Forty-eight years ago today, Denis Michael Rohan, an extremist Christian from Australia, set fire to East Jerusalem’s iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In a Monday statement marking the attack anniversary, Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas both reiterated their condemnation of Israel’s long history of antagonism towards the mosque complex.
In separate statements, the two movements called on Arabs and Muslims worldwide – along with the international community – to shoulder their responsibilities regarding occupied East Jerusalem in general and the Al-Aqsa in particular.
“As an occupying power, Israel has no sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its environs,” the West Bank-based Fatah movement declared in its statement.
“Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa, is an integral part of the Palestinian land occupied [by Israel] in 1967,” the movement asserted.
Hamas, for its part, lamented that the flashpoint mosque complex continued to groan under the “burden of Zionist occupation, which violates our holy sites, demolishes our shrines and continues to dig tunnels under the [Al-Aqsa] mosque”.
Hamas went on to praise the “steadfastness” of the Palestinian resistance against what it described as “the machinations of Israel’s extreme right-wing occupation government”.
On this day: Remember the arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque
“The crimes of the Zionist enemy and its continued violations against our people, land and holy sites will only serve to strengthen our resolve and our refusal to recognize the Zionist entity,” the Hamas statement read.
Rohan’s arson attack, which occurred on Aug. 21, 1969, destroyed several parts of the historic mosque, including a 1,000-year-old wood-and-ivory pulpit dating back to the time of celebrated Muslim conqueror Saladin.
The blaze also destroyed the mihrab (prayer niche) of Muslim Caliph Omar bin al-Khattab, along with large sections of the mosque’s heavily-ornamented interior and gilded wooden dome.
Two days after the attack, Rohan was arrested by the Israeli authorities, who said he suffered from severe mental illness, eventually deporting him back to his native Australia.
Muslim countries responded to the incident by establishing the multilateral Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which was later renamed the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
On 15 September 1969, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 271, which condemned the destructive attack on the mosque and chastised the Israeli government for failing to respect UN decisions.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount”, claiming it had been the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.