Prime minister's gift omits Muslim holy sites, inflaming passionsHaving had some success in stirring things up by making an issue of the photoshopped picture of the Temple Mount without the Dome of the Rock, which was recently distributed (possibly mistakenly) by the IDF rabbinate, Haaretz has gone through its archives and revived a story from 1997 to try to stir things up some more.
This week in Haaretz, 1997.
Tags: Haifa Benjamin Netanyahu Jerusalem Yasser Arafat
As the new year of 1997 dawned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Haifa to visit the head of the Greek Catholic Church in Israel, Archbishop Maximos Salloum. Netanyahu gave the archbishop a silver engraving of the Old City of Jerusalem and wished him a happy new year.
Soon, a rumor spread that the gift lacked several key elements. Haaretz reporter Joseph Algazi called the archbishop, who acknowledged that the Muslim holy places, the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, did not appear on the engraving. Instead there was "an approximation of the Second Temple," a Jewish holy site.
"What could I have done, returned the present to the prime minister? I respect all people and all religions. The question of why the prime minister decided to give me such a gift should be asked of him, not me," the archbishop told Haaretz.
The office of the prime minister's media adviser also confirmed the report and said that the prime minister's bureau had acquired several copies of the same engraving.
"We didn't notice that the Al Aqsa mosque was missing," somebody from the office said. "Of course there was no intent on our part to insult any part of the population, and this was the result of carelessness. It was a mistake. If anyone's feelings were hurt, we apologize."
But the Arab public, still smarting from the opening of the Western Wall tunnels months earlier, were not mollified. The spokesman of the Islamic Movement in Israel, the vice mayor of Umm al-Fahm, Sheikh Hashem Abed al Rahman, told Algazi that "the gift Netanyahu offered was a serious provocation of the feelings of all Muslims around the world. It was like a declaration of war on the entire Muslim world."
But this case looks rather different to me. The Prime Minister's office gave the Archbishop an engraving of "the Old City of Jerusalem" that had the Second Temple, rather than the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount. Was this a statement that the Israeli Government wanted to tear down the latter shrines and rebuild the Temple on the site? Isn't it rather more likely that the engraving was intended to represent Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, in which case it would have been an anachronism to put the Islamic shrines there? The panicked reaction of the PM's office doesn't really answer the question, nor does the response of certain Muslim spokesmen, nor, strangely does the article itself (which does not bother to include a picture of the actual engraving).
Does anyone have a photo of the engraving which they can share with us? Unless it can be shown that the engraving was incitement to rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount, which I rather doubt, this is much ado about nothing from long ago.
At an Islamic conference held in Pakistan in 1997, Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat displayed a picture of the Temple Mount area which showed the Temple in place of the mosques.The article also fails to note that not long after this, at the 2000 Camp David Summit, Arafat denied that there was ever a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, which rather erodes his moral authority to be outraged here.
Reporter Uzi Benziman wrote in Haaretz that the prevailing wisdom was that the picture was a version of the engraving given to the archbishop by Netanyahu. "Despite the apology, the picture of the empty Temple Mount landscape found its way to Arafat, and he knew how to make use of it at the conference," Benziman wrote.
Arafat claimed that Israel was the source of the picture and that it "expressed the malicious intentions of the Netanyahu government to uproot the Muslim presence in the holy city and Judaize the Haram al-Sharif completely."