Palestinians oppose sharing al-Aqsa
PARIS - Clashes that placed Palestinian demonstrators against Israeli security forces inside and around Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound increased Palestinian fears of Israel gradually asserting its rule over the site — Islam’s third holiest place — in violation with Israeli obligations undertaken in 1967.
Those fears were enhanced by the fact that the Israeli ruling coalition is made up of far-right and Jewish settlers’ parties, many of whom call for free access for Jews to pray inside the Temple Mount, as Israel calls it.
There is no sharing of al-Aqsa mosque, which is open for Muslims only, said Jordanian King Abdullah II, speaking in his capacity as protector of holy sites in Jerusalem, as he met with Arab-Israeli members of the Knesset.
Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Executive Committee member, warned Israel against turning the nationalistic Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious one.
Israel’s policy at al-Aqsa mosque compound aims at asserting its sovereignty on the holy city, charged Khalil Tufakji, an expert on Israel’s judaisation policies of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Tufakji, who heads the Maps Department of the Orient House institution in Jerusalem, said Israel wanted “to impose its historical and religious narrative in order to achieve its political chief goal, which is to establish, once and for all, that Jerusalem is the exclusive capital of the state of Israel”.
Tufakji said Israel’s narrative centres on the Jewish kingdom that was established 3,000 years ago and on the biblical claim that the Jewish messiah will enter Jerusalem through the Gate of Mercy, allowing the rebuilding of the temple.
Jerusalem is central to any peace settlement as the city carries, for both sides, huge national and religious significance. It is presumably the thorniest issue of the conflict.
Palestinians hope to establish their capital on the eastern side of Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967. Israelis claim the city as their “eternal and undivided capital” and work actively at changing the demographic balance in the city to achieve by 2030 an 88% Jewish majority.
On the ground, this amounts to a series of Israeli actions that could lead to a new Palestinian uprising, as was the case when former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, in a massive deployment of force, visited the Temple Mount in September 2000. For Jews, the area is believed to be the site of the second temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.
Such high-profile visits are provocative to Palestinians for whom al-Aqsa is all that is left in a city being gradually lost. The Haram al- Sharif — “Noble Sanctuary” — hosts two mosques — the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa — in addition to open spaces. It has been under uninterrupted Muslim religious sovereignty since the Dome of the Rock was completed late in the seventh century.
The latest unrest followed a visit by Israeli cabinet minister Uri Ariel, who led a group of right-wing activists on the eve of the Jewish new year. Soon after, acting on an Israeli internal intelligence tip, Israeli police raided al-Aqsa compound and found pipe bombs and other improvised “weapons” apparently prepared in advance by Palestinians to disrupt Jews’ visits to the site.
The situation prompted the United Nations and the United States to call on Israel to respect the status quo, set by Israel and Jordan following the Israeli occupation of the city in 1967. Under such arrangements, Jews are forbidden of praying inside al-Aqsa compound but can pray beneath it at a wall believed to be a remnant of the ancient biblical Jewish temple. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denied Israel wanted to alter the status quo, accusing instead “the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic movement in Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey” of doing so. He vowed to toughen measures such as easing the use by Israeli police of live fire against stone and firebomb throwers. Hefty fines on parents of Palestinian demonstrators and heavy jail sentences for the latter are also on the government’s agenda.
Many Palestinians fear that without significant action, Israel will end up dividing prayer time at Haram al-Sharif as it did in the Ibrahimi mosque — The Cave of the Patriarchs — in Hebron following the massacre by a Jewish settler of Palestinian worshippers in 1994. Already, Israel has divided access to Haram al-Sharif between Jews, who are allowed daily to “visit” for a few hours and Muslims who are often restricted from praying on the site as was the case September 18th.
“Israel is taking advantage of the Arab world splits and of the Palestinian divisions to implement its policies,” Tufakji said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no authority on Haram al- Sharif and relies on Jordan, which, under the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, has custodial rights.
Such rights amount these days to paying salaries to employees of the Muslim endowment, running administration of the holy site, collecting garbage and cleaning carpets in the mosques, Tufakji said bitterly.