PA, Hamas recycle lie ‘radical Jew’ set fire to Al-Aqsa Mosque
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PA, Hamas recycle lie ‘radical Jew’ set fire to Al-Aqsa Mosque

Palestinian leaders link 47-year-old arson by mentally-ill Christian tourist to current tensions in Jerusalem and warn of new ‘attacks’

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

A screen shot taken of Hamas's official website on August 21, 2016. The graphic shows the al Aqsa Mosque on fire due to a 1969 arson attack.  The photo reads: "Our Aqsa, we shall not forget." (Courtesy: Hamas website.)
A screen shot taken of Hamas's official website on August 21, 2016. The graphic shows the al Aqsa Mosque on fire due to a 1969 arson attack. The photo reads: "Our Aqsa, we shall not forget." (Courtesy: Hamas website.)

Palestinians marked 47 years since a fire set by a Christian fundamentalist damaged the Al-Aqsa Mosque by blaming the 1969 arson on a “radical Jew.”

Official news outlets for both the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror group on Sunday reported the oft-cited falsehood, while arguing the famous Islamic site faces a similar threat today.

Denis Michael Rohan, a 28-year-old mentally ill Christian fundamentalist from Australia, set fire to the Al Aqsa Mosque, believing he had been given a “sign from God” to carry out his crime. The Palestinians and much of the Arab world blamed the Israeli government for the fire, which destroyed part of the old wooden roof and a 800-year-old pulpit — a gift from the Islamic hero Saladin.

The Palestinian official news outlet Wafa reported Sunday that the Palestinian National Council (PNC) said in a statement: “The crimes of the Israeli occupation and its attempts to Judaize Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa Mosque are still continuing, 47 years after the arson crime.”

The PNC asked for protection from the Arab world to secure the Al Aqsa Mosque from “attacks” by Israelis.

While reviewing the history of the 1969 arson, Wafa reported that Rohan, the arsonist, was a “Jewish-Israeli” and had carried out his crime “under the protection of the occupation authorities.”

Rohan was arrested shortly after the attack, tried by Israel and deported to Australia after being found to be insane.

Yet the fact that he was not a Jewish Israeli or acting under Israel’s auspices is rarely mentioned in some Palestinian circles.

In a Palestinian Authority 11th-grade history textbook, revised for 2016 and reviewed by EU representatives, the Al Aqsa Mosque arsonist is referred to as a “radical Jew,” Israel Radio’s Gal Berger reported on Twitter.

Hamas’s official media outlet Al Aqsa TV, in an article on the 47th anniversary of the arson attack, also labeled Rohan a “radical Jew,” calling the crime part of a “Zionist occupation scheme to target the mosque.”

The Al Aqsa TV article also attempts to link the 1969 arson to Hamas’s allegations of recent attempts by “radical Israelis” to “attack” the mosque.

The report also accuses Israeli authorities of protecting Jews performing “Talmudic rituals” on the Temple Mount, of building an underground tunnel network under the mosque, and of plans to divide the mosque between Jews and Muslims, as is currently the situation at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, known as the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims.

Under the current status quo arrangement, Jews may visit the compound, but not pray there.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, while noting the fact that Rohan was a tourist, nevertheless counted the arson as one of a number of Israeli “assaults” on the flashpoint compound. The report also quoted Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, a former Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher, who accused Israeli authorities of preventing Palestinians from trying to put out the blaze by cutting off the water supply.

An aerial view shows the Temple Mount, the most holy site to Jews, and the Al-Aqsa mosque compound with the Dome of the Rock, the third most holiest site to Muslims in Jerusalem's Old City (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
An aerial view shows the Temple Mount, the most holy site to Jews, and the Al-Aqsa mosque compound with the Dome of the Rock, the third most holiest site to Muslims in Jerusalem’s Old City (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

 

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram-al-Sharif, is the holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam. The compound, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop it, have been a recurring source of tension in Jerusalem in recent years.

Palestinians have cited Israeli “provocations” there as one of the main catalysts for months of violent attacks this year and late last year. They have become increasingly wary of Israel’s intentions at the holy site, often accusing the Jewish state of attempting to impose greater control over the compound, and even of planning to eliminate the mosque and establish Jewish hegemony there.

Israel has repeatedly denied any change in the status quo at the site.

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