Trouble at Al-Aqsa

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Wednesday 12 Apr 2023

What was supposed to be a peaceful time of the year in which followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism all celebrate their holiest feasts has turned into a nightmare due to the reckless decisions of the current Israeli government.


Living up to its extremist orientation, that government is intentionally sparking tensions in the region to overcome its own domestic problems.

The horrific, shocking images that surfaced late last week could not be more provocative. They show Israeli soldiers violently storming Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem twice in two days, desecrating the premises and brutally beating up male and female worshipers during the holy month of Ramadan, firing tear gas and stun grenades that threatened to set the entire building on fire. 

Israel’s friends and foes issued strongly worded statements condemning the behaviour of occupation forces. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked and appalled by the images he saw of the violence and beating by Israeli security forces inside the Al-Qibli Mosque in Jerusalem.”

Palestinian resistance groups responded to this flagrant Israeli aggression on one of three holiest sites to one billion Muslims by firing rockets from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. While Israel reacted by firing missiles, the relatively limited response did not please the right wing, extremist ministers in the current Israeli government, who have been calling for more brutal violence against Palestinians, expansion of illegal settlements. Denying the existence of Palestinians as a people in the first place, members of that government have called for “wiping out” their villages.

Leading those extremists is the Israeli Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who called for a harsher response. “Hamas rockets require more than blasting dunes and empty sites. It’s time to rip heads off in Gaza,” he said in a tweet. He also voiced his “complete backing” of the police and their “swift and determined” actions.

Ben-Gvir’s statements came as no surprise, considering his long history of support for Jewish extremists who have committed massacres against Palestinians, or his insistence on violating the sanctity of Al- Aqsa Mosque by personally leading groups of religious extremists to conduct prayers in its vicinity even after taking an official position in the current government.

Such repeated provocations have increased since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office early this year, and are in clear violation of the agreement reached with Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, since the city was occupied in 1967. This agreement calls for preserving the status quo in Al-Aqsa, considering it a Muslim holy site which followers of other religions can visit, but where they should not be allowed to worship.

Aware that the holy month of Ramadan has traditionally been a tense time in Jerusalem due to Israel’s policy of limiting the number of Palestinians allowed to pray at Al-Aqsa, neighbouring Egypt and Jordan, the first two countries to sign peace agreements with Israel, held two rounds of talks in Al-Aqaba with Israeli officials along with senior US diplomats, in order to prevent the current, tense situation from getting out of hand.

Understandings were reached that the Israeli government would not take any measures that would further spark tensions during Ramadan, working to prevent extremists from storming Al-Aqsa Mosque and provoking Palestinian worshippers. Israel also agreed not to expand or build any new illegal settlements in Occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to stop the nearly daily raids of Palestinian towns, killing scores of Palestinians.

Unfortunately, none of these commitments have been respected while Israel continues with its daily aggression and provocation, confirming further that the main priority of the current Israeli government is to stay in office by pleasing extremist ministers who make up a majority of its members. Seeking a new round of confrontation with Palestinians and bordering countries in Lebanon and Syria is yet another playbook tactic by  which consecutive Israeli governments have diverted attention away from their own domestic problems.

After weeks of nearly daily mass demonstrations by Israelis who oppose Netanyahu’s plan to contain the judiciary and give the upper hand to the parliament where he maintains a majority, a clash with Palestinians over Al-Aqsa Mosque could be the perfect way to rally public support.

While the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council held meetings to discuss the dangerous escalation in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon after raids by the Israeli army against Al-Aqsa Mosque, there is a dire need for more concrete action to provide protection for Palestinians and to restrain extremists especially since the end of Ramadan is approaching and thousands of Palestinians are expected to flood the holy sites in Jerusalem to perform prayers ahead of Al-Fitr Feast.

Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock have always been and will remain a red line for all Arabs and Muslims, and the current Israeli government must not be allowed to play with fire. We call for the respect of the basic rights of Palestinians, topped with the right to worship peacefully at one of Islam’s holiest sites. Meanwhile, images of the inhumane beating of worshippers inside the mosque will continue to haunt the whole world, showing them, once again, the real, ugly face of the racist occupation which Palestinians have been suffering for 75 years.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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