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OF HOLY SITES AND HYPOCRISY

by PATRICK GOODENOUGH

WHEN YASSER Arafat charged that Israel's opening of an exit to a ancient tunnel in Jerusalem undermined the integrity of nearby Islamic mosques, world leaders and the media parroted his claims without murmur.

In reality, the nearest mosque is located 250 metres away. One would be hard-pressed to find any location within Jerusalem's tiny Old City (which is a mere 900 metres across) which is not a stone's throw from one of the many mosques, synagogues or churches.

But undeterred by geographical or historical fact, Arafat charged that the opening was "a crime against our religion and our holy sites", a blatant attempt by Israel to "judaise" a Muslim Arab city. Abetted by unquestioning media coverage, PLO spokesmen said this was yet another example of Israel's violation of Muslims' religious freedom.

IN COMPARISON to the ado about the tunnel and its alleged threat to Muslim holy shrines, subsequent armed attacks by Palestinians on two sites sacred to Jews were virtually ignored outside the Israeli media.

During the rioting following the tunnel opening, the tombs of Rachel, in Bethlehem (Judaism's third holiest site), and of Joseph, in Shechem, were targetted by angry mobs and armed PLO police. In the Shechem assault, Arabs stormed the tomb and an adjacent yeshiva, destroying sacred texts and furniture. Six soldiers were killed trying to defend the site (The Jerusalem Post, September 30).
Yet this gratuitous desecration of Jewish holy places raised hardly a murmur. Had the situation been reversed, had Jewish mobs raided Muslim sites and murdered those guarding them, calls for jihad would have resounded across the Islamic world, and mayhem would have followed.

Back to Middle East Digest - November 1996
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