Hamas, in their desire to erase every trace of Jewish features in Gaza, erased the historical embossment in the mosque with the painting of the temple menora, shofar and the four species, as well as the inscription 'Hanania bar Jacob'. Their murderous attacks meant that all the pillars of the mosque are now destroyed.
During the war in Gaza, last week the great mosque in Gaza al-Masjid Ghazza al-Kabīr, also known as " al-Masjid al-ʿUmarī al-Kabīr ", "the Great Omari Mosque", was almost completely destroyed.
This is the oldest and largest mosque in Gaza in the old city of Gaza – and perhaps also one of the oldest in the world, which did not prevent Hamas from turning it, like other mosques in Gaza, into a weapons and explosives warehouse.
Photos published last week showed the mosque with its foundations cracked and the inner halls completely destroyed, while the spire remained intact. The IDF stated that the place was used by Hamas for terrorist activities, and terrorists and a tunnel shaft were found there.
This is not the first time that this mosque has been damaged or destroyed since its establishment. It is assumed that an ancient Philistine temple stood in this place, and a church was built in the 5th century, by the Byzantine Empire, on its ruins. At the same time, the ancient synagogue of Gaza was also built, the one that was on the seashore, whose mosaic floor was found 60 years ago with a detailed figure playing the harp and above it the Hebrew inscription “David”, and an inscription in Greek with the names of the Jewish donors of the mosaic.
After the Arab conquest of the Land of Israel in the 7th century by Caliph Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, the place became a mosque, and after Umar it was called " al-ʿUmarī Mosque". Its beauty was described in the 10th century by the Arab geographer Al-Maqdisi. The spire of the mosque collapsed for the first time in an earthquake exactly 990 years ago, on December 5, 1033, 11 of Tevet 4004, which destroyed large parts of Jerusalem, Ramla, Tiberias and Gaza.
In 1149, the Crusaders built a large church on the site, but it was mostly destroyed by the Ayyubid dynasty under the leadership of Saladin, the conqueror of Israel, in 1187. At the beginning of the 13th century, the Mamluks rebuilt a mosque on the site, which was destroyed by the Mongols under the leadership of Hulagu Khan in 1260. The Muslim residents of Gaza returned and built the mosque, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1294.
The Mamluk Sultan Hussam ad-Din Lajin rebuilt the prayer hall of the building in 1297 to 1299, and the Mamluks, who later ruled in Gaza, continued to renovate and expand the building. In the 16th century, the Great Mosque was renovated by the Ottomans, who built six more mosques in Gaza during that period. This is mentioned in the writings of 19th century travelers.
During the First World War the mosque was severely damaged by British army bombings. The British claimed that the destruction was caused by the explosion of ammunition that the Ottomans planted in the mosque. Hamas, it turns out, had good teachers – the Turks, long before Erdogan. The mosque was restored in 1925 by the Supreme Muslim Council, under the command of the former mayor of Gaza, Said al-Shawwa – the one who saved the Jews of Gaza with his own body, along with his two sons, during anti-Jewish riots.
The previous attack on the mosque occurred on August 2, 2014 when the IDF destroyed the mosque, during Operation Protective Edge.
And now to the Jewish connection. Until the 1980s, one of the pillars of the Great Mosque of Gaza displayed the inscription "Hanania Bar Yaakov" in Greek and Hebrew. Above it was engraved a lamp with a shofar on one side and an etrog on the other side.
Renowned French researcher Clermont Ganneau, who served as the French Consul of Jaffa in 1880-1882 and later as the Consul General in Jerusalem, was the one to discover these findings in 1870. During these years he frequently traveled around the country and made many very important discoveries.
It is estimated that the main synagogue of the Gaza community in the Roman period and in part of the Byzantine period - the period of the Mishna and the Talmud – stood in the place of the mosque. There was a fairly large Jewish community in Gaza at that time.
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, second president of the State of Israel, extensively researched the Jewish history of the Land of Israel, including that of Gaza, and suggested in the book "She’ar Yishuv" that there was an ancient Jewish synagogue from the Roman or Byzantine era on this site. Another assumption is that the column was brought from the ancient synagogue in Gaza, which stood on the seashore. Ben Zvi disagreed with Clermont Ganneau’s conclusion, that the pillar was brought to Gaza from somewhere else, Caesarea or Alexandria, because there was no permanent Jewish community in Gaza during the Talmud period. Ben Zvi proved from the scriptures, mainly the Talmud, that there had been a Jewish community with a synagogue and a beit midrash in Gaza.
During the Crusader period, the Crusaders built the St. John's Cathedral on the site of the synagogue and used the synagogue's stones for a secondary use. In the process, they incorporated the pillar they found there with the name of the Jewish donor on it into the church. The contemporary mosque is actually the Crusader Cathedral with a few amendments introduced over the years.
The late history researcher of Gaza, Issachar Goldert, wrote in an article published by Ze'ev Galili in the Makor Rishon newspaper in 2009: "I had the privilege of being the last Jew and researcher to photograph this menorah before it was vandalized by the hooligans. As part of the research I conducted, starting in 1969, on the geographical history of Gaza, I naturally emphasized the Jewish history of this region ...". I frequently researched this mosque, and many Jewish travelers and others visited it. The fact that hundreds of Jews would often visit there did not bother any of the Gazan "al-Shabaabs."
“In 1975, extensive renovations were carried out in the mosque and many scaffoldings were erected. The Mufti of Gaza arranged for me to have special permission to take a close-up photograph of the menorah, as it was located in the upper third of the pillar - at a height of about 8 meters. A special scaffolding was set up near the pillar. Two IDF jeeps were placed at the two entrances of the mosque, from which they pulled cables for powerful flashlights powered by the vehicles' batteries. These illuminated the menorah.
"This photograph is the last one of the menorah. In February 1978 I visited the mosque twice. On the second time I was surprised to discover that the hooligans had once again erected a scaffolding in this mosque and had used chisels to completely deface the painting.
"Jewish art in Gaza flourished greatly during the Roman-Byzantine period. The column with this beautiful decoration has survived, undamaged, throughout all periods, as a special art form, from the days of the Mamluk reign to the Israeli period in Gaza (including under Egyptian rule in Gaza until 1967). It is such a pity that precisely in the current period the Gazan vandalism, out of total blind hatred, has completely destroyed the painting."
The Muslims, in their desire to erase every trace of Jewish existence in Gaza, erased the historical relief in the mosque, including the temple lamp, the purification of which we celebrate this week, on Hanukkah. Their murderous attack on Simchat Torah (October 7th) led to this – all the pillars of the mosque were destroyed on Hanukkah of 2004.