Michael Dennis Rohan
1 July 1941
|Died||6 October 1995 (aged 54)|
|Known for||Attempting to burn down the Al-Aqsa Mosque|
Denis Michael Rohan (1 July 1941 - 6 October 1995) was a Christian Australian citizen who, on 21 August 1969, set fire to the pulpit of the Al-Aqsa mosque, in Jerusalem. Rohan was arrested for the arson attack on 23 August 1969. He was tried, found to be insane, and hospitalised in a mental institution. On 14 May 1974 he was deported from Israel "on humanitarian grounds, for further psychiatric treatment near his family". He was subsequently transferred to the Callan Park Hospital in Australia, and died on 6 October 1995.
According to a detailed article by Abraham Rabinovich, Rohan's first known case of auditory hallucinations (which he believed to be divine 'revelations') came in Australia in 1964, when he was asked by his employer to transport "an augur, [sic] a 30-foot-long lift device" by truck 35 miles to another location, but was commanded by a voice in his head not to do so. His manager told him he was "mentally sick," and he was committed to Bloomfield Mental Hospital for four months. After his release he moved first to England where he worked at a hospital in Middlesex, and then to Israel where he arrived by ship in March 1969. He volunteered at Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon in the Sharon Valley between Haifa and Tel Aviv where he stayed a few months. According to Kibbutzniks, one night they were startled by wild shouts from Rohan; when one volunteer attempted to calm him, Rohan told them he thought that perhaps he was Jewish. He spoke to an American theology student and volunteer of "the imminence of the Messiah's coming and the construction of a new temple".
From the kibbutz he went to Jerusalem, staying in hotels. After reading a biblical passage in the Book of Zechariah:
"Behold the man whose name is the branch, for he shall grow up in his place and he shall build the Temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the Temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor and shall sit and rule upon the throne."
Rohan became convinced that he was "the branch" and destined to "build the Temple of the Lord".
On the morning of 21 August 1969, Rohan started a fire fuelled by kerosene in the al-Aqsa Mosque. The fire destroyed an intricately designed 12th-century minbar, or pulpit, known as the minbar of Saladin.
Rohan, who had been in Israel on a tourist visa, was arrested two days later. He pleaded insanity and was deported.
Rohan, a Christian, stated that he considered himself "the Lord's emissary" and that he tried to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque acting upon divine instructions to enable the Jews of Israel to rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount in accordance with the Book of Zechariah, thereby hastening the second coming of Jesus Christ. (Rohan mistakenly believed that the al-Aqsa Mosque occupied the site of the temple, when in fact the Dome of the Rock did.)
Rohan was a subscriber of The Plain Truth magazine published by the Worldwide Church of God's (WCG) founder Herbert W. Armstrong and stated that he had begun his attempt after reading an editorial by Armstrong in the June 1967 edition.The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London pictured Rohan on its front page with a copy of The Plain Truth magazine sticking out from his outside jacket pocket.
On 26 September 1969, Armstrong, in a letter to financial contributors to his The World Tomorrow program, distanced himself from Rohan:
Every effort, it seems, is being made to link us with it in a way to discredit the Work of God. The man, Rohan being held as the arsonist, the dispatches say, claims to be identified with us. This claim is TOTALLY FALSE. The first any of us at Pasadena ever heard of this man was when the press dispatches began coming over the Teletypes in our News Bureau. Checkups revealed that this man had sent in for and received a number of our Correspondence Course lessons. Last December he had sent in a subscription to The PLAIN TRUTH. But any claim to any further connection or association with us is an absolute lie.
Two million others subscribe to The PLAIN TRUTH. 100,000 others subscribe to the Correspondence Course lessons. These are sent to any and everybody who requests them, FREE. But such subscriptions do not connect us with such subscribers or any act any one of them might commit, any more than a subscription to the New York TIMES makes that newspaper responsible for any acts committed by its subscribers.
The fire at Al-Aqsa was the cause of great anger in the Muslim world, and demonstrations and riots occurred as far away as Kashmir India. Many Muslims alleged Rohan's actions were part of a wider plot by Israelis, while some Israelis have attacked claims by some Palestinians and other Muslims that Rohan was Jewish, when in fact he was Christian. Both Israelis and Palestinian have been accused by the other side of interference or sabotage in putting out the fire.
According to the Jewish Political Studies Review, author Yoel Cohen recorded that the official Israeli Chief Rabbinate adopted a mostly conservative stance toward the capture by Israel of the Temple Mount in 1967, in response to questions of whether to rebuild the Temple and reinstitute the sacrificial service to whether to allow Jews to ascend the Temple Mount to pray:
Given the uncertainty where the Temple building itself was located, Unterman and Nissim (Israel's chief rabbis at the time) decided to impose a complete ban on the Mount. Zerah Warhaftig, the Religious Affairs Minister, who favored preserving the "status quo", fearing that permission to Jews to pray on the Mount would inflame the Arab world, spoke to the two rabbis about the political dangers.
Cohen further footnoted these remarks with comments from an interview:
Dr Warhaftig said that in 1967-68 he had favored the erection of a small synagogue in the area of El Aqsa, but once he saw the violent reactions after the Michael Rohan arson at El Aqsa in 1968, he concluded that such a step would not be possible. "Had it just been a matter of the Palestinians," Warhaftig said, he would have favored prayer facilities for those Jews who insisted on such prayer rights, even though it transgressed the decisions of the chief rabbis. But once he saw the emotional strength of feelings throughout the Moslem world, he did not pursue this idea.
Today, my delegation joins the 24 other members, representing 750 million adherents of the Muslim faith, which requested a meeting to consider another, more serious tragedy, namely of Al Aqsa Mosque, and the fire which severely damaged that historic Holy Place on the morning of 21 August 1969. The Israeli authorities introduced more than one explanation for the start of the fire and at last charged an Australian with the arson. According to news that originated from Israel sources, the Australian suspect is a friend of Israel who was brought by the Jewish Agency to work for Israel.
The Jewish Agency arranged for the Australian to work in a Kibbutz for some months, so that he could learn the Hebrew language and acquire more of the Zionist teaching. The report published in the Jerusalem Post - an Israeli newspaper-of 25 August 1969 concerning the life of this Australian in the Kibbutz and his dreams of building Solomon's temple casts doubt on the case and adds to the fears and worries of the Muslims about their holy shrines; it also throws light on who is the criminal and who is the accomplice.
Yassir Arafat later developed a regular television interview speech in which he would refer back to this act of attempted arson, while avoiding mention of Rohan by name.
The Palestinian newspaper, La Presse Palestinienne, reported the following:
During an assembly commemorating the 1969 arson attempt on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Zakaria al-Agha, a member of the PA Executive Council, made a speech on Arafat's behalf, stressing the determination of the Palestinian people to continue along the path of Jihad until the occupation ends.