Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thinking about al-Aqsa

by Ken Houghton

The renovations around the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem continue,
somewhat abated.

We went to see the Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, during our trip through Israel in 1999. Unlike Ariel Sharon a year later, we went to see the beauty of the site, which includes the Dome of the Rock and some glorious calligraphy. (Muslim tenets forbids representation art in religious sites.)

What I remember as well is the question of seeing it. The Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are only open during certain hours, so we didn't know if we would be able to see it.

First, we asked someone stationed at the Wailing Wall. He was brusque (even for the country) and said he had no idea.

Then we walked toward East Jerusalem, and saw a Palestinian guard near the entrance. He immediately told us the hours, and appeared delighted at the idea that we would want to see it. (Certainly, he knew we had just come from the Wall.)

So it was very easy to plan the rest of the day so that we could visit, after finding the right person.

But the feeling that our first contact would prefer the Mosque didn't exist was palpable even for a tourist, let alone people whose families have been living "in Israel" for nearly 40 years. As Matthew Price of the BBC notes:
From around the Muslim world came condemnation. An Israeli colleague of mine - standing next to me watching the diggers do their work - simply didn't get what all the fuss was all about. "It's just a ramp," he said.

But it is not just a ramp. Yesterday I stood inside the Old City as Palestinian youths and Israeli police squared up to one another.

The lanes are narrow, like a maze, and you feel pretty vulnerable at such times, trying to keep an eye out to the left, the right, in front and behind all at once....

The walkway in question leads up to a small gate in the western wall of what is known to Muslims as "al-Haram al Sharif". It translates as "The Noble Sanctuary".

The huge golden dome of the mosque in the centre of the vast plaza is a magnificent example of Islamic architecture.

When I'm driving past the Old City I always try to get a glimpse, and I always catch my breath - partly because it is an awe inspiring sight, and partly because of what it symbolises.

TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE: On of the immediate suggestions—put cameras up to show everyone exactly what is being doing and where—is going to be implemented.

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