The use of mosques for military purposes by Palestinian terrorist organizations: a historical perspective


1. The following is an article submitted to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center by a researcher from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, titled "Clinging to the Altar” (March 14, 2009). The article looks at military uses made by Palestinian terrorists of Temple Mount mosques throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was written by Dotan Goren, a PhD student at Bar-Ilan University ‘s Department of Geography and Environment.

2. The article offers an additional historical perspective on the use made by Palestinian terrorist organizations of mosques for military purposes, covered in our March 1, 2009 Information Bulletin titled " The use of mosques for military and political purposes by Hamas and other terrorist organizations and Islamic groups: according to international laws governing of armed conflict, mosques used for military purposes lose the special protection afforded houses of worship and may become legitimate targets for attack”.

Clinging to the Altar

3. The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has recently published a study about the use of mosques for political and military purposes by Hamas and other terrorist organizations. With deep religious roots in the Muslim and Arab world, such use was clearly demonstrated during Operation Cast Lead, carried out by the IDF in the Gaza Strip. The use made by the Arab side of holy places for hostile terrorist activity has a long-standing history in the Jewish-Arab conflict in Eretz Israel [i.e., the Land of Israel ]. I shall briefly discuss two of the most notable cases in point.

4. During the 1936-1939 riots [referred to by the Arabs as the Arab Revolt in Palestine ], Lewis Yelland Andrews, the British district commissioner for the Galilee , was assassinated by a gang of Arab terrorists (September 26, 1937). Following the incident, the British mandate government removed the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, from all his duties (September 30, 1937). The Mufti then confined himself to the Temple Mount compound to avoid being arrested by the British police forces, who did not relish a confrontation inside the holy place. About two weeks later, the Mufti led a series of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem , using them as a diversion to flee from British-ruled Palestine . Intelligence information as well as various press reports published in 1938 indicated that the Temple Mount compound was used as a shelter for Arab gang operatives and as a storehouse for weapons. The Arabs even took advantage of the restoration works carried out by the Muslim Waqf (religious endowment) authorities and the mandate authorities in the Dome of the Rock to conceal arms and ammunition in the Temple Mount compound, as published in the evening edition of Haaretz, July 15, 1938: "In a search conducted by police and army forces in the Old City, a considerable quantity of weapons was found in Umar Mosque, near the Dome of the Rock. The weapons were found inside construction materials prepared for the restoration of the mosque. The weapons found included bombs, bullets, and one rifle.”

5. In July 1938, hundreds of Arab gang operatives started penetrating into the Old City of Jerusalem, pushing back the British police. The takeover was completed in early October, leaving the British with no other choice but to reclaim the area. British army forces launched a crackdown operation in the Old City , using massive force and meeting with little resistance. Many gang operatives fled the city or found shelter in the Temple Mount , where the forces did not enter. As the search for suspects was underway, the Waqf leadership invited the army to sweep the Temple Mount compound in order to prove that there were no weapons there. However, when the forces reached the minaret (the tower from which the muezzin calls the worshippers for prayer), "several crates not long ago containing hand grenades” were found. The Times wrote that the Muslims themselves had violated the place they considered to be holy, and that the government had proof of what had taken place there.

6. Another example of the Arab side using a holy place for military purposes could be seen during Operation Defensive Shield (March-May 2002). In April 2002, a group of 39 wanted Palestinian terrorists armed with rifles and explosive devices took over the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem . The group took priests and civilians hostage and negotiated with the Israeli security forces, sparking a worldwide uproar, particularly among the world’s Christians. An agreement was ultimately reached, according to which the civilians were evacuated and 26 medium-ranking wanted terrorists were deported to the Gaza Strip. The standoff ended when Israel agreed to deport 13 high-ranking wanted terrorists when the European Union announced it was willing to accept them.

7. In light of the above, it is evident that the Arab leadership and its followers have knowingly and systematically brought the holy places into the circle of violence and incitement, and should therefore bear the responsibility for any operative repercussions that may result from Israel ‘s future activities.