Israel’s tampering with Al-Aqsa status is a recipe for disaster
The third holiest Muslim site, Al-Aqsa Mosque, or Al-Haram Al-Sharif, has become a dangerous flashpoint that could ignite the entire region. The shocking events of last week, when Israeli soldiers stormed the holy site, beating worshippers and causing serious damage to the main building, is an assault on a Muslim place of worship that is under the custody of Jordan. Nothing can justify the barbaric Israeli action, which was repeated over a number of days during the month of Ramadan.
For years now successive Israeli governments have been caving in to the demands of Jewish extremists to alter the historic status of Al-Aqsa Mosque — allowing Jews to pray and perform Talmudic rituals at the compound.
But what is even more dangerous is that prominent Israeli politicians are now talking openly about dividing the Muslim mosque so that Jews can pray inside the Haram at set times — thus turning the place into a synagogue. Some scholars have called the incremental extension of Israeli sovereignty over Al-Aqsa compound — what Jews call the Temple Mount — as the “Hebronization” of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, in reference to what took place at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1972.
So far Israel has succeeded in what is called the temporal division of Al-Aqsa, where Jewish pilgrims are allowed to enter the compound under police protection almost every day at set hours. Despite Arab, Muslim and international denunciations such provocative visits have been increasing with Jewish extremists performing Talmudic rituals while carrying posters of the third temple replacing Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Now the likes of Jewish extremist and minister in the current Israeli government, Itamar Ben-Gvir, want to have access to the mosque itself to enforce a de facto spatial division. It is no secret that some ultra-religious groups openly call for the destruction of the mosque.
The mosque came under Israeli attack soon after the fall of East Jerusalem in 1967.
In August, 1969 an Australian zealot set fire to the historic pulpit at the main prayer hall of the mosque. Attempts to do harm to the mosque and to worshippers continued over the following years. Israel has frequently blocked Jordanian plans to do essential renovation work at the site. The waqf personnel, including officials, guards and ushers, have been harassed by Israeli police on a regular basis. But the most serious attempt to impose a new reality at the compound took place in September 2000 when Ariel Sharon, as leader of the Likud party, broke with protocol and visited the site under heavy police protection.
That provocative tour of the site triggered riots across the West Bank, leading to the eruption of the second Palestinian Intifada. Under Benjamin Netanyahu, breaches of Al-Aqsa compound became more regular and on a number of occasions, tensions with Jordan mounted over unilateral steps that successive Likud governments, all under Netanyahu, tried to impose at the compound.
In 2014 and under US pressure, Netanyahu recommitted to the historical status quo arrangement on Al-Aqsa with Jordan. The status quo, which goes back to the mid-19th century, has been respected by successive administrators of Palestine since.
The arrangement recognizes the compound and all that it entails as an exclusive Muslim site. Accordingly, Al-Aqsa’s administration belongs to a Muslim institution, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which is under the custodianship of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Israel is mixing politics with religion — a lethal cocktail that is undermining freedom of worship in Jerusalem, not only for Muslims but for Christians as well.
In 1878, Jerusalem’s Status Quo arrangement was internationally recognized in the Treaty of Berlin, which was signed between European powers and the Ottoman Empire.
Interestingly, an ad hoc commission established under the British mandate in 1929 determined that the Buraq wall, what Jews call the Wailing Wall, forms an integral part of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and is therefore a Muslim property.
Even as recently as this Monday, Netanyahu continued to argue that Israel will not change the historical status quo, but his government’s actions say otherwise.
There is no legal or historical claim to the 1440-dunum compound by Israel. Every country in the world recognizes the Hashemite custodianship of Al-Aqsa. It is important to note that Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, are illegal under international law.
Still Israel is mixing politics with religion — a lethal cocktail that is undermining freedom of worship in Jerusalem, not only for Muslims but for Christians as well. So far Israel has broken all pledges to keep the peace and allow Muslims to worship peacefully at Al-Aqsa.
Unless it receives a serious warning from the US, which is the only country that may still have some influence over Israel, the current path will certainly lead to a bloodbath.
Allowing a dangerous far-right government to tamper with the religious beliefs of millions of people in such a reckless manner is a crime. Allowing Jewish ultra-religious zealots to escalate the situation is a recipe for disaster.
- Osama Al-Sharif