Prominent Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh has reportedly been blasted for writing about the Jewish connection to Temple Mount.
Mr Nusseibeh was one of a number of Palestinian and Israeli scholars to contribute to an unprecedented joint new study about the site, Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade, initiated by the Hebrew University and the Yad Ben-Tzvi Institute.
In his chapter, Mr Nusseibeh, president of al-Quds University in east Jerusalem, does not affirm that there were Jewish temples on Temple Mount.
However, he does write that the site was revered by Jews before Mohammed stepped foot there and there is hope that adherents of the two religions, together with Christianity, would be able to accept the others’ attachments to the location. According to Israeli daily Ma’ariv, he has been threatened by other Palestinians for acknowledging the Israeli narrative.
However, Mr Nusseibeh’s aide, Rawan Dajani, denied this, saying that Mr Nusseibeh “did not have any problems at all from the publication of this book”.
Mr Nusseibeh himself was not available for comment.
The Palestinian scholars who contributed to the new volume are in a delicate situation because of a climate in the West Bank which discourages projects with Israelis.
After last winter’s Gaza war, the al-Quds university board approved a call for a boycott of Israeli academics.
Mustafa Abu Sway, head of the university’s Islamic research centre, who contributed a chapter on al-Aqsa mosque in Islamic sources, says the ban did not cover projects that were already under way.
“I contributed because I just wanted the Islamic narrative to be among the narratives circulating in the English speaking world,” he said.
His chapter makes the point that in Islam, prayer anywhere inside the walls of the mosque compound, including under an olive tree outside the Dome of the Rock, is considered to be worship in the al-Aqsa mosque.
And according to ancient Islamic sources he cites, a prayer at al-Aqsa is worth 1,000 prayers at other mosques.
Jewish and Muslim narratives about the site — including those featured in the book — tend to clash. For Jews, the mount is revered as the site of the First and Second Temples, destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans in 586 BCE and 70 AD respectively.
As a chapter by Hebrew University scholar Miriam Frenkel shows, some Jewish scholars have excoriated Islam over the centuries for allegedly building on the very ruins of the Temple after capturing the site in the seventh century.
For Muslims, the al-Aqsa mosque compound marks the gate to the heavens traversed by the Prophet Mohammed in his night journey (isra) described in the Koran and is a site where he led other prophets in prayer.
The predominant Muslim view is to deny that Jewish temples existed on the site, which they call the Noble Sanctuary.
Amnon Cohen, emeritus professor at the Hebrew University, who contributed a chapter on the Temple Mount during Turkish rule, believes the joint book project has political significance. The Palestinian participation, he says, “means they don’t disagree with the basic hypothesis that the First and Second Temples were on the Temple Mount.”
However, Abu Sway disagrees.
“I have written an Islamic narrative and people can read into it what they want.
“Ultimately it’s a mosque and has been for 1,400 years.
“When the Muslims arrived the area of the mosque was barren and it has been a mosque through and through.”