Al-Aqsa Is Burned
The aftermath of the attack. Photo: Public Domain

August 21, 1969

A new immigrant to Israel, Denis Michael Rohan, sets fire to Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Born and raised in Australia, Rohan moved to Israel only a few months before the attack. He worked at Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon in the Sharon Valley and learned Hebrew. The 28-year-old reportedly began hearing voices shortly after arriving in Israel and began claiming he was Jewish; in fact, he was a member of the Church of God, a small California-based church. According to a fellow kibbutz member, Rohan began to take an overwhelming interest in Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the arrival of the messiah. He regularly visited the Temple Mount in the weeks leading up to the attack so that the guards became familiar with him.

The morning of the attack, Rohan pours a gallon of kerosene into the mosque through a keyhole and throws in a lighted match to start the fire. The blaze damages the centuries-old pulpit, which takes years to reconstruct.

Two days after the attack, Rohan is identified by the mosque security guards, arrested and charged with arson. At his trial, he justifies his attack on the third-holiest site in Islam by saying he was clearing the land beneath the mosque to make way for the third Jewish Temple in preparation for the arrival of the messiah. He tells the court that God directly requested that he do this task. Rohan also says he is set to become the king of Jerusalem.

Under an insanity plea, Rohan is deported back to Australia, where he lives out his life.