Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 1996, pages 16-17
The Jerusalem Tunnel—Two Inside Views
An American Investigative Reporter
Eradicating Muslims and Christians from Jerusalem
By Grace Halsell
The issue of “the tunnel” at Haram al-Sharif, site of the most sacred Islamic shrine in Jerusalem and holy to Muslims around the world, involves more than an historical dig: it raises and demands one clear answer: is Jerusalem only for the Jews?
The Zionists have on more than 100 occasions laid siege to Haram al-Sharif, a site revered by Muslims as the place from which the Prophet Muhammad was carried to heaven. Known as “the noble sanctuary,” it covers some 40 acres, about one-fifth of the old Walled City of Jerusalem, and is the site for both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque.
If top Israeli officials or religious leaders have not instigated these assaults, have they ever spoken out against them? Do they see Palestinians and other Arabs as human beings, like themselves, or have they been imbued with ideology and nationalism to the point we will experience endless wars in the land holy to a billion Muslims, a billion Christians and some 14 million Jews?
For those who have studied Zionism, the Israeli building of a tunnel at Haram al-Sharif was part of an on-going campaign to control all of Jerusalem. The Zionists began a wanton destruction of homes, schools and mosques in the Old City in 1967 when they seized military control of Jerusalem. Wanting space for a large plaza in front of the Western Wall, they bulldozed the Arab Moghrabi quarter so named for an area in Arab North Africa and evicted an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Palestinians living in this quarter.
In 1979, on my initial trip to Jerusalem, I visited in the home of a third-generation Jewish American, Bobby Brown, from the Bronx, New York. “The mosque must be destroyed,” Brown said. “We will build our temple there.” Typical of tens of thousands of militant Zionists, Brown had left New York, flown to Tel Aviv, been issued an Uzi machine gun and, along with other immigrants, had taken land at gunpoint from Palestinian farmers. These newcomers to Palestine flatly declared, “The Arabs all must leave. God gave this land to the Jews.”
On a guided tour of the Old City 17 years ago, I listened as an Israeli guide, pointing toward Al-Asqa, told a group of visiting U.S. Christians: “There we will build our temple.” Asked about the mosque, the Israeli responded, “That will be destroyed to make room for the temple.” Several of the Americans nodded in agreement.
Rather than take Haram al-Sharif with one blast of dynamite, which could destroy the Western Wall where Jews pray, the Israelis since 1967 have moved in more subtle ways. They have been taking over the Old Walled City of Jerusalem. Over the same period they have been confiscating Palestine, village by village, dunam by dunam.
The Zionists seem to show contempt for Jerusalem’s historic and religious heritage of Islamic architecture and monuments, spanning 1,300 years. These include 30 monuments from the Umayyad, Abasid, Fatimid and Ayyubid periods; 79 from the Mamluk period, and 37 Ottoman buildings of note.
The Islamic Waqf authorities have responsibility for most of these buildings, which create the present shape and skyline of much of the Old City and are therefore of great importance in determining its character.
Over the years, I have visited many times with Palestinians living in the Old City adjacent to the Haram al-Sharif. One Palestinian, Nawal, a mother of 12 children, related how one morning she awoke to cries of alarm. “Al-Aqsa was on fire,” she said. “Without thinking, I ran to the mosque. I forgot I had children, I forgot I had a husband. I was trying to pull out carpets so that they did not catch fire.” That day it was Aug. 21, 1969 a Zionist zealot had set fire to the ancient Al-Aqsa mosque, third holiest site in the world to one billion Muslims, one-fifth of the earth’s population. The fire damaged the mosque and destroyed many cherished and irreplaceable relics. In that and subsequent attacks on the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, “the Israeli authorities tried to say the assaults were made by a ”˜fringe element’ or a ”˜crazed’ individual,” Nawal said.
On April 11, 1982, Nawal said she was in Al-Aqsa praying. This was the day that Alan Harry Goodman, an American Zionist who had moved to Jerusalem, decided to shoot as many Palestinians as he could while they were praying. He shot and killed 11 Palestinian Muslims. As in the similar case a decade later when American-born Israeli Jewish settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslim men and boys at prayer in Hebron, both the American and Israeli governments played down the incident.
“The Zionists always claim that the Old City is theirs,” Nawal told me. “They are a determined people. They are smart, they operate with long-range plans, they want all our houses and to get them they proceed to terrorize us, to drive us out.”
“What happens to us is part of an on-going harassment,” Ibrahim, another Palestinian, told me. “Jewish terrorists break pipes and cause water to drip into our homes. They throw stones and toss fire bombs. They break windows and they bar access to certain entrances to prevent us from entering our own homes.”
With a Palestinian housewife, I climbed onto the roof of her home. She showed me where the Israelis threw fire into a window and how they cut electrical wires, which caused a fire that destroyed grape vines and plants on the roof. She said the Shuva Bainim yeshiva, an Israeli “religious school” placed on the roofs of Palestinian buildings near her home, was occupied entirely by Jewish former convicts. “They pray then they throw fire bombs into our homes. Why do they allow young Jews to come here from New York and take property from those of us who have always lived here?”
No Israeli religious leader has spoken against terrorizing civilians or laying siege to the Muslim mosques. In most of the armed assaults on Haram al-Sharif, religious Israelis have been led by militant rabbis. “We should not forget,” said Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Hacohen Aviner, “that the supreme purpose of the in gathering of the exiles and the establishment of our state is the building of the temple. The temple is the very top of the pyramid.”
Although there have been repeated criminal attempts to destroy the mosque, neither the chief Sephardic rabbi nor the chief Ashkenazic rabbi ever criticized the Jewish militants. “The chief rabbis, who even receive their salaries from the state, haven’t condemned at all the violence committed,” an Israeli journalist noted, adding: “This signals that it is not so terrible.”
I visited a Jewish yeshiva called Ataret Cohanim which had been installed in a home vacated by Palestinians in the Old City. I talked with a Jew who told me his name was Joseph and that he was born in New York. As we talked, I glanced at a wall and noted an artist’s rendition of a Jewish temple in place of Al-Asqa. Many Israelis such as Joseph are dual citizens and help funnel tax-free donations from U.S. Jews for use in militant confiscation of Palestinian buildings and homes in the Old City. They annually hold fund-raising dinners in the United States.
These dinners have attracted speakers such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as well as senators and congressmen eager to curry Jewish votes. American Jews attending such banquets are urged to write checks for as much as $5,000 for the “Jerusalem Reclamation Project.” Such dinners raise as much as $2 million annually for Jewish acquisition (what the Zionists dub “reclaiming” ) of Muslim and Christian property in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, it would be difficult to find in the U.S. press or among U.S. organizations any investigation of the groups that continue to solicit American tax-free dollars to send to Jewish militants. Many, such as Menachem Bar Shalom, are dual U.S.-Israeli citizens who regularly shuttle between New York and Jerusalem in their efforts to “reclaim” all of the Old City including the Haram al-Sharif as their own.
The question of Jerusalem and whether it remains a city of three faiths or one totally in the hands of Zionists is being decided now, on the ground, by the Israeli government and its U.S. supporters. Even if the so-called peace talks ever resume, since the Zionists have confiscated and continue to confiscate so many homes and so much turf, the question might become: what is left to negotiate?
On Sept. 29, Nabil Shaath, minister of planning and international cooperation for the Palestinian Authority, told Israeli Radio: “You have the might, you have the Cobras [helicopters] and you have the tanks, but all these will not achieve peace.”