Over the past few days, violent scenes of Israeli forces raiding Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem have filled our screens. Soldiers arresting and injuring hundreds of worshippers including elderly men, women and children were an ugly reminder of what this conflict has been about since 1967. Israel is an occupying, repressive force that applies violent and inhumane measures to deal with Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, and their basic right to worship freely.
Thousands of heavily armed army and police soldiers are ready to provide maximum protection for a few Jewish extremists who have false claims over Al-Haram Al-Sharif, home to Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Yet Palestinians are treated with frightening brutality.
Palestinians in Gaza have simply been banned from praying in Al-Aqsa or visiting Jerusalem for over 15 years. Those coming from the West Bank are given a few thousand permits, and have to be over 50. Even after the long, humiliating journey through horror movie-like checkpoints on the way to Jerusalem from the nearby West Bank, Palestinians can still not be sure they will be able to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, as it may be closed at any minute by Israeli forces whether because something happens that they deem a security threat or simply to assert their power.
But the issue is not just one of clashes happening regularly every Ramadan, which in recent years has been coinciding with Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover. Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s narrow coalition government has been collapsing, and he has probably mistakenly calculated that one key to keep his shaky government intact is to please Jewish extremist groups, who have for decades sought to demolish Al-Haram Al-Sharif and rebuild their own temple.
Even before the Al-Aqsa clashes erupted, one right-wing Knesset member had quit the coalition, which thereby lost its narrow 61-59 majority. On Sunday, and under pressure from the Palestinian community living within Israel, the only Islamist party in Bennett’s government announced it was “suspending” its support for his coalition in protest of the brutality of suppressing Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Insisting on allowing Jewish extremists, as well as a lunatic extremist Israeli parliament member, into the Al-Haram Al-Sharif area at this particular time of the year cannot be but a vulgar provocation and a clear attempt to stir violence to help the Israeli government survive. Bennett succeeded Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who prides himself on killing the peace process and ending the two-state solution.
Coming from the right-wing camp himself, the current premier does not want to appear weak in comparison to Netanyahu, especially in the wake of a wave of attacks by Palestinian militants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that killed 14 Israelis. He therefore ordered Israeli occupation forces to use maximum force to suppress clashes at Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
Yet, what is equally dangerous are reports that the right-wing prime minister was considering proposals by extremist coalition members to replicate in East Jerusalem the same illegitimate arrangements that were forced on Palestinians in Hebron. Without any consideration for Palestinian rights, or the fact that Hebron, known in Arabic as Al-Khalil, is an occupied territory captured in 1967, the occupation forces took control of the Ibrahimi Mosque, dividing it among the vast majority of Muslims who reside there, and a few Jewish extremist settlers who claim they have a religious right to pray at the same spot.
From its long experience in occupying East Jerusalem, Israel should know that tampering with the already extremely complicated arrangements in the holy city could cause flareups in the entire Arab and Muslim world. It was a visit by late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Al-Haram Al-Sharif that sparked the second Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, in 2000.
Indeed the world is busy with the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and Israel might be under the illusion that this is a suitable time to impose more oppressive, racist measures on Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Yet it is playing with fire.
Even before the recent confrontations in Al-Haram Al-Sharif, Israeli officials said that the four attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in late March and early April were carried out by “lone wolves,” including three Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship and belong to IS, and the rest infiltrated from Jenin in the West Bank. That should have been enough evidence for Israeli officials of the failure of their campaign of self-deception based on claims that creating a Palestinian state was no longer central to peace in the region, and that Tel Aviv would be able to normalise ties with its Arab neighbours while continuing to occupy Palestine.
However, Israel’s violence against innocent Palestinian worshipers at Al-Aqsa, seen by more than one billion Muslims worldwide, cannot be but a reminder to the whole world of the ugliness of occupation and violation of all basic Palestinian rights. Since it occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has spared no effort to take over the holy city, only to be faced with stiff resistance from Palestinians, Muslims and Christians. This will certainly not change.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.