Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A blast from the past

Today, CBS news is reporting U.S. Strikes in Somalia Reportedly Kill 31 Official Says Dead Were Civilians From Village Targeted In Hunt For Alleged Al Qaeda Suspects
Attack helicopters strafed suspected al Qaeda fighters in southern Somalia on Tuesday, witnesses said, following two days of air strikes by U.S. forces — the first U.S. offensives in the African country since 18 American soldiers were killed here in 1993.

The targets included the senior al Qaeda leader in East Africa and an al Qaeda operative wanted for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa, [CBS News national security correspondent David] Martin reported. Those terror attacks killed more than 200 people.
Can you remember back to 1998, a time when the name al Qaeda was virtually unknown in the United States? Here's an essay I wrote back then.

The terrorists who bombed the US embassy in Kenya and Tanzania call themselves “The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places.” The operation in Tanzania was named “Operation al-Aqsa Mosque.” If there is to be a jihad for the holy places of Jerusalem, let not the first casualty be truth.

The news reports typically have identified al-Aqsa Mosque as the “third holiest site in Islam.” Indeed, according to the Moslem faith, it is where Allah took Prophet Muhammad by night from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca. Muhammad was then raised to Heaven from that place and brought back to Mecca, all in one night. (See, Koran Sura 17:1,2.)

The al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is the site where King Solomon built his Temple. Jewish theology regards it as the place where God’s presence enters the world. There are many legends concerning why King Solomon built the Temple on that particular spot. By my lights, the most poignant tells of two brothers, each of whom was secretly putting supplies in the other’s storehouse under cover of darkness. As they carried food in the night, they literally ran into each other. God chose that very site for the construction of the Holy Alter.

The site is understood by Jews and Christians to be the place where Abraham endured his greatest trial. (Cf. Gen. 22:2, II Chron. 3:1 KJV) For his willingness to sacrifice his son, his only son, his son Isaac whom he loved, God vowed to him: “By myself I swear, the Lord declares: because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command.” Gen. 22:16-18. JPS.

To say that the site is the holiest place in the Jewish world is to understate the case. It is the only Holy Place to the Jews, of whom it has been said, “they erect cathedrals in time, not in space.” The remnant of the wall surrounding it, built by King Solomon, was known as the Wailing Wall, until 1967 when it was liberated by the Israeli Defense Forces and since then it has been referred to as the Western Wall, or more simply, The Wall. To see a live picture of it, refreshed every 60 seconds, click here.

It is the tradition of the Jews to face towards the Western Wall when they pray, no matter where in the world they might be. (I Kings 8:30) Many Jewish homes have a decorative marker on the wall, called a Mizrach (literally: “East”) to denote the direction of the Temple Mount. When Congregation Beth Sholom was built in Anchorage, an important design element was orienting the sanctuary in light of this tradition.

During the Crusades, and since, political control over the area of the Temple Mount shifted back and forth between the Ottoman Empire, the Latin Church united with Rome, and the Orthodox Church. Freedom to make pilgrimages is regarded as a main objective of the crusades. After the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders (1099), the dome of the Rock was converted into a church, (the Temple of the Lord) and al-Aqsa became a church called Templum Solomonis (Solomon’s Temple). They were converted into Muslim houses of prayer after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 and have remained so ever since.

At the conclusion of World War I, with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations, with the assent of the principle powers, granted Great Britain the Mandate of Palestine, including in Article 13, responsibility for “guaranteeing access to the holy places, religious buildings and sites and free access of worship.” In 1947, Great Britain announced that it was no longer willing to administer the Palestinian Mandate, and in 1948 the modern State of Israel was born. The Israeli Declaration of Independence declared, “The State … will safeguard the holy places of all religions.” The War for Independence ended with an armistice on April 3, 1948 according to which the site was granted to Jordanian control.

Prior to 1967 Jews were not allowed access to the holy sites on the Temple Mount. In 1967, Israel was invaded by its Arab neighbors. The cease-fire agreement of June 1967 united the city of Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction.

A meeting was held on June 27, 1967, which included the two chief rabbis, the representatives of the Muslim clergy, and the heads of the Christian communities, as well as the prime minister of Israel, Levi Eshkol. It was affirmed that the government of Israel regarded it as an essential principle of its policy to safeguard the holy places, emphasizing that the internal administration of their sites and measures to be taken for their management would be left entirely to the spiritual heads concerned. Also on that date, the Israeli Parliament passed the Law for the Protection of Holy Places, providing for lengthy prison terms for desecrating holy places, or for preventing free access to such a place.

Since 1967, the administration of the al-Aqsa mosque has been solely in the hands of the Islamic Authority. Indeed, when I visited the Temple Mount, I observed Moslems praying there, under the protection of Moslem police. The only hint of an obstacle to totally free access that I observed was a discrete sign, which said something to the effect of: “Warning: According to Jewish law, entry upon this site is forbidden because of its extreme holiness.”

Recently, Yassar Arafat has denied that there is a historical link between the Jewish people and King David’s city, Jerusalem. This, and similar remarks, are designed to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish people, and must be viewed as an attempt to create an environment for the destruction of the Jewish people, their religious sites, and their heritage. Various Palestinian leaders have fomented violence by falsely accusing the Israeli’s of attempting to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. Many in the fourth estate have repeated this libel without questioning it. For this, Charles Krauthammer took them to task in an essay entitled “A Desecration of the Truth” which appeared in Time Magazine on October 14, 1996. You can read it by clicking here.

It seems to me that reporters who identify al-Aqsa Mosque as the “third holiest site in Islam,” are not telling the story in a balanced way. A more fair description would be “a site which is regarded as the seat of the Jewish nation and religion, as well as a holy site to Islam, which lamentably has been made into a symbol for the use of those who would stir violence and anti-Jewish hatred.”

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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