Al-Aqsa, all action, no ummah

While Muslims ruled Jerusalem, there was no issue. After the Ottomans came the British Mandate, then the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem. When the Jews of Jerusalem took back their city, Judaism resurrected, and out of nowhere, “The Jews took our holy place!” Suddenly there’s a Palestinian story.

Al-Aqsa, all action, no ummah
"Forget Al-Aqsa. It's really not that big of a deal."

Alex Tseitlin interviews Dr Mordechai Kedar

מלחמת הקודש על אל אקצא - פלסטינים נגד סעודים - ד"ר מרדכי קידר
Holy War on Al Aqsa - Palestinians vs. Saudis - Dr Mordechai Kedar

Original interview: Alex Tseitlin, YouTube, 21 December 2020
Translated: Alexandra Troush
Edited: Anjuli Pandavar
With the kind permission of Alex Tseitlin and Dr Mordechai Kedar

[Exchange of greetings]

Alex Tseitlin: First of all, I have to say that I truly feel, now that I've spent many hours learning about Islam and the Arab world with you, that my understanding has changed and I urge everybody to watch the videos we've done with you. I think those basic things, like the difference between the sons of Umayya, those who live in Saudi Arabia, and the sons of Hejaz, is necessary to understand the world we live in. Without it we are blind, and just like a blind person we might run into a wall.

Dr Mordechai Kedar: Listen, it's just like with Israelis, if you don't understand that Tel Aviv is one thing and Bnei Brak [a nearby Haredi (ultra-orthodox Jewish) city] is another, because the two cultures are entirely different, then you don't know what's happening in this country at all. It's the same thing over here.

AT: Right. And now that we've had several classes on the basics of the Arab world and Islam, we can discuss current events and try and understand them, based on the knowledge you've given us. Right now we're in the midst of a conflict, what we may call a religious war, between the Palestinians and Saudis, regarding Al-Aqsa.

MK: Yes. I would say that this topic is a continuation of the lecture we've given on [the significance of] Jerusalem and how it became holy to Islam, but we need to give an introduction here now. We, as [Israeli] people resulting from Western culture, must separate state from religion. That means that religious matters are in one place, and state matters are in another, and in our eyes there's no need to mix them because the state, the economy, industrial matters, transportation, have nothing to do with religion. Sure, marriage and the Sabbath are religious matters, Kashrut [Jewish religious dietary laws] too, but what do these have to do with planning bridges and infrastructure, right?

For us, running a state is one thing and religious matters are another, and that's what we're used to; this is Western culture. This is also one of the principles of the French Revolution, secularism, and it's expressed in the running of the state separately from religion, as a principle, not as some expediency. Western culture today is, I would say, also based on this concept, and so today most of the European nations are atheist, not to anger religion or oppose it somehow, but just because they're not interested in it. Even people whose parents and grandparents went to church every Sunday are not interested in religion. That's the deal with atheists, and that's the West today. We are used to thinking like this, or at least people who are not personally religious are, and that's how we created the open, liberal, modern Israel. Everybody can decide what they want to be, religious or not, but the state runs on state laws.

The Middle East is not at all like that. Here in the Middle East, religion plays the starring role, including in the community, the state, the village, the city, the public. You can't separate religion, it's interwoven and engraved in almost everything. You can't do anything that goes against religion and if you do it, you’re in for trouble. This is also where the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was established in order to return religion to the public sphere, and to oppose modern tendencies to marginalise religion, comes from. It's this strong because the public relates to it, goes with it, agrees with it. The public internally feels that Islam has something to say about everything, including the economy, the government, planning bridges and whatnot. You can't give them some modern teaching like socialism and tell them that religion has nothing to do with it. That's what Middle Eastern thinking is. Sure it has its own interests and nationalism and citizenship, but the presence of religion, even among institutions that seem secular, like Fatah, [is everywhere]. Arafat would go to the mosque every single Friday, not because it was an act, but because he was religious. To him, being a Palestinian without religion is like a hump without a camel.

AT: But I think it also applies here, our President Benjamin Netanyahu also constantly deals with religious matters, even though he doesn't celebrate the [Jewish] holidays, and he doesn't eat Kosher. So he's not religious himself, but he plays with it a little.

MK: Not just that. Israel was created here, not in Birobidzhan, Russia, and not in Argentina, and not in Uganda. Why is that? Because even those who weren't exactly religious, who established the Zionist movement, understood that Israel is where the Jews have been dreaming to return to and been praying for, for two thousand years. Even though they weren't religious, they still maintained the Jewish spirit that is tied to this land, and so all other attempts [to put us elsewhere] failed. In the Middle East, religion has a stronger position. We see it in relation to Jerusalem, especially in the context of the peace agreements, not only the recent ones, but starting from '94, or even '93. The religious issue that is connected to Jerusalem starts not with the recent peace agreements [Abraham Accords, AP], but in '93-'94, with the Oslo Accords, with the Palestinians, and the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty.

First we have to say that Jerusalem, as we've said before, is a religious-political issue, because there's no separation between state and religion. We've already said before that the sanctity of Jerusalem originated in the big 7th century split in the Islamic world between the major Hashem family, who stayed in Hejaz and ruled Mecca and Medina, and the major Umayya, thousands of people, who migrated north and settled in an area called Sham, that today includes Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. The dispute between these two families blew up at some point in the year 682, fifty years after Muhammad’s death.

A man named Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr rebelled against the Sons of Umayya, who were already Caliphs since 661, and blocked the Hajj roads after demanding for a while that the Northerners, the Sons of Umayya, pledge allegiance to him upon coming to the Hajj, as if he was the Caliph. It was a kind of rebellion, or defiance of the rulers in Damascus back then. When he blocked the Hajj roads and didn't let them through to Mecca, they had no choice but to pick another spot for the Hajj, and chose Jerusalem. This is according to Islamic historians; I didn't make this up. They picked Jerusalem as an alternative pilgrimage site to substitute for Mecca and Medina. The Temple Mount, that big yard, was to them like the place they had left behind. They built the Dome of the Rock in the middle, around it they made the Tawaf [ritual circumambulation], or at least they meant to, and so in essence the sanctity of Jerusalem is meant to challenge, or oppose, the centrality of Mecca and Medina.

AT: So it's actually something pretty standard that we often see in history, right? As with us [Jews] in Jerusalem, why did they build the Temple there? So that they wouldn't pray in other places.

MK: No! In Jeroboam's Revolt, he built two temples, one in Beit El and one in Dan, put golden calves in there, it's in the Book of Kings chapter XI (sic) [1 Kings XII:27-31, AP] and he said "This is thy God, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt", so that they don't go to Jerusalem and hear the propaganda against him. He said they would kill him, so he built alternative temples, celebrated holidays that weren't mentioned in the Torah, hired priests that were not of the Levi tribe. He really just made a new religion.

AT: Well there's competition, and everybody knows that they need to have a holy place of their own, or people will go to the neighbouring holy place, which is bad.

MK: They just felt like they needed a religious seal of approval to their political matters, which they felt were intertwined, much like in the Islamic story [discussed above].

AT: Let us only mention the Islamic matter: if we leave Jerusalem out of it, if Al-Aqsa is not in Jerusalem, where is it?

MK: That's part of the issue. As long as Muslims ruled Jerusalem (until 1967), this issue was never brought up. Nobody cared. Sometimes it was the Jordanians, sometimes the Ottomans, and the British were only here for a short time, so nobody made a big deal of it. After the Ottomans came the British Mandate, after the British Mandate came the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem, and so no one cared about it. Where is the problem?

The problem starts when the Jews of Jerusalem start taking control of Jerusalem. Then various issues appear out of nowhere: "the Jews took our holy place"; Judaism is revived. As we discussed in that lecture, it was some sort of revivalism, the resurrection of Judaism after it died when Islam came and replaced both Judaism and Christianity. So when Israel appeared, suddenly the Palestinian story came up. The Islamic Movement in Israel took the issue as a personal matter, especially since the split of '96 when Sheikh Ra'id Salah turned Jerusalem into the centre of his battle, and that's why he's called Sheikh Al-Aqsa.

The Jordanian issue in Jerusalem came up in '94 when we got the peace treaty with them — and here the Rabin government probably didn't understand what it was doing by giving Jordan something that Jordan didn't even expect — to give Jordan the custodianship, the hegemony over the Temple Mount! The Rabin government did it so that Arafat wasn't in charge there, because they were scared that he would wreak havoc in there, that he would challenge Israel, Israeli sovereignty, and so on, and said, "alright let's bring in the Jordanians, they're good friends of ours, we can come to an agreement with King Hussein and he also doesn't want Arafat around and doesn't want a Palestinian state, let's return Jerusalem to him," because he did rule there until '67, and they even let him coat the Dome of the Rock with his own gold. So they gave King Hussein the religious seal of approval, the custodianship he had over Jerusalem. Why? Why was it important to him? Because his great-grandfather, Sharif Hussein, and his (King Hussein's) grandfather Abdullah I, were kicked out of the Hejaz by the Saudis.

AT: Look at what you did. You took away my chance to show how much I learned.

MK: The Saudis kicked them out in the ’20s.

AT: He was the guardian of the holy places of Islam, the original ones, Mecca and Medina.

MK: Yes, and so he's given the replacement here, the third most important place to Islam, Al-Aqsa, and don't forget that even before that, the Palestinian Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, already claimed that Al-Aqsa was in danger. Nadav Shragai wrote about it in his great book [The “Al-Aksa is in Danger” Libel: The History of a Lie, AP].

AT: The Saudi dynasty is originally from Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty, right?

MK: Myriad, it's not from Hejaz.

AT: And it takes control of Hejaz and gets rid of “our friends.”

MK: It takes control of Hejaz and calls itself “the guardians of the holy places”, to get a religious seal of approval to their illegitimate rule of Hejaz, that looked legitimate, at least to begin with. You have to understand that an Arab ruler will always look for those colourful religious feathers to decorate his back, so that everyone thinks he's a nightingale and not a crow. Assad did it with the printing of the Qur’an despite his not being Muslim, he did it with praying; Abdel Nasser did it; everybody does it; and Sadat did it with that mark on his forehead from bowing down on the floor and not on the carpet. Many Arab rulers who have a legitimacy problem, look for the religious aspect to give themselves some religious credentials against potential opponents, with the Muslim Brotherhood at the forefront.

Anyway, the Al-Aqsa story becomes much more central once Israel comes around, and they even changed the maps. Originally, Al-Aqsa is that building in the south of the Temple Mount, according to Jordanian maps. However, after “the Israeli Jewish occupation", suddenly the entire area becomes Al-Aqsa, and the name Haram ash-Sharif more or less disappears; no one talks about it anymore. On Jordanian maps, the same maps that marked Al-Aqsa in the south of Temple Mount, the Temple Mount is called Mount Moriah, which disappeared entirely from the Palestinian maps since '67. So you can definitely feel that they're fighting against the "Judaïsation", as they call it, “Tahweed al-Quds”, and this fight is progressing for sure. As the years go by, the Palestinians are centring their narrative around Al-Aqsa.

In the Palestinian narrative that was created in the ’60s, which the KGB had a part in, others had a part in — Israeli intellectuals had a big part in the creation of the Palestinian narrative — they adopt the Al-Aqsa story as a dash of religion that joins the territorial story, the national story, the historical story, that they're making it up — you know what a narrative is, right? It's the stories that I make up to make others believe what I'm saying, and it doesn't matter right now if I mean a "personal I" or a "collective I". That's what a narrative is. They don't want to call it lies, so they say ‘narrative’ instead — so the Palestinian narrative that's formulated in the ’60s and becomes unified especially after '67, absorbs the religious aspect with Al-Aqsa.

Suddenly there are Khatibs who remember that Al-Aqsa is the first Qibla, the first praying direction of Muhammad, which is also very controversial in Islam because many claim that Mecca was his first praying direction. Then it becomes the second mosque ever built. The Palestinian narrative that's forming in the 60s-70s starts to adopt three Hadiths. One claims that Jerusalem is the first Qibla, the first praying direction, despite many Hadiths that contradict this. The second says that Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem Mosque, is the second mosque ever built, with Mecca created along with the creation of the world, and the Jerusalem Mosque built forty years thereafter. The number 40 is an archetypical number that's mentioned in Islam often and it's obvious where it comes from. The third is that Jerusalem is the third most holy place to Islam after Mecca and Medina (of course to Sunni Islam and not Shia Islam, which we already talked about before). Jerusalem is therefore called "the first Qibla, the second mosque, and the third most holy place,” and that's the Palestinian slogan that's related to Al-Aqsa that's spreading and becoming fixed in the worldwide media discourse.

Of course there's opposition, and we had the Al-Aqsa Intifada [reign of terror, AP], and the second Intifada that started in 2000. Everything is about Al-Aqsa; you have drawings of Al-Aqsa everywhere. This is all done to base the religious story that's about Al-Aqsa as part of the big battle against the Jews — not even just Israel, and against the Jewish state — and against the "Judaïsation" of Jerusalem, and all those things. Of course this battle that's highly covered in the news because of all the dead and the wounded, starts to overshadow Mecca. Sure, Mecca is a Hajj, but that's only once a year for ten days. What about the rest of the year? Al-Aqsa! And so today, if you compare the search results of Kaaba and Al-Aqsa, you will find that the presence of Al-Aqsa is way more intense than that of Kaaba, maybe not on Saudi websites, but generally.

The Palestinians managed to turn the Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa issue into the most important problem of Islam, and this infuriates the Saudis no end. They follow the ways of Ibn Taymiyyah, who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries, who claimed that there are really only two holy places: Mecca and Medina. To him Jerusalem is fake news invented by the Sons of Umayya to compete against Mecca and Medina. So now all these old conflicts between Hejaz and Shams are being revived in the form of this conflict between the Hejaz, the Saudis, and Shams, the Palestinians here.

This issue evolves as other interests over time join in. We saw Jordan joining this issue against the Palestinians in '94, and the Palestinians really disliked this thing that Israel did with Jordan, this shirk regarding the Jordanian custodianship over Jerusalem. They're fighting it to this day: the fights between the Islamic Movement and the Jerusalem Waqf [Islamic endowment] and the Jordanians. With time, another Islamic organisation appears, the OIC (the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), and at the head of the Jerusalem Committee sits no less than Morocco, and suddenly the Moroccan King is involved in this matter as well, and he has his interests. The organisation itself, which represents the Islamic world, becomes a player too. With time, especially in recent years, Turkey also joins the Jerusalem scrum, and starts giving money to renovate various places to buy the sympathy of Jerusalem Arabs.

Today if you take a walk in the Old City [of Jerusalem] and even outside of the Old City, you'll think you are in Istanbul. The Turkish flag is everywhere; you can learn Turkish at the TIKA, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency in eastern Jerusalem outside of the Old City. Remember that the Turks are Ikhwan, it's the Muslim Brotherhood, an anti-establishment organisation, unlike the Jordanians who are establishmentarian and the PA [Palestinian (National) Authority] which is establishmentarian. They assist the Muslim Brotherhood despite its being anti-establishment. Here you have different vermin that are causing tension in the Arab and Islamic world, joining the fight between Islamic forces over Jerusalem.

"The furthest mosque" - 20Km as the crow flies.

And then comes the Al-Aqsa story. Forty years ago, when I was doing my Bachelor's degree at Bar Ilan under Dr. Yeshayahu Goldfeld — may he rest in peace — during a hallway chat with him, he told me, "Just so you know, this whole Al-Aqsa story is fake news (sic). According to Islamic sources, Al-Aqsa is not even in Jerusalem; it's in Ju’ranah, …about 29 km north-east of Mecca, and it was brought here," and so on. He told me that, of course he didn't want to say it in class because we had Muslim students and you don't want to hurt them. He was a very pleasant person, and he told me those things in private. I listened to him closely and I bore this whole thing in mind.

When you look at this fake news industry, and the Islamic Hadith is for the most part fake news, — it's not me saying this, it's been said by Muslims 1200 years ago, when they took to checking the Hadith because of the fake news that infiltrated it — Bukhari, Ibn Majah, Zamakhshari, all those Hadith experts already knew 1200 years ago, and proclaimed that big parts of the Hadith, possibly even most of it, is fake! And so they wanted to clean the Hadith, and wrote follow-up books like the Sahih, as in the “correct” Hadith, the Musnad by Ibn Al-Hanbal, which are sound because they got rid of the incorrect and unsound Hadith. It got to the point where recently one Moroccan researcher, Rachid Aylal, wrote this book, Sahih al-Bukhari: Nihayat Ustura, where Sahih al-Bukhari is the most important book of the Islamic Hadith, and 'Nihayat Ustura' means ‘Game Over.’

In this book he proves that entire book [Sahih al-Bukhari], which in its importance resembles our Shulchan Aruch, is entirely fake. None of it is correct. He finds endless inner contradictions and contradictions with other sources, he really just obliterates it. Alex, when you tear down Sahih al-Bukhari, there's nothing left of the Hadith. So really, like Prof. Moshe Sharon said, in the Hadith you can't tell what's real and what isn't, because it was passed down orally for 200 years and modified by people. Too many hands touched it. Some remembered too much, and others too little.

Today some people say that this whole Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem story, which originated in the Hadith, not in the Qur’an, with the whole story about Muhammad’s night journey and his ascending, it's all from the Hadith. So it's all fake news made up by the Sons of Umayya who wanted to legitimise their choice of Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage. Today it's finding an audience.

Twelve years ago, I uploaded a video to YouTube in which I sit and talk to the camera for about five minutes about the Ju’ranah topic and I read aloud this one part from Waqidi, one of the Islamic historians who talks about this thing. It didn't go viral, and of course it was in Arabic. That was twelve years ago. Five or six years ago, an Egyptian historian named Youssef Ziedan starts talking about the same thing, about Ju’ranah and so on, and he's immediately attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. They make a YouTube video where one side is me, and the other, him. I say a sentence and he says a sentence, showing whom Youssef Ziedan had learnt from: from the Mustashriq, a slur for Easterner, the Zionist Jew, Mordechai Kedar.

About a year or two later, someone named Nabil Fayyad, a Syrian, joins this thing and publishes a paper, also with Waqidi and other sources, where he also claims that Al-Aqsa is located in Ju’ranah. [The Moroccan] Rachid Aylal who wrote that book [Sahih al-Bukhari: Nihayat Ustura] also joins in, and about a year ago, we saw the Saudis starting to talk about it. It takes off with Rawaf Al-Sa'een and another Kuwaiti journalist, Abdullah Al-Hadlaq, who talks about how the Sons of Israel deserve this land because they had a temple here, and so on. You could see this discussion spreading and growing, about the Jews having history in this place, and having a temple. Why would we, Muslims, need to take away what's theirs? We have Mecca and Medina; why would we need the Jews' Temple?

This whole thing started thanks to social media. It started to spread on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp. Obviously, the Palestinians see this thing and they freak out. "What?! You're taking away our Al-Aqsa?!" They can't stop social media, and this adds to the rumours that we started hearing about a year or two ago, about Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates cooking up some secrets. In August this year, an article was published on the Okaz, the Saudi newspaper. Someone named Dwaifer writes this article where he basically says, “forget Al-Aqsa. We can set up some international organisation to manage it, with the entire world participating. It's really not that big of a deal, and actually, it's really just between Israel and the Palestinians. It has nothing to do with the entire world."

He really says that Al-Aqsa is just some mosque that both Israel and the Palestinians are interested in, so it's for them to figure out. He reduces Al-Aqsa from this huge anti-Jewish Islamic issue to a small matter that can be solved, if we just sit down and solve it ourselves. This was 2020. Some time passes, and …on November 13th, Friday, another article appears in the same newspaper — and just so you know, it's an official Saudi newspaper; whatever is published in it has to be authorised by the government, and if it’s anything religious, it also has to be authorised by the Saudi religious authorities. This article, written by a man named Osama Yamani, says the same things that I've been saying for all those years — that Al-Aqsa is a mosque located in Ju’ranah, which is in Saudi Arabia — and it pulled the rug from under the Palestinian claim that Al-Aqsa is in Jerusalem, which is the centre of this entire conflict.

Everybody understands the meaning: it's not some local journal; it is the Okaz, the official Saudi newspaper that expresses both the government's opinion and the religious authorities' opinions. This thing causes an uproar. Mosque preachers rail against him. An official Saudi platform allows someone to say that Al-Aqsa is in Ju’ranah?! The Palestinians lost their minds.

And sure, I think this matter also feeds on the Palestinian behaviour towards the Saudis in the past year. To begin with, we all remember what happened to the Saudi blogger, Muhammed Saud, who came to Jerusalem a year and a half ago and was welcomed with chairs thrown at him, rotten fruit thrown at him, they spat on him. They spat on him!

Of course he didn't respond, but Saudi Arabia is insulted by this; by Saudis being spat on in public like this. To make matters worse, the Palestinians are boasting about it. They went on to harass the Emiratis, whom they called Mutabbar[?], which means "normaliser", as an insult, and Abu Mazen saying that the agreements with the Emirates are a knife in their back.

This bad blood between the Palestinians, both official bodies and ordinary people, and the Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, keeps worsening with time. They exchange horrible slurs; they call each other pigs, we've heard of it. You can see the escalation in the way that the Palestinians and Saudis talk to one another. And so Saudi Arabia defrosted this Al-Aqsa story and said "Al-Aqsa? Yours? Hell no. We have it; it's in Saudi Arabia!" — that's basically a world war, a religious one. Here Saudi Arabia wounds the religious Palestinian soul, and for all they care, this religious Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem story can die. "Al-Aqsa is over here, solve your issue of that mosque with Israel, but Al-Aqsa, the one that's mentioned in the Qur’an, we have it". Alex, we have to remember that Jerusalem isn't mentioned in the Qur’an; and then to claim that Al-Aqsa must be in Jerusalem?

By the way, way back in ancient times, a Sunni philosopher [Al-]Ghazali claimed that Al-Aqsa is in the sky, and that Muhammad's night journey, the Isra to Jerusalem, is actually the Mi'raj to the sky. To him, the Isra and the Mi'raj are the same thing. From Mecca straight to heaven and back, not through Jerusalem as the Umayya story claimed to justify making it a pilgrimage site.

Many claim that the third most holy place [in Islam] is Najaf [in Iraq], not at all Jerusalem, so this whole story about Jerusalem being holy to Islam is something that had a lot of objection back in classical times, and all these snakes are now crawling from under the rocks because of the conflict between the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia about the normalisation of relations with Israel. Right now this is the situation. And now that the guardian from Morocco, who assumed his role in the previous week, the second week of December 2020, is in place, the King of Morocco could come and demand his piece of the pie; he’s also a guardian [the President, AP] of the Jerusalem Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. So he’s also expected to put his oar in, despite his being against the Turks and Israel being against the Turks, but the Turks will not back off, because they’re returning to the Ottoman idea and Ikhwan Islam.

So there’s also a connection to nationalism, territory, Islam, everything being tied together, and we expect to see chaos where everyone’s trying to get a piece of this holy city of Islam, all the while under Israeli sovereignty. The question is how Israel will handle it. Recently I’ve heard that Israel is trying to get Saudi Arabia, instead of Jordan, to take control of the Jerusalem [Waqf], which of course puts Saudi Arabia and Jordan into the same conflict of over a hundred years ago, when Saudi Arabia kicked out the ancestors of the Jordanian King from Hejaz. They tried to move past this issue and cooperate, but as soon as the Jerusalem story comes up, it might resurface. Who’s in control of Jerusalem? Who kicked whom out of Hejaz? Who’s trying to get Jerusalem as replacement to Hejaz?

Model of the Second Temple, 516 BCE - 70 CE

We expect to see many difficult intra-Islamic conflicts, with Israel trying carefully to be a player and not irritate anybody too much, especially now that we have these new relationships with Morocco, with the Emirates, with Saudi Arabia, and we don’t want to ruin the existing relationship with Jordan, and Jordan might not want to ruin the relationship with Turkey too much either, because it also has its interests there, mostly financial.

In other words, Israel has to learn to dance at eight weddings because of all of the intra-Islamic conflicts, and I’m not sure I even mentioned them all. Don’t forget that even the Arabs in Israel have their conflicts. The fact that the Islamic Movement of Sheikh Ra'id [Salah] froze, because it got outlawed, doesn’t mean that the Muslims who supported it disappeared. We see it in their presence on the Temple Mount, at Friday prayers, and during Ramadan especially. They didn’t go anywhere. And I’m not even talking about Eastern Jerusalemites, who also have something to say about it, on top of the Islamic Movement thing. Hizb ut-Tahrir is also active in Jerusalem, and they also have a thing to say about it, and they’re not an Islamic movement, they don’t want Israel, they don’t want Jordan, they don’t want any of it. If I’m counting correctly, there are at least eight different Islamic parties in this matter, not to mention the Waqf that is also a body that holds some responsibility.

We’re going to witness a war over Jerusalem, a very complicated war, and Israel will have to know how to deal with it. Israel can’t tell them all to leave and that it’s in charge while they can’t solve their disagreements. They will never solve them, because those conflicts are 1400 years old, ever since Islam came into this world. So we will have to diplomatically handle them all and find the balance between them, with Israel not giving up its sovereignty over Jerusalem, its eternal and united historic capital city. On the other hand, Israel, as a state that has to have relationships with countries in the Middle East, has to manage them in good order, with every side trying to get the lion’s share.

AT: Dr Kedar, you are a very considerate and rational person, but I want to ask you a tough question. Now we can see this battle over the Temple Mount evolving even within different branches of our Arab brethren, Shams and Saudis and Hejaz, where are we in this story? As you mentioned, we keep our control over Jerusalem, but when it comes to the Temple Mount, the Israeli government doesn’t dare say a word. Do you think—

MK: Even during the Corona outbreak, the government allowed crazy crowds of tens of thousands of people to gather there without any regulations, masks, distance, without anything! And the Deputy Chief of the Israeli Corona headquarters admitted on radio that they decided not to enforce anything there.

AT: So we actually don’t have sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

MK: In English they say, “I choose my battles”. It depends on what you call sovereignty. If you say that it’s the option for a Jew to enter at any moment and pray there loudly then that’s one thing, but if by sovereignty you mean that no other state has any sovereignty there then that’s another. I don’t know what you mean by sovereignty.

AT: By sovereignty I mean for some official representative of the state to dare to come up and say that the Temple Mount is ours.

MK: I think that an expression of sovereignty is being able to wave the Israeli flag there. You can wave the Israeli flag on every building in Israel, except on the Temple Mount. That’s reality. On the other hand, there’s no other police on the Temple Mount except for the Israeli police, and sure, the Waqf patrols in civilian clothes as long as our police don’t kick them out, and that’s thanks to the Minister of Interior, Gilad Erdan, who changed things there for the better. Anyway, Israel is almost forced to reinvent the wheel every day. Someone declares something in a Friday Khutbah, and it immediately causes a reaction from the other side. It’s a very weird equilibrium, it’s like trying to balance on several balls: the Turkish ball, the Saudi ball, the Emirati ball, the Jordanian ball, the Islamic Movement ball, the Waqf ball, the Hizb ut-Tahrir ball, the Morocco ball, and that’s not the entire list.

AT: It’s a mystery to me, and I would like to make a lecture about it, with me talking and presenting my opinion, but now I would like to talk about the lands, a word we’re scared of, our lands, our homeland, it evokes this big fear. I would like to talk not only about the Temple Mount, which is of course a central topic that we can’t ignore. I don’t think that it’s a crime to say that historically, the Temple Mount belongs to us. Maybe we can divide it and give access to others too.

MK: That’s what you say.

AT: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

MK: That’s what you say. And they call it “the Jewish narrative”. The Palestinians claim that they are the offspring of the Jebusite Canaanites who were here before us. Go argue with that. That’s what they’re saying. Will you fight them over this? To every claim of ours, they respond that they were here before us.

AT: That’s true, but when it comes to the Temple Mount we don’t even have any claims there, sure there’s delusional radical [political] right movements, but the normal people—

MK: They’re not at all delusional. There’s this one organisation called “Students for the Temple Mount”, an organisation of absolutely normal and sane folks.

AT: But I want all of our lands to be widely acknowledged, for the ordinary people who sit in Tel Aviv—

MK: Look Alex, it’s obvious that the battle over Jerusalem is a battle over all of Israel. That’s as clear as day. I’ll give you an example. This is the Palestinian scarf, from Ashaf [Hebrew acronym for PLO, AP], this is the Ashaf flag, it’s not Hamas.

AT: “Our friends.”

MK: Yes, "our friends." On one side it says “Al-Quds lana”, “Jerusalem is ours,” you see the Dome of the Rock, which is at the centre of the Temple Mount. On the other side it says “Palestine,” whole, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. That’s what is written here. They understand the connection. Once Jerusalem is theirs, all of Palestine will be, too, because without Jerusalem, the Jews will lose hope. There is no Zionism without Zion [Jerusalem]. They understand it perfectly. And that’s why they emphasise the Jerusalem story all the time. Why? Because Jerusalem is still not acknowledged by most countries as the capital city of Israel. This is why every time another country acknowledges Jerusalem, like the USA, the Czech Republic and others, and they move their embassies there, it drives the Palestinians berserk. Because every single embassy that moves to Jerusalem is another nail on the coffin of the Palestinian narrative. And that’s why they’re so angry.

And our side doesn’t get it. They say, “just give them the Temple Mount, give them this, give them that, and they’ll let us be”. They don’t understand what happens once you concede the weak spot, which is Jerusalem, because it’s not yet recognised internationally as the Israeli capital city. If they demand Tel Aviv no one will take them seriously, so they go for Jerusalem because it’s easier. Jerusalem will become theirs, or at least eastern Jerusalem, the Holy Basin and so on, those will become theirs. The Jews will lose hope. Jewish money will stop coming to Israel. People will stop immigrating to Israel. People will leave Israel because this whole thing will start to fall apart, and all of Palestine will become theirs and go back to being Arab.

That’s why they demand Al-Aqsa, that’s why they want ownership of it, that’s why they demand Jerusalem as their capital city. When was Jerusalem ever a Palestinian capital city? When was there ever a Palestinian state? When was Jerusalem ever the capital of anything Arab or Islamic? Never! Not even according to their history. But they demand it as their capital city. Why? Why not Ramallah? Why not Hebron? When not Nablus? Why specifically Jerusalem? So that it’s not the Jews’! [They demand Jerusalem] to shake the religious legitimacy of the Israeli state.

And there you have it. It’s a religious war. Not only between the Saudis and the Palestinians, but it’s also the religious basis of the fight between Judaism and Islam over this land in general and over Jerusalem in particular. When I talk about it in the Israeli media, they immediately attack me, “don’t turn the conflict into a religious one”. Alex, the conflict is religious, whether we admit it or not! The problem is that we, the modern Israelis, have separated state from religion, and that’s why the Israelis don’t want to think that there’s a religious aspect to the conflict here over this land. People who’ve separated themselves from religion don’t know how to process it.

AT: But I have to tell you that it’s not only about the people who are separated from religion or secular, we also have a big part of very religious people, let’s call them Haredim [ultra-orthodox], they also oppose any sign of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, they don’t support it. And after the Six-Day War, they approached Dayan and demanded that he doesn’t put up a military base on the Temple Mount, those were Haredim, not Arabs.

MK: There’s concern over the religious laws regarding the entrance of people who haven’t cleansed themselves as was done in the Temple, that’s religious laws.

AT: And the other [secular] laws passed? Since they go there.

MK: No. They go to the Mikveh [Jewish ritual bath] or to the sea the day before or that same morning before going to the Temple Mount, and they don’t go to the centre where the Dome of the Rock is, but rather around it. I also do that.

AT: Are Goyim [Jewish slur for non-Jews, AP] allowed to go there?

MK: Yes, Cohens [Jewish priests, AP] are allowed.

AT: No, the Goyim, the Goyim, are they allowed?

MK: Of course, “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”, we don’t mind Goyim entering. Jews who didn’t go through the cleansing process as was done in the Temple can’t enter the central part. The area around it is the Herodian Plaza, and that’s why today those Rabbis and Jews, who are allowed to go there, walk around it, close to the walls, where it’s the Herodian Plaza that didn’t get validated by Chazal.

AT: Yes, but those are people who are usually not part of the central Haredi stream.

MK: Some Haredim do go there.

AT: Yes, a small part, but the prevailing opinion is that we can’t even build a state, let alone rule Jerusalem and other holy places. “God forbid they want to build a temple”, that’s what the Rabbis say.

MK: One of the greatest Haredi arbiters, who lives in Monsey in north New York, goes there every single time he visits Israel. Absolutely Haredi. So even among the Haredim we have different people, and you can see groups of Haredim going to the Temple Mount, of course only walking around it and going to the Mikveh first, and they are careful enough to not pray there, as to not infuriate the Goyim, they know it angers the Waqf. They go there, Haredim, and especially Hardalim [national Haredim, unlike ordinary Haredim, are Zionists, support the state, serve in the army and do not see themselves as part of the Haredi stream, AP].

Anyway, this is the story today, and they understand that if we leave the Temple Mount, it will not be ours. And if we want to guard [presumably “our religious laws”, AP], we have to go there, stretch the... [inaudible] a breaching point and go to the Temple Mount and walk around it. Of course some people don’t do even that, and I respect their stance. I’ve gone there several times. Obviously I walk around it in rubber shoes and not leather shoes [a religious prohibition particular to the Temple Mount, AP]. I go to the Mikveh beforehand, following all the religious requirements. This is the story today. So besides the conflict between Judaism and Islam, there are conflicts within Islam.

AT: Which was today’s topic actually: conflicts within Islam.

MK: Yes, but we must not forget that apart from the conflicts within Islam, there are also a Jewish-Islamic conflict over this thing, and if you’d like, there’s also Christianity here somewhere in the background, because according to them the Jewish presence in the Temple Mount is problematic, because at least according to Catholicism, the return of the Jews to their land and the creation of the state is very unsettling. The Vatican only recognised Israel as a state in the ’60s. There’s also the theological issue: suddenly these Jews whose religion is invalid make their own state. It’s a bit similar to the Islamic story.

AT: All religions oppose the creation of the Jewish state.

MK: The monotheistic religions (because they all evolved from Judaism, and they built their own existence on the ruins of Judaism, the annulment of Judaism) have a problem accepting modern Judaism, which is Judaism with a state, Judaism with lands, Judaism with activity, living and existing, thriving.

AT: We’re a secular state, not a religious one, but it carries this scary name “Israel”; we have a name with historic baggage.

MK: Yes, it would have been much worse for them if the state had been called the state of Judea, and the option existed, you know that, right? Some wanted to call the state Judea. Why didn’t they? —so that the Arabs who are citizens of the state, don’t end up being Jews. If you call the state Judea (Yehuda), all carriers of an Israeli identification card, even if they’re not Jewish by birth, will be called Jewish (Yehudi) by citizenship. Wanting to avoid that is one of the reasons they didn’t call the state Judea.

Anyway, to conclude, Jerusalem is undoubtedly a centre of religious tensions, be it between Judaism and Islam or within Islam. Most of us know the conflict as a Jewish-Islamic one, but hopefully, thanks to letting me participate in your platform, Alex, we’re all more aware of the inner Islamic conflicts and the inner Islamic conflicts over Jerusalem in particular.

[Exchange of greetings]