Arab Political Refugee Mudar Zahran: ‘We Arabs and Muslims Are Harming Al-Aqsa, Not Israel or the Jews’
Arab political writer, Jordanian academic and exile, Mudar Zahran, said he realized that it was Arab control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, called Al-Aqsa in Arabic, that was destroying the holy site, and not imagined interference from Jews.
In an article published by the Gatestone Institute on Monday, Zahran said, “In a recent visit to Jerusalem, where I visited and prayed at Al-Aqsa, it occurred to me that perhaps we, the Arabs and Muslims, are the ones causing harm to Al-Aqsa, and not, as we claim, the Jews.”
He related the modern history of control over the site, then lamented its poor condition and lack of proper upkeep:
The Hashemite regime in Jordan continued to pay the salaries of the managers and the staff members of Al-Aqsa, in accord with what Jordan’s King Hussein described in 1988 as a religious duty he had inherited as the alleged descendant of the prophet Muhammad. Israel’s responsibility has been limited to providing security and, when necessary, conducting patrols and searches. In addition, the Israeli security forces conduct a strict policy of refusing to allow non-Muslims — including Israeli Jews — into Al-Aqsa except for tourism purposes and only at certain hours of the day. In 1948, when the Jordanian government occupied Judea and Samaria, the Al-Aqsa Mosque was placed under the Jordanian Waqf Ministry, which oversees Islamic sites. In 1967, when Israel won the Six-Day-War and regained control over Jerusalem, it did not take control of Al-Aqsa. Instead, Israel transferred control of the mosque to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf [trust], an independent religious body to oversee the Islamic holy sites there.
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Upon entering the silver-domed mosque, one can quickly notice how neglected the mosque is, and badly in need of maintenance, with dirty walls, dust-covered ceilings and worn-out chairs, including the one on which the Imam sits. Fire equipment, tossed randomly in a heap in a corner, looks as if it has not been touched in a long time.
Zahran asked the staff for answers on why the condition of the site was so poor. He recorded their responses, though all insisted on anonymity.
‘The officials themselves and the staff members are the reasons,’ one of the Mosque’s Muslim security staff said. ‘This chaos and indifference rolls down from the senior officials here who enjoy huge salaries compared to the average staff member.’
He pointed at scaffolding stretching to the Mosque’s dome, ‘You see these scaffoldings? They [the officials] put them up to claim maintenance work is being done in order to beg donors for money. These scaffoldings have been there for years with nothing done… The sheikh here just takes photos of them to show to donors.’
The staff even pointed out the management’s tricks to raise money:
At the center of Al-Aqsa, two glass cupboards exhibit tear gas shells used by the Israeli police during riots of the first Palestinian Intifada, which began in 1987. ‘We’ve had these since the first Intifada,’ an Arab security guard said. ‘The managers here use these to make visitors sympathize and give donations, they are beggars’ tools, that is what they are.’
He points to two large donations boxes at the center of the mosque. ‘Look at the donation boxes here; they collect an average of one million shekels ($284,000) per month. We have no clue where that money goes…The poor and the needy never get any of it.’
One old man told him:
‘This mess you see here is our responsibility; the wrongdoers are from us…among us… We cannot properly pray here, they [the staff] are bad people.’ When asked to name names, he refused, but said, ‘The wrongdoers are from our own folks, son. We are the ones who have destroyed Al-Aqsa… I have worked with the Jordanians, with the Jews, and the Palestinians, I have seen them all, and I know what is really happening.’
One of the site’s custodians was even harsher:
‘There are no more Muslims left in the world who care for Al-Aqsa… The money comes from Jordan not to the poor people, but just to be handed to those running it. They are all thieves. Al-Aqsa is like a plate of food that all dogs are attacking for a bite…. All of those inside the Waqf are thieves…. They all blame each other while actually they are working together. You should see the trash that mounts up here during Ramadan [when people come to visit]; the officials are not committed to their responsibility at all. All the donations and aid money paid for Al-Aqsa by Arab states do not filter here; we do not see any of it here. Jordan provides the money for salaries here, but it provides zero accountability for the staff handling the money.’
Another implied that $4 million raised from Turkey and individual donors to rebuild the washrooms at the site had been stolen:
‘Jordan and all Arab countries that give money to Al-Aqsa must be collecting much more donations than what they actually give out, otherwise, trust me, they wouldn’t be giving anything at all. Look at the washrooms, the government of Turkey provided $2 million dollars to fix and expand those, and then Al-Aqsa’s administration collected $2 million more in donations [for the project]…still, nothing was ever fixed or built.’
When Zahran asked one of the staff members, “how the Jews were responsible for the dirty walls, the worn out furniture, and the neglected facilities, he did not answer.”
All of the sad answers led Zahran to having to make his own uncomfortable conclusion.
As a practicing Muslim, I was sad to hear that those managing Al-Aqsa were more concerned with donations and their personal welfare rather than with the mosque itself. Which prompts the question: Is Al-Aqsa an Islamically sacred site, or is it a tool to collect donations by trying to elicit global Islamic sympathy — just a goose that lays golden eggs for its managers?
It seems that it is we Arabs and Muslims who are harming Al-Aqsa, not Israel or the Jews.