the capture of Jerusalem by Israel in 1967 provided the context for a new style of colonist who was both Zionist and deeply devout. In 1967, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army demanded the 'cleansing' of the Temple Mount of its Muslim structures, but the very secular General Moshe Dayan refused permission. Although four historic mosques near the Mount were bulldozed, most rabbis upheld the Talmudic law which prohibits any Jewish presence on Temple Mount until the arrival of the Messiah. This convenient alliance of secular and orthodox opinion was sufficient to protect the mosque for thirty years.
The new Zionist-religious Jews, however, show little interest in such traditional Jewish orthodoxy. Messiah or no messiah, the reconstruction of the Temple has become for them the touchstone of their identity, the climax of mitzvah, religious duty. Whether or not the Israeli government, basking in the unconditional protection of the United States, will legalise the destruction of the mosque is unimportant to such zealots. Several articles have appeared in Israeli newspapers reflecting on the poor quality of the security arrangements at the Temple Mount, which are oriented more towards monitoring Muslim worshippers than towards keeping out small and determined bands of Jews.
It is estimated that only a hundred pounds of high-yield explosives would be enough to bring down the Dome of the Rock. The monumental Aqsa Mosque presents greater difficulties, but massive Israeli excavations beneath and near the Mount in recent years have demonstrably weakened the structure, with several new cracks appearing last year along the length of its north wall. Local Muslim officials claim that little more is now needed to bring the ninth-century structure crashing down.
In their magazines and newsletters, the Temple Mount activists appear indifferent to the grief such a move would bring to Palestinians, and to the Muslim world as a whole. Jewish radicals, increasingly numerous and confident, have wholeheartedly embraced the Talmudic teachings on non-Jewish rights. Until recently, and rather curiously, it was often Christians who were their preferred victims. The pornographic cartoon of the Virgin Mary recently circulated on the Internet by West Bank settlers appears to have been aimed at wounding Christian, not Muslim sensibilities. Some settler schools include on their curriculum the long-suppressed passage from the Babylonian Talmud which imputes a long string of sexual offences to Jesus, and teaches that in Hell he will be 'submerged for eternity in boiling excrement'.
But Muslims are increasingly targeted by the new Judaism. Ritual cursings of the Prophet Muhammad (s) are now common in West Bank settlements, and the distribution of pictures in May showing the Prophet as a pig was widely reported. The commandment given by the medieval rabbi Maimonides that non-Jews in the land of Israel are to be 'utterly wiped out' is taken with increasing seriousness.
This type of Talmudic revival has influenced the army in particular. A booklet published by the Central Region Command of the Israeli Army explains, 'Under no circumstances should an Arab be trusted, even if he makes an impression of being civilised ... In war, when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by the Halahkah (Jewish law) to kill even good civilians.' Rabbi Weiser, who is close to the army, wrote in response to a soldier's query, 'Rabbi Shim'on used to say: "The best of gentiles - kill him; the best of snakes - dash out its brains."' According to Rabbi Yaacov Perrin: 'A million dead Arabs are not worth a single Jewish fingernail.'
Muslim observers point out that given the long history of Israeli human rights abuses against non-Jewish human beings, it is improbable that non-Jewish buildings will fare any better. Within four years of Israel's creation, well over five hundred mosques had been destroyed. Even the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv is built on a historic Muslim cemetery.
What would be the consequences of demolishing Al-Aqsa? Given American support and Israel's nuclear capacities, the regional war hoped for by the Jewish radicals may well result in the decimation of the region's non-Jewish population, and a considerably expanded Israeli state embracing the 'Biblical borders' demanded by Ariel Sharon in 1993. The surviving regimes would be docile and exhausted, and incapable of resisting Israeli and American plans for the total subjection of the Middle East.
The consequences for Muslims in the West, however, are almost as alarming. A day after the Jewish doctor Baruch Goldstein massacred 37 Palestinians praying in a Hebron mosque, a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of a Jewish centre in Oxford, illustrating a very worrying resentment against Jews in many sections of the community. It is accepted that the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque would provoke a response of a far greater severity. Outnumbering Britain's Jews by a ratio of seven to one, and with little to lose, Britain's Muslims would certainly eliminate much of the Jewish population, along with the entirety of identifiable synagogues. This grim prospect would represent the largest civil war in this country since Cromwell.
There are those who continue to regard British Muslims as beyond provocation. The destruction of Islam's third holiest shrine, they contend, would cause much distress, but little violence. Yet the almost uncontrollable power of the Muslim reaction to the Salman Rushdie affair should remind us that Muslims defend their sanctities very vehemently. Horrifying though the prospect might seem, war on our streets, the final and loathsome consequence of Western indulgence of Zionism since 1917, is a possibility for which we must brace ourselves.
© Copyright 1998 Q-News International, UK.
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