Captured Jewish Holy Sites Desecrated

What happened to Jewish Holy Sites and places of worship in lands controlled by the Arabs?

On May 28, 1948 the Arab Legion completed the capture of the Jewish Quarter of the Old Cityof Jerusalem, the site of numerous ancient synagogues and the Western Wall of the Temple, destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD. These were and remain the holiest sites in the Jewish religion.


After the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem was captured, the destruction, desecration and systematic looting of Jewish sites began and continued. 57 ancient synagogues(the oldest dated to the 13th century), libraries and centers of religious study were ransacked and 12 were totally and deliberately destroyed. Those that remained standing were defaced, used for housing of both people and animals. The city's foremost Jewish shrine, the Western Wall, became a slum. Appeals were made to the United Nations and in the international community to declare the Old City to be an 'open city' and stop this destruction, but there was no response. This condition continued until Jordan lost control of Jerusalem in June 1967.

On the Mount of Olives, the Jordanian Arabs removed 38,000 tombstones from the ancient cemetery and used them as paving stones for roads and as construction material in Jordanian Army camps, including use as latrines. When the area was recaptured by Israel in 1967, graves were found open with the bones scattered. Parts of the cemetery were converted into parking lots, a filling station, and an asphalt road was built to cut through it. The Intercontinental Hotel was built at the top of the cemetery. Sadar Khalil, appointed by the Jordanian government as the official caretaker of the cemetery, built his home on the grounds using the stones robbed from graves. In 1967, the press published extensive photos documenting that Jewish gravestones were found in Jordanian Army camps, such as El Azariya, as well as in Palestinian walkways, steps, bathrooms, and pavement.

The Hurva Synagogue, attributed to Rabbi Moses Ben Nahman (Ramban), was the main synagogue in Jerusalem in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (and possibly much earlier), until the Ottomans closed it in 1589 because of Muslim incitement. It was burned by Arabs in 1721 (Hurva = destruction in Hebrew), but againrebuilt by Zionists in the 19th century, becoming the most prominent synagogue on the Jerusalem skyline. For that reason, when it was captured by the Arab Legion during the battle for Old Jerusalem in 1948, they dynamited it to show that they controlled the Jewish Quarter. When the Jews in New Jerusalem saw the Hurva burning, they knew that Jewish life in the Quarter had ended (again).

Access to the Holy Sites

When the 1948 war ended, and negotiations began, the Israeli representatives emphasized regaining access to Jewish Jerusalem. Article VIII of the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement, signed on April 3, 1949, called for the establishment of a Special Committee:

  • ... composed of two representatives of each Party for the purpose of formulating agreed plans" including "free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

Hopes were high that Jews might visit the Western Wall for Passover 1949, butthe Jordanians violated the Armistice Agreement. These clauses were never honored. Promises continued to be made, and Glubb Pasha, the British commander of the Arab Legion,pledged that:

  • Jerusalem's Arab and Jewish populations would be two separate cities with free trade and exchange between each other. The Arabs would be perfectly willing to allow the Jews to have access to their shrines, notably the Wailing Wall, now inside the Arab-held Old City.

The Jordanian "occupation" of the West Bank was very abusive of therights of Jews and Christians, or any resident of Israel. Jewish and muslim residents of Israel were not permitted to visit their Holy Places in East Jerusalem. Christians, too, were discriminated against. In 1958, Jordanian legislation required all members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre to adopt Jordanian citizenship. In 1965, Christian institutions were forbidden to acquire any land or rights in or near Jerusalem. In 1966, Christian schools were compelled to close on Fridays instead of Sundays, customs privileges of Christian religious institutions were abolished. Jerusalem was bisected by barbed wire, concrete barriers and walls. On a number of occasions Jordanian soldiers opened fire on Jewish Jerusalem. In May 1967, the Temple Mount became a military base for the Jordanian National Guard.

During the Jordanian occupation of Hebron from 1948 to 1967, Jews were not permitted to live in the city, nor -- despite the term of the 1948 Armistice Agreement -- to visit or pray at the Jewish holy sites in the city. Additionally, the Jordanian authorities and local residents undertook a systematic campaign to eliminate any evidence of the Jewish presence in the city. They razed the Jewish Quarter, desecrated the Jewish cemetery and built an animal pen on the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue

Although there were numerous discussions of this issue, and Israeli complaints, the Jordanians refused to honor the agreement, and the UN did not pass any resolutions against this treatment of Jewish religious institutions.


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