MYTH: A Jewish terrorist tried to burn down the al-Aqsa Mosque.

FACT

Palestinian propaganda is not very original and easily disproven yet smears are repeated, like Hitler’s big lies, to incite the population against the Jews. The al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger libel is one of the most popular and persistent going back to the days of the Mufti of Jerusalem (Nadav Shragai, “The Al-Aqsa is in Danger Libel: The History of a Lie,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2012).

Al-Aqsa Mosque Jerusalem | Book Tickets & Tours Today
credit: Arab News

A version of the lie is repeated every year on the anniversary of the 1969 arson attack on the al-Aqsa Mosque. Nan Jacques Zilberdik reported, for example, that on Palestinian Authority television the incident was described this way: “A disaster happened when the Jews came to burn the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969 (sic.). The spectacular pulpit was burned in the brutal fire of hatred… Since the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 and until now, [the Jews] have not stopped the attempts to Judaize the site, to take control of it in order to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the alleged Temple in its place” (Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “PA TV libel: The Jews are still trying “to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the alleged Temple in its place” as they did in 1969 arson,” Palestinian Media Watch, September 1, 2021).

Similarly, Zilberdik notes the head of the PA presidential committee for church affairs and Director-General of the Palestine National Fund (PNF) Ramzi Khouri was quoted in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (August 21, 2021): “The extremist thinking and ideology that pushed this criminal to commit what he did still exist and feed the ultra-extremist Jews who are supported by an extremist right-wing government to carry out their goal to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the so-called alleged Temple in its place.”

Social media posts referred to the arsonist as a “Jewish terrorist,” “fanatical Christian zionist,” and Jewish “extremist.” The “National and Islamic forces in the Gaza Strip” commemorated the anniversary by rioting along the border fence with Israel (“Muslims Mark The Burning of Al Aqsa Mosque 52 Years Ago,” albawaba, August 22, 2021).

The truth is the fire was started by a deranged Australian Christian tourist named Dennis Michael Rohan. He was arrested the next day and, later, tried, found to be insane, and hospitalized in a mental institution. In 1974, he was deported to Australia for psychiatric treatment near his family.

Though little damage was done, the fire provoked widespread concern in the Muslim world over the safety of Muslim shrines in Jerusalem and “became emblematic of the struggle for control of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.” The incident led to the creation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (later the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), which was “originally formed around the idea of Muslim solidarity, particularly protecting the Islamic holy sites, assisting the Palestinian cause, eradicating racial discrimination, and improving economic cooperation” (Toni Johnson, “The Organization of the Islamic Conference,” Council on Foreign Relations, June 29, 2010).

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Published at the Jewish Virtual Library: Myths & Facts

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