Constant threat

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In June 2004, then Israeli Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi announced that extremist Jewish groups were planning to destroy the Aqsa mosque either with an unmanned plane filled with explosives or a plane flown by a suicide bomber. The Higher Islamic Commission and other Islamic bodies immediately issued a condemnation and warned that they would hold the Israeli government responsible if any harm should befall the mosque.

A week later, the same minister said the Israeli government could not guarantee the safety of the mosque against extremist Jewish groups. Again Muslim organizations condemned the statement, saying that any attack on the mosque could not happen without the help of the Israeli government.

The Aqsa mosque is not like other mosques. According to one hadith, prayer at Aqsa is worth more than in any other mosque except the mosques in Mecca and Medina. Al Aqsa mosque is the focal point for the miracle of the night of ascension, when the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem and from there ascended to heaven.

Thus, the Aqsa mosque occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of Muslims everywhere. What would happen should any extremist succeed in destroying it is hard to predict except to say that it would unite the Muslims of Palestine with Muslims all over the world in anger, and no one would stand with their hands behind their backs.

But these threats are not new. Since the Israeli occupation in 1967, the Islamic Waqf has been constantly wary of attempts by extremists to harm Aqsa. Most infamous was the fire set to the Aqsa Mosque on August 21, 1969 at the hands of one Michael Dennis Rohan, said to be an Australian national. At the time, the Israeli authorities said he was insane so as to clear him from standing trial and the file was closed.

In May 1980, a group of extremist Jews was caught with large amounts of explosives in their possession, apparently planning to dynamite the mosque. In 1983, four armed Jews carrying bags full of explosives were caught trying to break into the ground level corridor leading to the Marwani Mosque in the compound. The guards were able to abort the conspiracy before it was carried out.

One year later, on January 26, a group of Jews tried to break into the courtyard carrying three hand grenades and six suitcases full of explosives. Just one day later, 18 hand grenades and tens of kilograms of explosives were found near the eastern wall of the Mosque. The perpetrators were able to escape through the cemetery near the Rahmeh Gate.

But small extremist groups have not posed the only threat. In August 2000, the chief rabbis of Israel formed a religious committee to initiate a project to establish a synagogue inside the Aqsa courtyard. In February 2001, an Israeli professor–Rafael Yisraeli–called on the Israeli government to divide the Aqsa compound between Muslims and Jews as a first phase.

In between, of course, on September 29, 2000, Ariel Sharon–then opposition leader–entered the Aqsa compound with some 1,500 security personnel. Six people were killed that day on the Aqsa courtyard, and the "visit" resulted in the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada. And there have been other similar incidents involving the Israeli army.

On April 11, 1982, Israeli army reservist Harry Goldman opened fired on the courtyard and killed two people. Sixty others were wounded, by him and by other soldiers who came to protect him. He was released shortly after his arrest.

On October 8, 1990, Israeli forces killed 23 people and injured over 200 in the courtyard. In 1996, during the demonstrations against the opening of the Israeli tunnel that had been dug underneath the compound, the Israeli army killed another 14 people and dozens were wounded.

The tunnel demonstrations happened because Muslims are fearful of Israeli excavations in and around the compound. The threats to Aqsa are not only direct threats.

Israeli excavations in the area began in the 1970s and took the form of tunnels focussed on the area adjacent to the outer western wall of the compound. The digging eventually led to several cracks appearing in a number of ancient buildings belonging to the Islamic Waqf along the western wall in the area of the Chains, Iron and Qataneen Gates, which date back to the Ayyoubid, Mamluk and Ottoman eras respectively.

In 1981, Israeli archaeological digs exposed a well in the western courtyard. At the time, the Israeli archeological department claimed the well was actually a tunnel that extended beneath the Dome of the Rock. Within hours, however, their claims were proven false; what they had discovered was a water-well whose stones dated back to the Mamluk period.

In 1984, the excavations led to the collapse of the stairs leading to the Waqf offices at the Majlis Gate and in 1988 to the collapse of the corridor leading to the Ghawanmeh Gate.

The Islamic Waqf does not have detailed information on the excavations, because the Israeli occupation authorities have barred access to Waqf engineers. We can, however, say for sure that exposing the foundations of the Aqsa Mosque by digging up the ground around it will place the Aqsa in grave danger.

In other words, the Aqsa mosque is constantly threatened one way or another. But the extremists’ threats are of concern because they may provide a pretext for international forces to intervene for the sake of internationalizing Jerusalem and "protecting" its holy sites.

We reject any internationalization of Jerusalem just as we reject its Judaization. Internationalization is even more dangerous because this means the world would have control over Jerusalem and would be able to put their hands on its holy sites. We already know that the West has control over international bodies and institutions, so therefore, the West would take advantage of this new situation to return once again to the Orient under the guise of international legitimacy.

If this should happen, it will be very difficult for us to resist. Currently we are only up against one party, so the Muslim world only needs to work to end the Israeli occupation.

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