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A few years ago, an article appeared on the Web site of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement by the Egyptian archaeologist Abed al-Rahim Rihan Barakat, the director of antiquities in the Dahab area of Sinai. Barakat wrote, "The legend about the Jewish temple is the greatest historic crime of forgery."

Barakat went on to explain that David and Solomon had small houses of prayer and had no connection to a temple. He is not alone. A Saudi Arabian historian named Mohammed Hassen Sharab alleges that the Temple of Solomon was built on the site on which the Tower of David now stands. A fatwa on the Web site of the Muslim religious trust (Waqf) in Jerusalem contends that Solomon and Herod did not build the Temple, but only renovated an earlier structure, dating to the time of Adam.

Another claim, made by the Palestinian Authority mufti for Jerusalem, Ikrama Sabri, is that the Temple has been built three times, and that Herod built the third construction. Following this line of logic, the Third Temple has already been destroyed, and therefore the Jewish traditions regarding its future reconstruction are groundless. According to another Muslim version, which has found favor in the past few years, the Temple of the Jews was in Yemen, of all places.

The historian Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, who is now publishing a book entitled "From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back - the Muslim Rallying Around Jerusalem," has been collating for years thousands of publications, religious legal rulings, statements and pronouncements of Muslim clergymen, historians, public figures and statesmen on the subject of Jerusalem. His book draws in great detail a portrait of the great Muslim denial, a denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and to the Temple. This argument has strengthened in intensity since the Six-Day War.

The book is being published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a policy studies institution established at the initiative of Teddy Kollek in 1978 and has since published hundreds of studies related to the city and its future. The institute is funded mainly by contributions and is not dependent on municipal or state institutions. It releases an annual statistical yearbook of Jerusalem, and prior to the Camp David Summit in 2000, drafted the options of the repartitioning of Jerusalem and the surrounding area between Jews and Palestinians. Its scholars are now conducting studies in collaboration with Palestinian think tanks.

The Muslim site

Several chapters in Reiter's study describe the parallel rise in the sanctity of Al-Aqsa and Al-Quds (the Muslim name of Jerusalem). For instance, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which according to modern research was built approximately 1,400 years ago, is now being described as a mosque that was built at the time of the world's creation, during the days of Adam, or of Abraham. For example, Abdus-Salam al-Abbadi, a former Jordanian minister of Muslim trusts, has invoked these traditions. So has Sheik Ikrama Sabri, who cited these traditions in a legal ruling he wrote a few years ago, in which he attributed the construction of the Holy Mosque in Mecca and of the Al-Aqsa compound to Adam, and the renewed construction of the Kaaba to Abraham and the renewed construction of Al-Aqsa to Solomon. The Saudi historian Mohammed Hassen Sharab has also written that Al-Aqsa was built by Adam, and another Saudi historian claims that Al-Aqsa Mosque existed even before Jesus and Moses. Another tradition, which is quoted by some present-day Muslim writers, attributes the construction of Al-Aqsa to Abraham. This tradition contends that Abraham built Al-Aqsa 40 years after he built the Kaaba together with his son Ishmael.

Reiter reveals hundreds and thousands of legal rulings, publications and sources that demonstrate the extent to which the denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and to the holy places has grown in the Muslim world. Various Islamic sources are now trying to refute the Jewish conception of Jerusalem's centrality in Judaism, and deny the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, and contend that the Western Wall is not an authentic remnant of the outer retaining wall of the Temple compound, but rather the western wall of the Al-Aqsa compound, the place that Muslims now identify with Al-Buraq, the Prophet Mohammed's wondrous beast of burden, which according to legend was tethered by the prophet to the wall.

The Islamic texts that relate to denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the holy places were found by Reiter at the annual Arab Book Fair held in Cairo, and in bookshops in Islamic communities in Europe, America and Asia. A large percentage of the texts are also accessible to readers of Arabic on the Internet. They gradually seep in and are becoming truth in the eyes of a large Muslim public around the world.

The new Islamic writing, which clashes with the Jewish writing on Jerusalem, poses three fundamental claims: the Jewish presence in Jerusalem was brief (extending only 60-70 years) and does not justify Jewish sovereignty over the holy city; the Temple never existed and the Temple of Solomon, who is solely an Islamic figure from antiquity, was at most a personal prayer room; and the Western Wall is a holy Muslim site whose Jewish connection was invented in the 19th and 20th centuries for political purposes.

Misquoting Kenyon

Many Muslim legal scholars now attach the word "Al Hekhal" (the temple) to the word "Al Mazum," the literal meaning of which is "the purported" or "the supposed," in order to sharpen their position, namely that it is a Jewish invention that has no factual basis. Abed al-Tuwab Mustafa, for instance, who is a lecturer in political science at the University of Cairo and a former host of religious program on Egyptian television, writes in his book that the Jews' belief in the Temple is a specious allegation, and that the supposed research of the Jews is not scientific, but should be regarded as no more than assumptions and hypotheses.

According to Mustafa's analysis, the Temple was a structure that was the size of a spacious apartment and nothing more, and that many other places of worship were referred to as "Hekhal" (temple). He misquotes the report of the British commission of inquiry in the matter of the Western Wall, which was set up in the wake of the 1929 riots in Palestine, and tells his readers that the committee found that the Jews' contention that the Western Wall is one of the walls of Solomon's Temple is incorrect. (In fact, the committee report states the opposite).

Mustafa partly bases his statement on the research of the archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who determined that the city of Jebus was outside the walls of Haram al-Sharif, in the direction of the Kidron Valley. In other words, if there was a Temple there, it did not occupy the site on which the Mosque of Al-Aqsa now stands. Here, too, it should be noted that the famous archaeologist, who excavated the City of David during the rule of King Hussein, did not have any doubt about the location of the Holy Temple.

A similar distortion appears on the Web site of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Mohammed Halayka seemingly bases his beliefs on Israeli archaeologists when he states that there is no trace of the Jewish Temple. Halayka writes that since 1967 the Jews have carried out 65 archaeological digs on the Temple Mount. He quotes the archaeologist Eilat Mazar, as having said: "We did not reach a temple, and we have no idea where it was." In fact, in her book Mazar presents findings that support the scriptural sources regarding the Temple, and notes that the reason why there are no original artifacts from the structure of the Temple itself is that it is not possible to carry out excavations beneath the Temple Mount compound, the place in which archaeologists believe the Holy Temple stood.

Senior officials of the Waqf in Jerusalem say it is inconceivable that an archaeological excavation might be permitted in the holy site, and note that none of the excavations around the Temple Mount can corroborate the existence of the Jewish Temple, which is merely a legend. They refer to a statement made by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, and to statements made by his predecessor, the late Mufti Sheikh Saad E-Din al-Almi. Both men stressed the preeminence and supremacy of Islam over Judaism in Jerusalem. Sheikh Sabri has said in the past:"It is not possible that Allah sent the Muslims a house of prayer and asked them to watch over it, when it belongs to another group."

Reiter relates that before publishing his study, he presented its main findings to a well-known Palestinian academic who is a signatory to the Ayalon-Nusseibeh initiative [known as the People's Voice]. "His response was that the discourse that I am presenting, whether it is disseminated by Arafat or by Arab academics, is not acceptable to the wider public. He claimed that nobody buys the stories of the denial of the holiness of Jerusalem to Jews, as spread by Arafat and others. He said that most of the people writing these texts are opportunistic academics wishing to appease their rulers, and that the public at large, and especially the educated public, does not believe them."

Reiter does not agree with his colleague. He estimates that the effect of the widespread barrage of denial cannot be minimized, and notes that politicians and journalists from a variety of Arab states use a significant share of these messages, turning them into part of their political endeavor, thereby intensifying their dissemination.

Until 1967 they spoke differently

For centuries until 1967, the story of the Jewish Holy Temple - details about its construction, traditions surrounding its existence, and even details of the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar - was a deeply rooted and undenied motif found in Muslim Arabic literature. Moreover, Reiter notes that classical Arab sources identify the place where Al-Aqsa stands with where the Temple of Solomon stood. An 11th-century geographer and historian from Jerusalem, Al-Mukadasi, and the 14th-century Iranian legal scholar Al-Mastufi both identify the Al-Aqsa Mosque with the Temple of Solomon. In the poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi of the 13th century, the construction of the Mosque of Solomon is equated with the construction of the Mosque of Al-Aqsa. The rock inside the compound is usually the touchstone Arab identification of the Temple of Solomon and the heart of the Al-Aqsa compound. Abu Bachar al-Wasti, who was a preacher at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the early 11th century, presents a variety of other traditions in his book of Jerusalem's praises, which present the Jewish past of the Holy Temple.

Even in the 20th century, the Palestinian historian Araf al-Araf wrote (before 1967) that the site of the Haram al-Sharif is that of Mount Moriah, which is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, on which was the threshing floor of Aravna (Ornan) the Jebusite, which David purchased in order to build the Temple on it, and that his son Solomon built the Temple in the year 1007 BCE. Al-Araf even added that the remains of the structures underneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque date to the period of Solomon. Nevertheless, these statements were written at a time when the Old City of Jerusalem was part of the Kingdom of Jordan, and they barely echo in the Arab history books written since 1967 or in contemporary discourse.