Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Israel seeks Al-Aqsa Mosque

Israeli forces stormed the Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem this week, part of a plan to take control of the Muslim sanctuary, writes Khaled Amayreh in East Jerusalem

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Israeli forces detain a Palestinian youth during clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, after firing tear gas at Muslim worshippers

Palestinian leaders have warned that the extreme right-wing government in Israel is seeking gradually to seize control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in order to meet demands to that effect by Messianic millenarian Jewish fanatics.

The Islamic sanctuary is considered one of the holiest Islamic shrines, third after the Kaaba in Mecca and the Prophet Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

This week, dozens of Israeli paramilitary soldiers stormed the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Mosque of Omar, beating, chasing and harassing Muslim worshipers.

The soldiers fired tear-gas as well as stun grenades in an effort to force the Muslims to leave the place to make room for fanatical Jews seeking a Jewish foothold. Several worshipers were injured from the beating and gas inhalation, while dozens of others, including boarding Sharia students, were arrested.

According to eyewitnesses, the Israeli police earlier dispatched agents provocateurs into the Haram esplanade who threw stones in order to create a pretext for the police intervention.

Some Jews believe that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built on the ancient site of the Temple of Solomon, a theory that more than 45 years of aggressive Israeli excavation beneath the Mosque has failed to prove.

Millenarian Jews believe that the rebuilding of the mythical temple would herald the beginning of redemption for the Jews and would culminate in the appearance of the Jewish messiah or redeemer who would establish a worldwide Jewish empire ruled from Jerusalem.

Israeli troops, accompanied by Talmud-indoctrinated Jewish fanatics, many wearing religious attire, have stormed the Haram Al-Sharif several times over recent weeks, apparently in an attempt to desensitise Muslim rejection of any permanent Jewish presence at the site.

Muslim worshippers, including activists from the predominantly Muslim Arab community in Israel, have put up strenuous efforts to counter, and if possible repulse, repeated Israeli encroachments.

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, has warned that Israel is "playing with fire" and that this fire will "burn the fingers" of those who want to inflict harm on the Islamic holy places.

Speaking outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the company of several waqf officials this week, Salah warned that the Israeli government was tinkering with a powder keg which could explode in its face.

He also urged Muslims, governments and individuals, not to be indifferent towards "this paramount issue," which he said ought to be treated with the utmost gravity.

Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official and former Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister Ahmed Qurei warned that Israel was seriously contemplating partitioning the Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews.

He said this "morbid thought" on the part of the Israeli government was being exposed by the frequent Israeli violations of the sanctity of the Islamic sanctuary and also by allowing an ever-increasing number of fanatical Jews to access the exclusively Muslim holy place and even hold Talmudic rituals there.

In a statement released on Sunday, Qurei described Israeli behaviour at the Haram Al-Sharif as "more than serious and more than grave".

"Israel has already created a huge time-bomb. This is the perfect prescription for a huge conflagration. Only God knows what will be the consequences of this madness," he said.

Another Palestinian official, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereiket, warned that the virtual absence of any meaningful Arab and Muslim reactions to the Israeli provocations was encouraging Israel to fly in the face of world opinion.

"The lack of an Arab and Muslim response means more Israeli arrogance, insolence and defiance. Israel is opening up a new chapter of hatred, bloodshed and turbulence," he said.

Earlier, Al-Azhar in Cairo, the oldest educational institution of Sunni Muslim learning in the world, warned that Israel was fueling the fire of religious hatred.

In a statement issued on 2 October, Al-Azhar said it was closely following the emerging news about the storming of the Al-Aqsa mosque by extremist Jewish groups. 

"Israeli policies are dragging the whole region into a situation of religious conflict," Al-Azhar said.

The statement went on to warn that the continued Israeli aggression against the Islamic holy places would inevitably threaten security not only in the region but also in the world as a whole.

Jewish fanatics leading efforts to establish a permanent Jewish foothold at the Haram Al-Sharif hope to repeat the precedent of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, where the Israeli army and Jewish settlers converted the erstwhile exclusively Muslim house of worship into a partial synagogue.

Such fanatics are by no means a marginal minority within Israeli society, since they enjoy the support and backing of powerful political and religious parties in the Israeli Knesset or parliament.

Thanks to an understanding with Israel, the Jordanian authorities retain the prerogative of supervising the Haram Al-Sharif. The Jordanian government says that through quiet and silent diplomacy it has frequently managed to convince the Israeli government to refrain from taking unilateral action at the Muslim sanctuary.

Jordan is now sending a new ambassador to Israel despite widespread public opposition at home.

According to Jordanian sources, the country's Iebedat tribe, the tribe of the new ambassador Walid Iebedat, has been trying to dissuade its scion from accepting the post. Opposition to normalisation with Israel has increased considerably in Jordan, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Jordan also hopes that by maintaining diplomatic links with Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom will be able to keep alive whatever hopes there still are for a peace deal in the region, without which Jordan and other countries could suffer dire consequences including the possible demise of the small pro-Western kingdom.

As for the Palestinian Authority, it seems to be almost totally helpless in the face of the unrelenting Israeli provocations.

In a symbolic measure reflecting the extent of such helplessness, a number of religious and civic figures from East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank are due to travel to Ramallah to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and present him with "the Jerusalem covenant."

This symbolic covenant reads that "Jerusalem was conquered by Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, liberated [from the Crusaders] by Saladin, Yasser Arafat died for it as a martyr, and now the task of liberating it is entrusted to president Mahmoud Abbas.

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