Mahmoud Al Habbash

According to Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud Al Habbash, all of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, otherwise known as the Kotel, are “the sole right of the Palestinians” for “no person beside Muslims ever used it (Western Wall) as a place of worship throughout all of history until the ominous Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917.” He furthermore claimed that “Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu’s recent statements concerning the occupation’s (i.e., Israel’s) ownership of the Western Wall are nothing but nonsense and an attempt to manipulate both history and geography, and are worthless from a religious, historical, or legal point of view.”

Palestinian Media Watch has reported that these comments, amongst many others, are part of a Palestinian systematic campaign to deny Jewish history in Jerusalem. For example, in November 2012, PA TV reported, “Deep underground beneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque, there’s [an Israeli] race against the clock to complete the excavations in search of [Jerusalem's] Temple that exists only in the minds of radical organizations.” In another instance, in September 2012, the PA Daily Al Hayat Al Jadida asserted, “the Al-Buraq Wall is inseparable from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while the plaza in front of it is an Islamic trust, belonging to Al-Aqsa, and part of the religious trusts of the Mughrabi neighborhood, that was demolished by the occupation in 1967.” These are only a mere sample of Palestinian statements denying the Jewish connection to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount area, and Jerusalem generally speaking.

Jews praying at the Kotel in the 1880′s

Such Palestinians statements are a pure distortion of history. Following the Arab Conquest of Jerusalem, a document from the Cairo Genizah claims that seventy Jewish families moved from Tiberius to Jerusalem with the consent of Umar and took up residence in the southern part of the city, which was very close to the Temple Mount and they established their main synagogue around Warren’s Gate, which used to lead to a tunnel and staircase onto the Temple Mount. The Cairo Genizah also documents Jewish pilgrimages to the Temple Mount, wealthy Jews attempting to finance repairs at Warren’s Gate because it was damaged by an earthquake in 1033, and the Arabs permitting Jews to pray near the Temple Mount, unlike their Byzantine predecessors. The synagogue at Warren’s Gate was destroyed during the First Crusade. Rabbi Yehuda Getz viewed Warren’s Gate as the point west of the wall closest to the Holy of Hollies.

Later on in history, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, wrote in 1871 that there were 8,000 Jews living in Jerusalem who live in the southeast quarter. He furthermore asserted, “The Jewish Sabbath being on Saturday, and beginning at sunset on Friday, the weekly wail of the Jews under the wall takes place on Friday, and is a preparation for the rest and worship of the day which they are commanded to ‘keep holy’. The small rectangular oblong area, without roof or canopy, (i.e., the Western Wall) serves for the gathering of the whole remnant of the Jewish nation in Jerusalem. Here, whether it rains or shines, they come together at an early hour, old and young, men, women, and little children–the poor and the rich, in their best costumes, discordant as the diverse nations from which they come.”

Yet aside from these historically valid sources demonstrating a Jewish connection to Jerusalem and areas near the Temple Mount area before the Balfour Declaration, classical Muslim religious sources also recognize a Jewish connection to Jerusalem and state that the Al Aqsa Mosque is where the Jewish Temple used to be located. For example, eleventh century Muslim historian Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Maqdisi and fourteenth century Iranian religious scholar Hamdallah al-Mustawfi both claimed that the al-Aqsa Mosque was built on top of Solomon’s Temple. Additionally, Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Husseini has argued “that the traditional commentators from the eighth and ninth century onwards have uniformly interpreted the Koran to say explicitly that Eretz Yisrael has been given by God to the Jewish people as a perpetual covenant. There is no Islamic counterclaim to the Land anywhere in the traditional corpus of commentary.”

By Rachel Avraham