The Israeli-Arab Islamic Movement is claiming that Israel is trying to destroy the two mosques that lie atop the site of the destroyed Jewish Temples. Sheikh Raad Salah, who heads the movement, called for an “Intifada” of Israel’s Arabs. Salah and six others tried to force their way past police at the Dung Gate leading to the Western Wall Plaza Wednesday morning.
The men were arrested and charged with attacking police officers. They were served with restraining orders making it illegal for them to approach the excavation site.
Israeli-Arab MK Taleb El-Sana (Ra'am-Ta'al) slammed the arrest and said Israel should instead order a halt to the excavations, “which pose a threat to the peace and stability in the area.”
Jerusalem Grand Mufti Ikrima Sabri issued a call for all Muslims in Israel to flock to the Temple Mount to defend it. Israel's police prevented Arabs under 45 years old and all non-Muslims from entering the Temple Mount Tuesday and Wednesday.
The leaders of Jordan, Syria and Iran, as well as Islamic chiefs in Egypt, have all condemned the work. "The world of Islam should show a serious reaction to the Zionist regime's insult to Al-Aksa Mosque," Iranian Islamic ruler Ayatollah Ali Khameini said on Wednesday. Khameini called on Muslim nations to attack Israel in response during a meeting with Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah.
The work is necessary due to the partial collapse of the old walkway during a snowstorm in 2004. Prior to the building of a new one, the dirt mound must be excavated in accordance with Israeli antiquity laws.
Rallies were held in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. PA-run media outlets repeated the accusation that Israel sought to destroy the mosques, with songs about Jerusalem played all day. Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal said the terror offensive that followed Ariel Sharon’s 2000 visit to the Temple Mount “must be learned from. We have confidence in our people, its masses, all of its groups and military wings."
"The Temple Mount is the holiest site of the Jewish people,” Foreign Minister Tzippi Livny said in a statement. “The State of Israel will never do anything to harm the freedom of worship of members of all religions - in Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel. There are irresponsible elements, who know full well that no harm is being caused here to any holy site, who are exploiting Israeli democracy to fan religious feelings for political gain. This is true of both political groups within Israel and extremist elements outside Israel."
Director of excavations Dr. Gideon Avni of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the Arab claims were baseless. "We are working only outside the walls of the Temple Mount in a very limited area," he said.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Wakf continues to remove and destroy First and Second Temple period artifacts from the Temple Mount in an attempt to destroy all evidence that Jewish temples once stood there.
"The Waqf has acted terribly, taking thousands of tons of artifacts from the First Temple, the Second Temple and Muslim artifacts, and throwing them away," Hebrew University archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar told Yediot Acharonot. “They want to turn the whole of the Temple Mount into a mosque for Muslims only. They don't care about the artifacts or heritage on the site."
Mazar says that the fact that Israel has backed down repeatedly from asserting Jewish rights and archaological integrity on the mount when threatened with Arab violence has brought about the situation today. "[The Arabs] have learned that the more noise they make, the more sweets they get, like a small child," she said.