Monday, January 28, 2013

The Islamic Council and the Israeli Prime Minister

A major theme of this blog so far has been Israel's actions in East Jerusalem after the Six Day War. Today we'd like to look at the subject from a new perspective: the relations with the Islamic Council and with the Mufti of Jerusalem himself, in the early 1970s. Today's file comes from the office of the Adviser on Arab Affairs, which was a unit in the Prime Minister's Office from the early years of the state until the turn of the century when it was abolished. (The abolition reflected the understanding that the affairs of Israel's Arab citizens should be dealt with, like those of all other citizens, in each respective ministry, rather than by a separate one).

File גל-13922/13 was active between 1970-1974. Much of its content are letters from various Arab institutions or groups to the Prime Minister, complaining about Israeli actions or warning of their dire consequences; in one case the file also contains a response. It's interesting to note the authors of the letters - the Islamic Council, the Mufti himself, but also lesser figures such as the mayor of Jenin or the head of the African community in East Jerusalem - all wrote to Israel's Prime Minister and other officials in Arabic. Their working assumption was that the Israelis would not be troubled by this. The one letter of response, by Deputy PM Yigal Allon (pages 7-8), was written in Hebrew, then translated and sent in Arabic. Allon himself actually spoke Arabic, but since the file contains a number of versions of his letter in Hebrew, clearly it was translated by a professional; Allon wouldn't have wanted to offend his interlocutors with his pidgin Arabic.

This blog doesn't have the expertise to say if such a practice is standard in the annals of conflicts.

Much of the correspondence deals with the Arab dissatisfaction with Israeli actions near the Temple Mount (or Haram a-Shariff, depending on whether you're reading the Hebrew or the Arabic), although one of the letters, from August 1972, describes a plan to remove some families from their homes as part of the construction of Hebrew University as "threatening the lives of innocent children" (p. 13).

By way of giving a feel for the tone and content of the letters, here's a rough translation of the last one in the file, from the Mufti Saad Adin El-Alamy to the new PM Yitzchak Rabin on June 4th 1974 (pages 21-26):
Your Honor,

On the event of the appointment of the new government, I wish to bring to your attention the many transgressions against the Muslims, their mosques and courts, in the hope that this government will desist from harming the Muslims, as has been happening in spite of hundreds of letters of protest. Among the transgressions:

1. The El Aksa Mosque has been repeatedly attacked and once was even ignited. The government knows this, but has never informed us about anyone being punished.

2. The key to the Mugrabi Gate [to the Temple Mount]: the army took the key by force, against the will of the Muslims. Such aggression has never happened anywhere in the world, that a key to a holy place is taken from the believers. What is your response to the fact that it has happened at El Aksa, which is holy to 700,000,000 Muslims in the world. Therefore I demand that the key be returned to the Muslims so that they be soothed and allowed to practice freedom of religion.

3. The el-Tankzia School: this school was built in 1328, and includes a mosque. It was active until the Israeli occupation. The Israeli army shut it down and Muslims are not allowed in. We demand it be returned to the Muslims. How is it possible for the Muslims to protect the holiest of their mosques in this land while foreigners hold the key to its gate and the also control a building which looks out upon it.

4. The Abrahamic Mosque (in Hebron): This Muslim mosque is desecrated by Israelis who enter it with their shoes on, have placed Jewish objects in it and pray in it as if it was a Jewish synagogue, and all this in violation of the basic principles of Islam which forbid any use of their mosques for the purpose of other religions or their use for any purpose which is not Muslim prayer; therefore I demand that this mosque be respected exclusively as a mosque, the removal of any non-Muslims, and the forbidding of any use beyond Muslim prayer. I'm enclosing a report about the trespassing in this holy place.

5. Archeology: the archaeological digs south of the Haram [Temple Mount] must be stopped.

6. The government has taken over much Arab property, including Waqf property. It must be returned.

7. The Mosque of the Prophet Samuel. The building is a mosque, yet Jews pray there as if it was a synagogue. This is forbidden by Muslim law.

8. The Shariya Court in Jerusalem. This is the oldest court in the land, and has been active since 1320. In the past it was a central agency of government, and its activities included land registration, relations with foreign citizens and consulates, criminal justice and other matters. Recently its writ has been limited to marital affairs of the Muslim population, but the government doesn't even recognize its authority in that sphere.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the actions of the Israeli occupation authorities ignore the facts that it is:

a. An occupation government which is forbidden from any actions except protecting its own security, while all previous laws and rules must remain in place;

b. The occupying force is forbidden from any intervention in the religious affairs of the occupied populace;

c. It is forbidden, by all international laws, to make any changes to any holy sites;

d. The UN Security Council and UNESCO and human rights commissions have all condemned any Israeli action on conquered Arab land and called for their reversal.

The report about Hebron is attached.
Two comments: First, the terminology of Arab, rather than Palestinian, is in the original. In 1974, the Arabs under Israeli control did not yet regularly refer to themselves as Palestinians. Second, we're presenting the document. We're not arguing with it - but nor are we condoning its content.

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