PA, Hamas rehash lie that Jews planned 1969 burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque
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PA, Hamas rehash lie that Jews planned 1969 burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Palestinian leaders link 48-year-old arson by mentally-ill Christian tourist to recent conflict on Temple Mount

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.)

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas both revived the lie that a Jew or Jews were behind the 1969 arson of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by a Christian fundamentalist, which took place 48 years ago.

Marking the August 23 anniversary, both parties again blamed Jews and tied the old incident to recent conflict at the Temple Mount, which saw weeks of protests and violence.

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.

Dr. Mahmoud Habbash, Supreme Sharia Judge in the Palestinian Authority and a close adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday, in statements published by the official PA news site Wafa, that “the fires that erupted in the Al-Aqsa Mosque 48 years ago by a Jewish terrorist of Australian origin are still burning today, as long as the noble sanctuary and the holy city [of Jerusalem] are violated by the Israeli occupation.”

Dr. Mahmoud Habbash, Supreme Sharia Judge in the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s advisor on religious and Islamic affairs. (Courtesy)
Dr. Mahmoud Habbash, Supreme Sharia Judge in the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s advisor on religious and Islamic affairs. (Courtesy)

After a July 14 terror attack in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers with weapons they had smuggled onto the site, Israel installed new security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, which set off near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in and around the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

It also triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the installations were removed.

Five Palestinians died in clashes and a Palestinian terrorist killed three members of a family sitting down to Shabbat dinner in the West Bank settlement of Halamish, saying he was avenging Al -Aqsa

Habbash said “the recent events in the occupied city of Jerusalem were a message that the Palestinian people will neither forgive nor forget and cannot not relinquish any of their legitimate rights guaranteed by international and humanitarian law.”

According to a Monday report by the Israeli watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), the official television station of the PA broadcast a documentary that claimed the 1969 fire was “planned by senior Jews of high position.”

On Tuesday, the Hamas terror group, which controls the Gaza Strip, released a statement blaming the arson on a “Zionist criminal.”

“On this day in 1969, Al-Aqsa Mosque was severely damaged after the Zionist criminal, Denis Michael Rohan, burned the holy site,” the statement said.

The statement added that Hamas pays tribute “to the people of Jerusalem who have shown great courage and steadfastness in resisting the Israeli Occupation’s plots of seizing Al-Aqsa Mosque, Judaizing it and distorting its historical reality.”

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on Tuesday also incorrectly referred to Rohan as “an extremist Jew,” in a report about Palestinians marking the anniversary of the fire.

Notably, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an wrote an article based off of Anadolu’s report, but correctly referred to Rohan as a Christian.

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 violent attacks in recent years. 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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