Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Extremism goes mainstream: Violence at Al Aqsa Mosque

By James Knoop - October 12, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Opinion] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [Settlers]

Every year, the Jewish holiday of Sukkot brings with it groups of Jewish worshipers who try to penetrate security at the Al Aqsa compound, disregarding the sanctions of this Muslim holy place.

Typically these antics lead to clashes between the Palestinians inside the compound and the Israeli police or soldiers, who offer protection to the Jewish worshipers as they desecrate raid the Noble Sanctuary. This year was no different, except in one respect – the problem is becoming more pronounced.

Palestinians view these visits as a provocation and a further attempt to consolidate Israeli control. Jewish worshipers view the visits as their inherent right. The power balance between Palestinians and Israelis has perhaps never been more stark, which is why the Jewish religious extremists see now their opportunity.

Clash of cultures

For Palestinians, the site which dominates the Jerusalem skyline is known as the Noble Sanctuary – which houses both Al Aqsa mosque, and the magnificent golden-roofed Dome of the Rock. Al Aqsa mosque is revered as the site where the Prophet Mohammad traveled to from the Mecca in the middle of the night on a winged steed. There he communed with past prophets and God, receiving the message that Muslims must pray five times per day.

The Dome of the Rock, which sits in the same courtyard, is one of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in the world. It is a shrine marks the spot where Mohammad is believed to have ascended into heaven. Muslims once prayed while facing in the direction of Al Aqsa mosque, and today it remains the third holiest site in Islamic tradition.

Muslims praying otside al Aqsa mosque

For the Jewish people, the site has a totally different meaning. It is believed to be the site of both the first and second temples of the Jewish Kingdom. The first temple was constructed by King Solomon, while the second temple was constructed by Herod. The Jewish people practiced many ancient and holy rituals at the site, which some believe need to be reinstated before the Messiah will return to earth.

Furthermore, the exact area where the Dome of the Rock sits today is believed to have once held the Ark of the Covenant – a golden vessel which housed the Ten Commandments, a cornerstone of the Jewish faith. While Muslims refer to the place as the Noble Sanctuary, Jews know it as the Temple Mount.

Since 1967 when Israeli forces captured Jerusalem, an agreement has been in place that allows the Islamic Waqf control over the Noble Sanctuary. The Waqf then ruled the site would be used for Muslim worship only.             
Over the years however, there have been repeated attempts to infiltrate the Noble Sanctuary. In several cases there have been attempts and to burn the Muslim holy sites down. Most of the incursions have come from fringe orthodox movements, or individuals infected with what is known as the “Jerusalem Syndrome” – the belief that one is on a holy mission.

Today, there is large movement of “Temple Mount Faithful” who are ready to take the site from the Palestinians and recreate the Third Temple, “within our days” as the saying goes – thus speeding up the coming of the Messiah.

Over the course of past decades this extremist threat has grown and evolved in various ways. There are archaeological excavations being conducted outside the Noble Sanctuary where each find is used to bolster Jewish historical claims to the area.

Since 1967 when Israeli forces captured Jerusalem, an agreement has been in place that allows the Islamic Waqf control over the Noble Sanctuary

Excavations have been carried out along the extent of the Western Wall, and along the south side. Many claim tunnels have been burrowed underneath Al Aqsa Mosque itself and point to structural damage as proof. The Noble Sanctuary is surrounded on all sides by an archaeological onslaught.

There are also tour groups being run which impose a historical narrative that stresses the 1000 years of Jewish history, but ignores the 1300 years of Islamic and 400 years of Christian history in Jerusalem. On the tour, tourists can listen to how all the archaeological evidence points to the existence of the First and Second Temples, and completely ignores every other dynasty that has ruled Jerusalem.

The tours are organized by the same company, Elad, which is responsible for bringing settlers into East Jerusalem and directing a concerted effort to forcibly move Palestinians from their land in the surrounding areas in order to consolidate Jewish control around the holy site.

Holiday season in Jerusalem

On Friday October 5, dozens of angry Palestinian protesters hammered Israeli police with stones who were escorting a Jewish group within the Sanctuary. The Israeli police force responded to the protesters  attacks by firing tear gas and stun grenades into the crowds which led to minor injuries and the arrest of one man.

The Friday protest occurred in reaction to an earlier incident on Tuesday, October 2, that saw Israeli Jews enter the sacred Muslim site to worship. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot annually brings an influx of devotees.

The incident on Tuesday involved a party of 30 ultra-nationalist religious extremist from the Jewish community under the protection of a heavily armed security escort, entering the Noble Sanctuary and performing Jewish rituals.

The incursion party was led by a man named Moshe Feiglin, who is a Likud Party member, and is the head of the Jewish Leadership Movement – which since 2005 is the largest faction of the Likud Central Committee, that determines party policy.

During the incident, Feiglin and his company were surrounded by a crowd of Palestinians who attempted to stop the worship rituals. The two groups were separated by the police, Feiglin and his companion, as well as three Palestinians were arrested.

Four of those arrested were released by the police on the condition that they not to visit the site for 15 days. Feiglin however, refused to acquiesce to the restraining order and was brought for a hearing at Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court. The judge released him without any conditions.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge said Wednesday that the police should allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. The following day it was reported that another 140 religious Israelis Jews toured the site.

Mounting pressure at the “Temple Mount”

In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon visited the Noble sanctuary, which was the spark that started the second Intifada that last five years and was responsible for the deaths of 5,500 Palestinians and over 1,100 Israelis (Jews and Arabs), as well as 64 foreigners.

The Noble Sanctuary is coming under increasing pressure from Israeli society to open up in order to allow Jews to worship. Each year the number of Jewish people who visit the site is increasing, while the number of Rabbis who support it is also becoming more common, despite a traditional orthodox religious ban.

A recent Haaretz article has said visits to the Temple Mount are becoming “mainstream.” Even the Isreali Education Ministry is encouraging young children to go.

According to one estimate, 15,000 religious Jews will have visited the site this year, up from 9000 last year. Surveys have found that 52 percent of Israeli society is in favour of allowing Jews to worship at the site, with a full 92 percent from the religious public

On August 8, Member of Knesset (MK) Aryeh Eldad of the National Union party introduced a bill into the Knesset that proposed a sharing of the holy site for prayers. MK Ze`ev Elkin from the Likud party has issued similar statements; a call for a change in the legal status of the site which has been in place since 1967.

The bill proposes that Jews be allowed to pray three times per week for Shabbat, as well as holidays including; Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and last days of Sukkot and Passover, Slavuot and Tisha`Av. Muslims would be allowed to continue praying five timers per day, as well as worship on the holidays, Id al-Fitr, Id al Adha, and Ashura.

The same people who call for the sharing prayer times however, also come from the same communality who wants to displace the Muslim holy site.

For example, MK Eldad, recently said, “When the time comes to build the Holy Temple, and that will be soon, we will then cut up the structure which is there now. We will cut it up, and they can take it wherever they want – because that is where the Third Holy Temple should and will stand – speedily in our days!”

There is even a group called the Temple Mount Faithful, composed of no less than ten organizations, who are working together in a concerted effort to gain political legitimacy. Hareetz newspaper reports that Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom was a guest of honour at the latest conference at the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary and many MKs have visited the site, or demonstrated public support for the various mount-related movements.

Temple Mount groups are organizing tours, even preparing the accouterments and vessels to begin the rituals once conducted in the Second Temple thousands of years ago. As the numbers of people who support this claim grow, the politicians who wish to represent them grow also.

Reactions from the Islamic world

Following the latest flare-up, the Islamic leaders from around the world have expressed their indignation.

One of the most prestigious Islamic universities in the world, Al Azhar University in Cairo stated, “Al Azhar closely follows emerging new about the planned collective storming of Al Aqsa mosque by the extremist organization (the Jewish Leadership Movement) – a wing of the ruling Likud party, during the Jewish Sukkot holiday, and under protection of the Israeli police. As such, Al Azhar warns of the consequences of this criminal act which is fueling the fire of sedition and threatens war in the region.”

During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 29, King Abdullah II of Jordan gave a harsh warning to Israeli authorities.

“Let me be absolutely clear: any invasion or division of the site of Al Aqsa Mosque would be viewed not only as a breach of Israel’s obligations, but also a profound transgression,” he said. “The international community must send a clear message that such attempts to erase Arab Muslim and Christian identity of Jerusalem will not be tolerated.”

This front line battle ground at Al Aqsa Mosque seems to be going the way of every other Palestinian territorial challenge, downhill. As the pressure from Israeli society to reclaim this sacred land is growing, there seems little chance that anything can stop this burgeoning wave of Jewish extremism from gradually assuming control of the site, bit by bit.

In the face of the growing pressure from Jewish religious extremism, the Islamic world seems powerless to stop it. The international community remains too apathetic. While the burden falls on the disenfranchised Palestinians to do what little they can to protect the Noble Sanctuary. That is, they can throw stones at police, and get tear gassed in turn.

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