Palestinians converge on Al-Aqsa
The movement to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque is growing locally, but the lack of international Muslim reaction to Israeli impingements is lamentable, writes Khaled Amayreh in Jerusalem
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Muslims have been converging on Al-Aqsa Mosque in Israeli occupied East Jerusalem in what is seen by many as a psychological challenge to Israeli claims that the town is an integral part of Israel's "eternal and undivided capital".
On Friday, 10 August, an estimated half a million worshipers were able to make it to the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) esplanade. The sea of humanity came from all over the West Bank as well as Arab towns and villages across Israel. Strongly discriminated-against Palestinian Arabs make nearly one fourth of Israel's total population. No Gazans were allowed to reach the Muslim sanctuary.
The previous Friday, as many as 350,000 worshipers performed the weekly congregational prayer amid tight Israeli restrictions. Nevertheless, some young people were seen being turned back by Israeli soldiers and paramilitary policemen manning "border crossing facilities" created by the Israeli army to control Palestinian entry into the holy town.
According to a prophetic tradition, the heavenly reward of a single ritual prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque is multiplied 500 times. But while worshipers covet the heavenly prize, they also want to reassert a Muslim presence and rights in one of the world's most hotly contested pieces of real state.
The influx of hundreds of thousands of mainly Palestinian Muslims into Jerusalem's old town generates visible consternation among Talmudic-minded Jewish circles, which would like to make the city -- and all of Palestine-Israel -- Gentile free.
Jewish millenarians believe the building of a Jewish Second Temple would herald the appearance of a Jewish Messiah, or redeemer, who would bring about redemption for Jews and salvation for mankind.
He would also create a worldwide Jewish empire, which would be ruled from Jerusalem.
Jews also believe that the appearance of the redeemer would be preceded by violence and bloodshed on a genocidal scale. Hence, fanatical Jews waste no opportunity to spark off violence in the hope of igniting a worldwide conflagration.
The influx of a huge number of Muslims into Jerusalem, especially during the month of Ramadan, also shows that the battle for Jerusalem is far from over and that many will not come to terms with unilateral Israeli measures in and around the city.
Unlike previous Ramadan seasons, the Israeli occupation authorities, while maintaining tight security, allowed greater numbers of worshipers access to the Islamic holy site, the world's third in importance. There were no restrictions on the entry of female worshipers while all male worshipers over the age of 25 were also allowed entry.
At the mosque itself, one speaker after another elaborated on the virtues and spiritual rewards of fasting during the holy month. Speakers also urged the huge multitude to pay alms and charity to the poor. Zakat or obligatory charity is the third pillar of Islam, coming directly after the declaration of faith and ritual prayer.
Speakers also urged worshipers to cling and hold fast to the Islamic shrine in the face of unrelenting Israeli efforts to arrogate a foothold for fanatical Jewish groups eyeing the building of a Jewish temple in the area.
In recent weeks, Israeli authorities hinted that Al-Aqsa esplanade might eventually be converted to a public park. Statements to that effect infuriated Muslim leaders who emphasised that the 144,000 square metres constituting Haram Al-Sharif were all an integral part of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
"Every square centimetre of this area is holy," said Sheikh Ikrema Sabri, the former head of Jerusalem's Supreme Muslim Council, which supervises and caters for Islamic holy sites.
Al-Ahram Weekly met with Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and one of the main Friday preachers -- or khatibs -- at Al-Aqsa. He said that Jewish authorities were trying to desensitise Muslims to recurrent encroachments at the revered shrine.
"After opening a network of tunnels beneath Haram Al-Sharif, they are now trying to turn the bulk of the walled area into a public park. This is of course a ruse or a trick to take over the area," said Sheikh Hussein, lamenting the weak reaction of the Muslim world.
He added: "If and when the Israeli government and fanatical Jewish groups sense a weak Muslim reaction, they interpret this as a green light to move a further step onward."
Asked what the Muslims of Palestine could do to thwart rapacious Jewish designs against Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Hussein said: "We are the Muslim world's first line of defence against Israeli ambitions in Jerusalem. We will not allow the Jewish occupiers of Palestine to arrogate even one centimetre of this exclusively Islamic place."
He added: "But we need the backing of Muslims around the world."
Last week, an Israeli lawmaker named Aryeh Eldad proposed "new arrangements" at the Haram whereby Jews would be allowed exclusive worship at the site on certain designated days.
Effectively, Eldad's call amounts to partitioning the Muslim sanctuary and transforming it into a synagogue. This, Muslim officials say, underscores the extent to which Jewish designs and ambitions have become daring and audacious, especially in the absence of any meaningful reactions from important Muslim powers, such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Sheikh Sabri is embittered and indignant at the "totally inadequate manner in which Muslim states react to Jewish efforts to take over Haram Al-Sharif." He says he is nearly desperate, watching Muslim states doing virtually nothing to make Israel know that any aggression against Al-Aqsa Mosque would lead to an unprecedented conflagration.
"Al-Aqsa is our faith, our life, our dignity and honour. And if Muslims were to allow fanatical Jews to usurp it, in full or in part, then the belly of the earth would be better for us than its surface."
"1948 MUSLIMS": When the Israeli occupation authorities barred Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering Jerusalem following the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the burden of catering for Haram Al-Sharif was transferred to the Islamic Movement in 1948 Palestine.
Several Muslim leaders from across the Green Line have loomed large in defending Islamic holy places in Jerusalem, including Sheikh Raed Salah, whose name became synonymous with Muslim resistance against Jewish conspiracies against Haram Al-Sharif.
The Islamic Movement in 1948 Palestine, which is organising free semi-daily trips to Al-Aqsa Mosque, is closely monitoring Israeli misdeeds and designs at site.
This week, Sheikh Kamal Al-Khatib, Salah's deputy, warned Israeli authorities that any "misadventure at Al-Aqsa Mosque would lead to earth-shaking consequences for Israel and the region."
"The stars of heaven are closer to them than partitioning the Haram," Khatib was quoted as saying.
The battle for Al-Aqsa is far from over. Some say it has just begun.