Hezbollah's Lie About Al-Quds (Jerusalem)
by Stephen Schwartz
In 1997, Pope John Paul II, one of the greatest monotheist religious leaders of modern times, made a pastoral visit to the tormented country of Lebanon. The journey was the first to that land by a pope since the times of St. Peter.
The armed Lebanese Shia Muslim movement, Hezbollah, which seldom misses a propaganda opportunity, directed a public statement to the pontiff. The document, released through the Hezbollah satellite television station El-Manar, was notable for its insolence. Hezbollah warned John Paul II, rightly known as the greatest friend of the House of Israel among the recent popes, that His Holiness' positive "remarks concerning Jews have left negative impressions among the peoples of the region and the Islamic world."
But on that occasion, Hezbollah also had the extraordinary nerve to demand that the pope support "the liberation of al-Quds," i.e. of Jerusalem. The aggressive Shia militia stated, "the Palestinian issue… threaten(s) al-Quds (Jerusalem) itself. This city is viewed with sanctity by Muslims… The city is viewed with reverence and sanctity by Christians as well. There are those, however, who want it to become an eternal capital for an aggressive racist entity that has had a history full of persecution of the followers of other faiths."
Hezbollah amputates the Jewish legacy of Jerusalem from the history of the city, which is the mother of all monotheists. This is a denial of reality so outrageous it is breathtaking. But the Shia radicals, who now rain flaming terror on northern Israel, embody other flagrant untruths.
First, while al-Quds (The Sacred) is indeed a holy city to Muslims as well as to Jews and Christians, it requires no further liberation. Muslim shrines in the state of Israel are protected by the Jewish state, under regulations largely inherited from the greatest Islamic polity in history, the Ottoman Empire.
For example, the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram ash-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, is a forbidden area for religious Jews to enter. This means that the large precinct including the Dome of the Rock, the first great achievement of Muslim architecture, and the al-Aqsa mosque, a stunningly-beautiful temple with colored stained-glass windows, is entirely under the control of an Islamic "waqf" or pious endowment. How would such a space need liberation – and from what? Would Hezbollah prefer its transformation from its present serenity and privacy into a tourist attraction? (There is, by the way, no natural Shia constituency for Hezbollah among Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, among whom nearly all Muslims are Sunni.)
Islamic foundations administer numerous other holy places in Israel, including the tomb of the Prophet Samuel, which is considered worthy of honor by both Muslims and Jews. In my recent visit to Jerusalem, I went to Samuel's tomb and offered a recitation in the mosque that stands as its main structure; I then proceeded to the synagogue and sarcophagus underground.
Israel has never acted against Muslims or Christians as people of religion. Yet Hezbollah told Pope John Paul II in 1997, "This city that is holy in the Christian conscience, and that has always excited the zeal of the Christian peoples, is being emptied quietly and persistently – as you know – of the Arab presence, be it Muslim or Christian; that presence is being massively reduced through a systematic policy adopted against its representatives as individuals and institutions."
The lie thus compounds itself. Israel has institutionalized Islam as a recognized faith within the country's borders. Israel maintains Islamic religious (sharia) courts as an option in personal and family cases, alongside Jewish and Christian religious law, in addition to a secular civic code. Israel guards the safety of the remaining assets belonging to the monotheistic religions, notwithstanding the loss of some structures to the ravages of war. Indeed, one should not forget that while some Muslim property in East Jerusalem was demolished by the Israelis, the tomb of the patriarch Joseph in Nablus, another place of pilgrimage for Muslims as well as Jews, was destroyed in a nightmare of bloodshed, by an Arab mob, in 2000.
Nevertheless, for those who have faith, hope remains. I was inspired while in Jerusalem by the unique manner in which the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian elements of the city embody universal and intertwined customs. On the way to Umar ibn ul-Khattab Square in the Muslim Quarter, I could hear ululations, typically associated in the West with Muslim women, rise from the nearby Western Wall, where Moroccan and other Jewish women of Arab culture thus express their joy in the holiness of the site. A procession of Bukharan Jews approached the wall, in commemoration of a bar mitzvah, with the blowing of the same long, brass trumpets one hears throughout Central Asia, among Tibetans and even, in times past, in Beijing.
The Saudi-financed terror movement Hamas preaches that the whole land of Israel is an Islamic endowment. The moribund Palestine Liberation Organization named its Hamas-imitating suicide squads the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, suggesting that its murder campaign was motivated by a spurious struggle for the freedom of the Haram ash-Sharif. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Sunni terrorist group supported by Shia Iran, also names its criminal gangs the Al-Quds Brigades.
This reveals that the real meaning of the phrase "liberation of al-Quds" is the destruction of Israel. But the time has come for moderate and spiritual Muslims who believe in a future of stability and respect for their global community to accept the legitimacy of Israel and move forward to democracy, prosperity, progress, global cooperation, and an intellectual renaissance of the Muslim lands and the faith of Muhammad.