This photo, taken in October, was selected as one of Reuter’s best photos for 2014. An Israeli woman & a Palestinian protester are giving each other the equivalent of the middle finger. Palestinian women were protesting as Israeli soldiers escorted Zionists to the Western Wall–a section of the enclosure around the compound known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims & the Temple Mount to Zionists. The compound is located in East Jerusalem under illegal occupation by Israel since 1967. The Palestinians are chanting & taunting while Orthodox Jews living in apartments above the street hurl bottles & water down on them.
The Noble Sanctuary (Al-Haram al-Sharif) is 35 acres of fountains, gardens, museums, as well as the Al-Aqsa Mosque & the Dome of the Rock (which has sacred meaning to Muslims). The entire area is regarded as sacred space & is an educational center as well as religious sanctuary. It’s existed in various reconstructions for over 1,300 years. There’s a fallacious mantra going round that the Noble Sanctuary is only the third holiest site to Islam but is the holiest site for Judaism. The reason offered for why it’s sacred to Judaism is that it’s the original site of Solomon’s Temple said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant & destroyed in 586 BCE (for which there isn’t a shred of archaeological evidence). There was an actual temple on the site between 516 BCE & 70 CE when the Romans destroyed it. It was renovated by Herod (of Biblical & historical ignominy) & the supposed remnants of the Herodian wall make up the Western Wall (known also as the Wailing Wall) heralded by Israel as the most sacred place of Judaism.
There are lots of peculiar religious practices in the world (like worshipping Jesus image in a tortilla) but there is something fetishistic about millions of people making pilgrimage & fervent homage to an old stone wall. Even the pope & every godless US politician make homage at this altar of the Israeli state. One would never ridicule even the most absurd practice but there is no need to feign respect for a narrative fabricated solely to serve Zionist nationalism & not religious commitment. It’s not inconceivable that there’s a mystique around that pile of stones from Herod’s days. But a mystique is not the same as a religious tradition or historic claim.
Far from being an ancient tradition, there is little evidence that Jews, most of whom lived outside Palestine until the late 19th century, held the wall as sacred. Jewish immigration to Palestine was part of the great wave of emigration from Eastern Europe during that time–some driven by economic desperation, some to escape pogroms & persecution, & many as evangelists of Zionism goaded by Zionist organizations as advance guard for setting up a Jewish-only state. And that’s when trouble began in Palestine around Islam’s holy sites, with Zionists creating historic narratives & fabricating religious traditions that did not exist.
In 1948 when Israel was founded on the violent expulsion of Palestinians with the collusion of colonial regimes (especially the UK), East Jerusalem came under the jurisdiction of Jordan through negotiations with the UN; West Jerusalem was under Israeli control. The Noble Sanctuary is in East Jerusalem. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem & within a matter of three days had flattened the Palestinian neighborhood (called the Moroccan Quarter) adjacent to the Western Wall & Noble Sanctuary & forcibly cleared out the residents. Their property was expropriated for public use & eventually turned into a plaza to receive thousands of born-again Zionists laying claim to a land that wasn’t theirs. That “ancient tradition” of placing messages in the Western Wall doesn’t go back to Herod but began with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan when they marched into East Jerusalem & he inserted a written prayer into the cracks of the wall.
After the 1967 war, Zionists under the leadership of right-wing Rabbi Shlomo Goren (chief rabbi of the Israeli military & later chief rabbi of Israel) began claiming the Noble Sanctuary for building a third temple. Non-Muslims were forbidden to pray within the compound & so the Western Wall served for a long while as an outdoor & surrogate temple but Zionists have always had their eye on the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque & erecting their temple there. Palestinians frequently claim Israeli excavations under Al-Aqsa are threatening the foundations making it liable to collapse. Israeli rabbis are divided on Jews praying within the compound. Traditional rabbinical scholars regard it as antithetical to Judaism. Right-wing Zionist rabbis are much more flexible with religious principles in service to their rabid nationalism.
This explains the constant harassment & storm trooper tactics by Zionist extremists, police agents, & Israeli troops within the Al-Aqsa compound. This also explains why there is relentless political pressure to reverse the prohibition on non-Muslims worshipping there & why Palestinian males under 50 are barred access to the mosque & must pray in the public streets. In November, Israel ordered the mosque closed down after the shooting of an ultranationalist Zionist who campaigned aggressively for Jewish prayer rights at the site. The entire purpose is to usurp & deny Palestinian religious rights & traditions.
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(Photo by Finbarr O’Reilly)