Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010 | 1:55 a.m.
As President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton use carrots and sticks to push Middle East peace talks into high gear, a recent pronouncement by an official of the Palestinian Authority, left unchallenged, will be a deal-killer. It was not about “the right of return,” or Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. It was the pronouncement by Mutawakel Taha, a senior official with the PA’s Ministry of Information that “there is no archeological evidence that the Temple Mount was built during the period of King Solomon ... One can only conclude that Al-Buraq Wall is a Muslim wall and an integral part of the Aksa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif.” Taha, who is also a respected Palestinian poet and writer, explains that Jews never worshipped at the site until the Balfour Declaration of 1917. “This wall was never part of the so-called Temple Mount, but Muslim tolerance allowed the Jews to stand in front of it and weep over its destruction.” Not one stone of the Western Wall belongs to the Temple of Solomon, he asserted.
Here are the facts:
• The provenance of the Wall is well-established, one of the few things that Christians, Jews and Muslims agreed about for many centuries. In the 4th century, Christian works described the site as holy to the Jews, and the place to which they came (when allowed) to mourn the two Temples that had stood there. These references include Church Fathers Gregory of Nazianzus and Jerome. A synagogue stood on the site shortly before the Crusaders arrived.
• Suleiman the Magnificent granted Jews the right to worship there in the 16th century.
• Charles Wilson, the British explorer, wrote in 1881, “Jews may often be seen sitting for hours at the Wailing-place bent in sorrowful meditation over the history of their race, and repeating often times the words of the Seventy-ninth Psalm. On Fridays especially, Jews of both sexes, of all ages, and from all countries, assemble in large numbers to kiss the sacred stones and weep outside the precincts they may not enter.”
• From 1924 until 1953, the Supreme Moslem Council annually published “A Brief Guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” an English-language guide to the Temple Mount. It states on the opening page: “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot according to the universal belief, on which (quoting Hebrew Scripture) ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord.”
• Today, visitors to the Western Wall, last remnant of the Temple, and excavations in its immediate vicinity can easily tell the difference between the lowest rows of stones from Solomon’s Temple of the 10th century BCE, and the Herodian stones above from the Second Temple period (the Temple of the New Testament).
In the face of all the unassailable evidence, why does the Palestinian Authority — buttressed by billions in aid and political support from the U.S. administration — choose to embrace a hateful fantasy?
Perhaps because as newcomers to the world stage, Palestinian leaders do not look at history the same way Jews, Christians and many other Muslims. While Arabs lived in the Holy Land for centuries, they did so without a distinct sense of peoplehood. The Palestinian identity is a creation of the last decades. There never was a Palestinian capital, postage stamp or national bird. Their “George Washington,” Yasser Arafat, died in 2004. Tragically, some Palestinian elites have decided that a key element of building their peoplehood is by denying their neighbor’s core value: the Jews’ sense of history and their continuous presence in the Holy Land for 3,000 years.
Christopher Sykes, in “Cross Roads to Israel: Palestine from Balfour to Bevin,” tells of British High Commissioner Plumer’s first visit to Tel Aviv in 1926. Upbraided by a delegation of Palestinian Arabs for standing when Hatikva, the Zionist anthem was played, he asked them whether they would not think it rude if he remained seated during the playing of their national anthem. They remained silent. Plumer asked: “By the way, have you got a national anthem?’” When the delegation replied with chagrin that they did not, he snapped back, “I think you had better get one as soon as possible.”
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” In the real world, those who cavalierly deny historic evidence and reality cannot be taken at their word. The serial denial of the Jewish people’s history by Palestinian leaders makes a mockery of the good faith efforts of all who seek peace. The peacemakers must help bring the PA back to reality and remind them that a neighbor who denies your past cannot be trusted to respect you in the future.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.