Pope prays at Kotel.
Pope prays at Kotel.Flash 90

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the radical Islamic Movement in Israel, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis last Thursday, criticizing him for his visit to the Western Wall (Kotel) two weeks ago, and further claiming that the site is Muslim.

In the letter, which was posted on the Arabic site Al-Sonara, Salah condemns the pope for placing a note in the Kotel.

"The Israeli occupation utilized the visit of the pope in the most ugly fashion," wrote Salah, going on to list the pope's actions he saw as being in Israel's favor at the 'Al-Buraq' Wall, a name given by Muslims to the Kotel in the 1920s in an attempt to claim it. The name refers to Mohammed's "winged steed" he supposedly rode to Jerusalem in his "night journey."

"You put a note in the 'Al-Buraq' Kotel which the Israeli occupation calls in deception and lies the Wailing (Western) Wall...as a result you give them approval that this Kotel is the Western Wall and not the 'Al-Buraq' Wall, and you permit them sovereignty on it," charged Salah.

Another source of contention for Salah was the pope's visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

"There you apologized for the tragedies that occurred to the Jews in Europe and during the Second World War. We hoped that you would say that these tragedies don't give an excuse to the Zionist enterprise to cause similar tragedies to the Palestinian people," stated Salah, equivocating Israel's defensive wars with the Holocaust.

"In contrast, you haven't apologized to this day to the Palestinian people for the support of Europe for the Zionist enterprise in money, weapons, experts and volunteers to this very day, and you didn't apologize for the Crusades which were of a world war scale, which Europe initiated intentionally against the Muslim nation," accused Salah.

Despite Salah's protestations of the pope's support for the "occupation," the pope also made some controversial moves which drew ire from Israeli officials.

During the visit the pope called the Palestinian Authority (PA) the "state of Palestine," and then made an unexpected stop at the security barrier between Jerusalem and Bethlehem to pray at a section with "Pope we need to see someone to speak about justice. Bethlehem look like Warsaw ghetto. Free Palestine" spray-painted on it.

Violent extremist

The Israeli government in late May began discussions on whether to declare Salah's Islamic Movement in Israel an illegal organization. Salah has been jailed for incitement in the past after calling followers to physically block Jews from entering the Temple Mount, and has been sentenced in the past for incitement and assault, among other nationalistically-motivated crimes.

The Islamic Movement has also been involved in the violent "Nakba Day" protests opposing Israel's existence.

Salah's revisionist history is not new; the Jordanian Waqf (Islamic trust) which supervises the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, issued a pamphlet in January claiming Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount or the Kotel, calling it the Al-Buraq Wall.

The Palestinian Authority also regularly claims the Kotel as a Muslim site and denies the Jewish connection to it, as part of a wider campaign to claim Jerusalem as an Arab site.

The Western Wall is a relic of the retaining wall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by Roman Empire in 70 CE. For nearly 2,000 years Jews were prevented from worshipping on the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, and instead prayed at the Wall, which has since become a holy site in its own right at which millions of Jews congregate to pray each year.