Commentary

Al-Aqsa Mosque Violence Threatens the Status Quo

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound — or the Temple Mount, as it is otherwise known — threaten to disrupt the tenuous peace that followed last week’s confrontation between the two sides. The violence followed the entry of Jewish worshipers into the compound, which many saw as a provocative act. Palestinian and most regional observers see the escalation in violence as an Israeli government ploy to take complete control of the holy site as well as an excuse for ‘Judaizing’ the city of Jerusalem. More worryingly, both sides threaten one another with violence should they refuse to back down.

Maan News reports that two weeks after clashes in the compound were first reported, new Israeli forces have once again faced off against “Palestinian worshipers ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Officials from the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Endowment told Ma'an that dozens of Israeli forces raided the holy site and fired stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets ‘haphazardly’ in the area. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 22 people wounded, with three hospitalized after being hit by rubber bullets, including one person struck in the face while inside the mosque....Palestinians have been alarmed by an increase in visits by Jews and fear rules governing the compound will be changed. Recent weeks have seen a series of Jewish holidays during which there has been an uptick in visits by Jews that have sparked repeated clashes.”

The UAE daily The National expressed the view in a recent editorial that the clashes are yet another ‘cynical’ move on the part of the Netanyahu government to “maintain relevance…. As the United States begins to pivot towards Iran with the nuclear deal, Tel Aviv believes that it must demonstrate Israel’s relevance to American foreign policy. Traditionally Israel has accomplished this not with diplomacy but by highlighting its vulnerability through violent conflicts with the Palestinians and neighboring countries. Israel’s leadership has made its unwillingness to make peace clear by entrenching its West Bank occupation, so we can only expect more provocation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. These cynical attempts to highlight the conflict could easily succeed in fomenting a real outbreak of violence.”

Cynical or not, Israel’s response in the face of escalating violence has provoked some rather heated reaction on the part of many regional observers and commentators. For example, Ibrahim Karagul, writing for the Turkish daily Yeni Safak, is keen to point out that “Jerusalem is not just Palestine, it is not just Arab, and it is not just limited to ‘al-Quds Day’. Jerusalem is not Israel and will never be Israel....Jerusalem does not just belong to Palestine and the Arab nation. Israel hasn’t faced this rage yet. This is such a force, such a discourse, such a spirit of struggle and battle, and such immense rage that it will spread to all continents in waves....this is nothing like Gaza. This is not something that will be sorted by using the United States to bring a few Arab regimes under control. This is not something that resembles the unceasing torment inflicted on the Palestinian people. Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are not just Arab problems, which would enable you to measure their importance based only on Arab reactions.”

Arab News’ Jamal Doumani feels that given what is at stake in the Al Aqsa mosque debate, the recent clashes taking place there are of greater importance than even the Syrian refugee crisis: “It seems, at first blush, unconscionable to be writing today about Palestine in the midst of the refugee calamity, which so far this year involved half a million lost souls — with hundreds of thousands poised to follow....So how could events in Palestine trump the refugee calamity in Europe today?...Though in the past, successive Israeli governments had set their sights on the (Al Aqsa) sanctuary, the current one makes no bones about its plans to take it over....Every Muslim should be concerned about the potential destruction of our third holiest site....I care more — and not altogether shamefacedly — about the fate of Jerusalem than I do about the fate of asylum seekers knocking on the doors of affluent EU countries. I certainly care more about it than I do about seeing the Palestinian flag fluttering in the wind outside UN headquarters in New York.”

In an op-ed for the Palestinian news-site Maan News, Nur Arafeh suspects that the recent spike in violence and the aggressive response of the Israeli government are signs that the Israeli government is moving forward with its efforts to ‘Judaize’ the city: “The escalating clashes between Israeli settlers and Jerusalemite Palestinians are the harbingers of a major eruption with incalculable consequences. Immediately billed as a “religious war” by the media and Israeli right wingers, they are in fact the outcome of longstanding Israeli plans to Judaize the city and empty it of its Palestinian inhabitants....The recent unrest in Jerusalem, in which Palestinians have resorted to new forms of resistance such as using vehicles and fireworks, should be seen within the broader context of a city that lacks political leadership. The PA has demonstrated a lack of genuine investment in Jerusalem since signing the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, of which the PA was itself a product....Without concerted efforts by Palestinians with Arab and international support to uphold Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the present small fires in the city could turn into a conflagration with permanent damage to Palestinian and Arab heritage in the city and to the Palestinian Jerusalemite presence in the city of their ancestors.”

Ramzy Baroud, writing for the Jordan Times, cautions however that Israel is playing a high stakes game, which if not properly de-escalated might result in much bloodshed: “The state of Israel was established on the ruins of Palestine, based on a series of objectives that were initialed by letters from the Hebrew alphabet, the consequences of which continue to guide Israeli strategies to this day. The current violence against Palestinian worshippers at Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem is a logical extension of this Zionist ambition....But to change the status of Al Haram Al Sharif, which has been an exclusive Muslim site for the last 1,300 years, much blood will have to be spilled. That, too, is being managed by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has successfully pursued the country’s attorney general to permit the use of sniper fire against protesting Palestinian youth....The fact that plans to conquer even the remaining symbols of Palestinian nationhood and spirituality have finally reached Al Aqsa is particularly alarming.”

Similarly strong reactions have also come from the Israeli side, many of whom question the legitimacy of the Palestinian claims on the holy site.  Claiming that the Temple Mount ‘is the great civil rights issue of Israel’, Arutz Sheva’s Douglas Altabef wonders “Why are Israelis treating themselves like "dhimmis" on the holiest site for Jews? The bottom line is that until we stand up, shout, “Enough!” and clearly articulate not only our sovereignty over the Mount, not only our refusal to abide Arab verbal and physical intimidation, not to mention rioting, but also our own demands for shared, respected and unimpeded access by Jews and Christians, as well as Muslims, we are fighting a losing battle. Every accommodation makes us look weak. We stand mute in the face of the absurd libels of Jewish intimidation, we quiver as the all-powerful King of Jordan threatens repercussions if we do not back away....The Temple Mount is the great civil rights issue of Israel. It is the tyranny of the majority by a take no prisoners minority, that well understands the critical significance of the true control of the Mount.”

Calling for taking a tougher line against the ongoing violence, the Israeli Minister for Social Equality, Gila Gamliel, takes to the pages of the Jerusalem Post to condemn the position of the Palestinian officials on the matters, determining that the episode demonstrates clearly the lack of a real peace partner: “The renewed Arab violence which desecrated the Holy City over the Rosh Hashana holiday must be nipped in the bud....There must be a policy of zero tolerance for violence in Jerusalem – especially in Jerusalem....The cynicism and manipulation by the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and an array of Arab leaders who have rushed to condemn Israel – yes Israel – for the violence in Jerusalem in an effort to prop up their own internal agenda is nauseating. Is it any wonder most Israelis have lost faith in Abbas as a peace partner?”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.