Israel tests international patience on Jerusalem
The results of the Likud leadership elections and continuing provocation at the Haram Al-Sharif signal growing extremism in Israel, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem
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Israeli police forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against Palestinian demonstrators in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya
Moshe Feiglin is not a typical Likudnik in the style of other past and present Likud leaders, such as Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu.
Those who know him say he is an incarnation of Meir Kahana, the racist-minded American rabbi who in the early 1970s founded the Kach organisation calling for the expulsion of non-Jews from Israel-Palestine, as well as the application of draconian Talmudic laws to replace Israel's quasi-secular system.
A few years ago, Feiglin decided to join the ranks of Likud, calculating that only by taking over a central and powerful party from within could he hope to transform Israel from a semi-secular state into a Jewish theocracy ruled by Halacha or the so-called Talmudic religious law.
So far, he has achieved only limited success, with less than 25 per cent of Likud registered members voting for him in the recent party leadership elections, in which the overwhelming majority voted for incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
However, the fact that Feiglin has been able to secure one fourth of Likud behind him does not bode well for either Israel's democracy or the future of Likud itself.
Ideologically, Feiglin is at the extreme right of the Israeli political map, believing that Israel should annex the West Bank, reoccupy the Gaza Strip, deport all Palestinians and demolish Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem.
This week, Feiglin and dozens of his supporters sought to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to remind "Jews and the world at large" that the "holiest Jewish temple was still in the hands of the Gentiles" and that the "very existence of Israel was meaningless without the rebuilding of the temple".
The group held up posters calling for the "purification of the Temple Mount from the enemies of Israel". Eventually, the police, seeing that violence might ensue, decided to block access to the site.
According to the police, flyers found outside the Haram Al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem read that "members of the Likud caucus, along with its thousands of members headed by Moshe Feiglin, are hereby invited to arrive at the temple Mount and declare that proper leadership begins with control over the temple."
Earlier, Muslim residents of the city had apparently got word that extremist Jewish settlers were trying to desecrate the 1,400-year-old Muslim shrine in order to put pressure on the Israeli government to turn it into a synagogue.
Hundreds of Muslim activists then arrived, forming a considerable presence and convincing the police that an incendiary showdown could be evolving. The Muslim presence seemed to have influenced the police decision to deny Feiglin's people access to the Haram Al-Sharif.
The mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, castigated the Israeli government for playing with fire.
"Do they think that we are helpless orphans and completely powerless to defend and protect our holy places? Israel should know that we will only allow these fanatics to desecrate our holy places over our dead bodies," he said.
"This place belongs to the Muslim umma, and any aggression against it would mean confrontation with the world's 1.6 billion Muslims," Hussein added, urging Muslim governments and peoples to make the issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque a priority.
One middle-aged Jerusalemite who came to help protect the Mosque remarked that he would sacrifice his life and the lives of his family to protect the glory and sanctity of the Mosque.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas also urged the international community to put pressure on Israel to end provocations against Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Hamas said that Arab and Muslim states should devote all their efforts to saving the Al-Aqsa Mosque from conspiracies.
It also called on the PA to stop "futile efforts" at reaching a peace arrangement with Israel, saying that Palestinian efforts in this regard were interpreted as a sign of weakness.
"Whenever the Arabs extend their hands in peace, Israel steps up its aggression, crimes and provocation. Israel doesn't understand the language of peace: it only understands the language of military might," the group said.
On Sunday, the Palestinians received moral support from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), a statement from the Party lambasting Israel and underlining its opposition to Israel's repeated efforts to carry out aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other holy places in occupied Jerusalem.
The statement said that official Arab and Muslim condemnation of Israeli belligerence was no longer adequate.
The issue of Jerusalem is widely viewed as the most complicated and volatile component of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem has been a Muslim shrine of immense sanctity ever since the Prophet Mohamed made his miraculous night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem more than 1,445 years ago.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem soon after its army occupied the city in 1967, and it has been trying to obliterate its traditional Arab-Islamic identity ever since, in violation of international law.
The UN and other international bodies have repeatedly ruled such efforts to be illegal. However, because of unrestricted US backing, Israel has been able to get away with them thus far with impunity.