Forty-eight years ago, on 21 August 1969, Palestinians and Muslims in all parts of the world woke up to realise that a new Israeli crime had been committed against the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The burning of Al-Aqsa began when the Australian extremist, Denis Michael Rohan, broke into the mosque from the Moroccan Gate and set fire to the Al-Qibli Chapel.
The fire broke out in the eastern annex of the chapel located in the southern side of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The fire damaged the ceilings, carpets, rare decorations and all its contents including copies of the Qur’an, books and furniture. The building was dramatically damaged and it took years to reconstruct and restore it.
The fire consumed the historical pulpit of the mosque, which was brought by Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyubi from the city of Aleppo in Syria when Muslims restored the city of Jerusalem in 1187. It turned out afterwards that the highly flammable substance was dispensed both from the inside and the outside of the Al-Qibli Chapel.
While the Palestinians rushed to stop the fire Israeli authorities cut the water supply from Al-Qibli Chapel and its surroundings and was reluctant to send fire engines.
Israeli authorities claimed that the fire was caused by an electrical fault, however Arab engineers proved it was done on purpose and forced Tel Aviv to reveal that a young Australian man was responsible for the fire and say that he would be brought to trial. It was not long before the young man was arrested, labelled a “maniac,” and was then released.
Since the mosque was set on fire human rights activists and organisations have confirmed that crimes against Al-Aqsa are still being carried out and that the event was just one episode among many others in a war that the Israeli authorities have declared against the mosque. Their aim is to isolate it both geographically and historically so that they can construct their so-called “temple” in its place.
Rights groups stress that setting fire to the mosque “cannot be compared to the magnitude of the silent crimes that daily target the reality of Jerusalem today and the degree of change the occupation has imposed upon Al-Aqsa Mosque since then”.
Violations continue in the form of raids, digging tunnels, attacks, arrests and confiscation of rights from rightful owners, and even hampering the renovation works at the Dome of the Rock.
Seventy-four-year-old Mahmoud Abu Ghazaleh, an eyewitness, said that the residents of Jerusalem had rushed to put out the fire after calls were made through the minarets of the city.
He said in an interview with Quds Press yesterday that he performed the dawn prayer at the mosque and had as usual stayed there until late in the morning but then returned after hearing the people inside shouting to find that the fire had already made significant damage.
He pointed out that the occupation implemented measures that significantly hampered the firefighting operations and the expansion of the fire damages, “with highly inflammable substances that facilitated its rapid spread”.
He pointed out that the occupation closed the areas around Al-Aqsa Mosque and hindered the entry of fire engines which rushed from all over Palestine.
He said that what happened 48 years ago “is still repeated in one way or another in the city of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
Abu Ghazaleh called on the Arab people to wake up and unite against threats to the city of Jerusalem and its holy sites.