Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Occupation divides Al-Aqsa

Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem is witnessing an unprecedented intensification of Israeli interference and violence that could spark, at any time, a third Intifada, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Al-Aqsa Mosque is under unprecedented vicious attack by the Israeli occupation since 13 September until today, culminating in a series of raids, assaults and restrictions against Palestinian male, female and child worshippers, Al-Aqsa guards, and the staff of Islamic Endowments responsible for the mosque.

Al-Aqsa Mosque and its courtyard have become a “war zone” between Palestinian youth, Mourabitoun, and those in sanctum at the mosque versus Israeli police armed to the teeth trying to impose a spatial and temporal division by allowing settlers to raid the holy site on Jewish holidays.

Occupation police imposed very strict conditions on Muslim men entering Al-Aqsa Mosque by preventing anyone under the age of 40 from entering on the eve of the Jewish Sukkot holiday, which began on Sunday and continues for one week. This coincides with calls by groups supporting the alleged “Temple” Al-Aqsa rests on, to organise mass raids of the mosque during the holiday.

The measures taken by occupation forces widely angered Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and factions across the spectrum described Israel’s escalation at Al-Aqsa as “a declaration of war”, and accused the leader of the right-wing government, Binyamin Netanyahu, of pushing to explode the situation in Jerusalem, and starting a new phase of his war on the mosque and its defenders by taking advantage of the Jewish holiday season, amid the silence and distraction of the Arab and Islamic world with their domestic problems.

According to Jerusalem sources, this new phase started during celebrations of the Jewish New Year (13-15 September), Yom Kippur (22-23 September) and Sukkot (which began Sunday). The main feature of this policy is to evacuate Al-Aqsa Mosque of Muslim worshippers and convert it and the surrounding area into a closed military zone. Meanwhile, the mosque was secured for Jewish groups and figures to raid, to hold Jewish religious rituals, and Talmud prayers.

The explosive situation on the ground coincided with the 15th anniversary of Al-Aqsa Intifada, which was sparked by a surprise visit of Al-Aqsa by late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on 28 September 2000. Sharon triggered wide anger among Palestinians at the time, who protested against “Sharon’s desecration of the holy site”. Dozens of protestors were killed by occupation forces and protests climaxed into the second Palestinian Intifada that continued for about four years.

Gamal Amr, an expert on Jerusalem issues, said the occupation is taking advantage of inter-Palestinian divisions and Arab turmoil to deliver a fatal blow to Al-Aqsa Mosque and divide it on a temporal and spatial level. Its covert plans are now out in the open, stated Amr. “The occupation wants to implement this division plan, and the first step is building synagogues that gradually encroach on Al-Aqsa,” he added. “A new four-storey synagogue with a huge dome called ‘Jewel of Israel’ will be built 200 metres away from Al-Aqsa to occupy another corner, after the construction of the large white-domed Hurva Synagogue built in 2010.”

The second step, according to Amr, is the construction of cable car lines by the Israeli Nature Authority between the Mount of Olives and Golden Gate cemeteries, adjacent to Al-Aqsa wall. The Jerusalem expert expects a third Intifada to erupt because of Israel’s desecration of Al-Aqsa. “The Palestinians are furious, and they will explode at some point,” he warned. “Everyone is upset with the status quo and are shouting, but they will not shout for long and will take to the streets.”

Al-Aqsa Mosque covers an area of about 34 feddans with 14 gates, some of which were closed after Salahuddin Al-Ayoubi liberated Jerusalem. The gates that remain open are Al-Salasla, Al-Mutawadaa, Al-Qataneen, Al-Hadeed, Al-Nazer (Al-Majlis) where the Endowments office is housed, and Al-Ghawanma in the West, and Aatm (Prophets’ Honour), Hatta and Al-Asbat in the north. Meanwhile, Al-Magharba Gate is only opened by the occupation to settlers to invade the mosque.

While the occupation protects settlers as they raid Al-Aqsa, some 50 female Jerusalem residents are blocked from entering after their names were added to a “golden list” without a court order that was distributed to the guards at all gates. Nonetheless, these women insist on coming to Al-Salasla Gate every day to battle for the first qiblah (direction of prayer) for Muslims and the third holiest site in Islam, which is also part of their daily life. They want to protect Al-Aqsa from desecration by the occupation and its settlers. They raise their index fingers and Qurans, chanting prayers and reciting holy verses from behind iron gates that the occupation forced them to stand behind in order to secure the safe passage of Jewish raiders. They are beaten, pushed, abused, arrested, and sent away from the mosque.

Sheikh Akrama Sabri, the head of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem and a preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque, warns against plots of the occupation and describes what is taking place at Al-Aqsa and East Jerusalem as a “war of eradication”. Sheikh Sabri said that “desecrating Al-Aqsa is a heinous crime, and it is not the first time. It has occurred on all Jewish celebrations. The occupation is illegal without sovereignty or legitimacy; it will expire. Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and Palestine are ours and we will never abandon them.”

He believes “the aim of these raids is to indulge Jewish fanatics and their delusions, and impose what can be described as a ‘temporal division’,” whereby Al-Aqsa is vacant of all Muslims in the morning so Jewish fanatics can pray and wander around.

He added: “Israeli arrogance will not break our will because our people are steadfast in their belief in Al-Aqsa, Jerusalem and Palestine, and will never abandon their homeland no matter what the sacrifice.”

The Al-Aqsa cleric believes that inter-Palestinian disputes and divisions, and raging conflicts in the Arab and Islamic worlds serve the interests of the occupation and provide it with a golden opportunity to execute its plots and take advantage of current conditions to assault Al-Aqsa Mosque and persecute Jerusalem inhabitants who stand alone to defend their mosque.

He asserted that Jerusalem is in dire need of a serious and effective Arab and Islamic stand capable of deterring and holding accountable Israel for its continuous aggressions against Jerusalem.

A report by the Media Centre for Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Affairs (Q-Press) based in Om Al-Fahm inside the Green Zone revealed that some 10,000 occupation elements raided and desecrated Al-Aqsa Mosque since the start of 2015. The report continued that since January until 20 September 2015, 9,954 occupation elements  including 8,391 settlers and members of fundamentalist Jewish groups, and 921 intelligence agents, 335 soldiers in military uniform as part of “military guidance and exploration tours”, and 307 others (Israeli antiquities engineers, university students, police in special uniform)  entered Al-Aqsa.

There were 277 arrests inside Al-Aqsa or at its gates, which usually concluded in decisions to keep those arrested away from the mosque between two weeks to six months.

There were four major military raids of Al-Aqsa during this period, including the roofed mosque, which all occurred during Jewish holidays (Tisha Bav on 26 July and Jewish New Year 13-15 September) and included raids by Jewish groups, rabbis, and Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel from the extremist right-wing party Jewish Home.

Escalation at Al-Aqsa coincides with statements by Netanyahu and key right-wing extremists in his cabinet about the right of Jews to pray at Al-Aqsa and on preventing Muslims from entering, as well as a series of decisions to crack down on Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem.

After an emergency meeting mid-September to discuss growing incidents of stone throwing at occupation forces and settlers in Jerusalem, Binyamin Netanyahu said: “Arab troublemakers will not be allowed to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount.” He said at the meeting, attended by the ministers of defence, interior, justice, transportation and Jerusalem affairs, as well as top security officers, the government’s legal advisers and the Jerusalem’s occupation mayor, that “Israel is committed to securing the status quo at the Temple Mount.”

Minister of Defence Moshe Yaalon decreed Al-Mourabiteen and Al-Mourabitat (Steadfast) present at the mosque as “banned groups”. Yaalon also banned their offshoots, such as groups that teach Quran and the Prophet Mohamed’s life that operate in Jerusalem, known as “learning councils”.

The smaller Israeli cabinet for political and security issues unanimously agreed 24 December with Netanyahu’s decisions to combat what they call “stone throwers” or “the disorderly” in Jerusalem. The cabinet directed snipers to use Roger rifles to disperse protestors and amended firing orders to allow the use of live bullets if the life of a policeman or someone is in danger. Before that, the police were only allowed to shoot if their lives were in danger.

Roger bullets are metal pellets that are supposedly not fatal and occupation forces use them to disperse demonstrators protesting the Separation Wall, settlements and raids into the West Bank. But they have also killed several Palestinians.

Decisions also include stiffening penalties against adults who throw Molotov cocktails or rocks or other objects in a new law that imposes prison sentences between four to 20 years for the offense. Underage offenders and their parents will also be penalised, and children between 14 and 18 years old will be arrested and they and their families will pay large fines.

Meanwhile, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem condemned the decision allowing police forces to use Roger rifles against rock throwing boys from occupied East Jerusalem, stating that Roger bullets are more fatal than regular bullets. B’Tselem said in a news statement that, “Shooting live bullets at Jerusalem residents aims to spill the blood of Jerusalem’s children. Netanyahu’s government insists on using force against children.”

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