Despite their ferocity, last Friday’s [9 March 2013] clashes in the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa failed to make international headlines. The virtual news black-out was indicative of prevailing attitudes towards Jerusalem as a whole. Palestinian officials argue, and rightly so, that even the Arab media is complicit in this neglect. With every outrage committed in Al-Aqsa Mosque tensions rise to boiling point, evoking memories of September 2000 when Ariel Sharon ignited the second intifada with his provocative incursion into the Mosque compound.
Palestinians’ daily harassment at checkpoints, house demolitions and arbitrary arrests at the hands of Israelis are surely bad enough. However, the willful desecration of religious sites and Al-Aqsa Mosque in particular, is one indignity too many. In recent days Israel has taken its violations to new levels with a spate of incursions into the mosque, ending with the defiling of the Holy Qur’an.
Can things get worse? Many are expecting a dramatic turn of events. According to the Chief Imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Shaikh Ekrima Sabri, “The arrogance of the Israeli occupation and its on-going provocations will ignite the third uprising and no one will be able to stop it.”
For now, the Israelis are hoping that Mahmoud Abbas and his security forces will prevent this from happening. As a pre-emptive measure they have arrested scores of young men across the West Bank. Abbas vows that he will not allow another intifada. In this regard he is consistent, for he was staunchly opposed to the 2000 uprising. Besides, there is also the spectre of what happened to his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, who was blamed for instigating and encouraging the Aqsa Intifada.
There was, however, no justification for last week’s gratuitous violence. There were no attacks on Israelis or their property. The only Palestinian “crime” was that they protested against the defiling of the Qur’an by an Israeli soldier who was filmed kicking the Holy Book days earlier.
Friday’s attack on worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque left scores injured. Israeli soldiers and Special Forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets at worshippers inside the mosque. The obvious conclusion from this is that Israel is determined to raise tensions in the run up to US President Barack Obama’s visit to the country if and when Benjamin Netanyahu can cobble together another coalition government.
The ugly scenes in Islam’s third most sacred mosque were preceded hours before by the desecration of the graves of revered Islamic scholars and sages in Ma’man Allah cemetery. Eighty-five per cent of the cemetery has been seized to build amusement parks, museums and even dog kennels. Two recent developments illustrated the shambolic approach of western politicians and governments to these manifestly criminal acts. The first was a threat from a gutless Canadian government to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it resorts to an international court to seek redress against the Israelis. Canada’s Foreign Minister [John Baird] made the announcement at the annual conference of the largest North American pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC. In Britain, meanwhile, opposition leader Ed Miliband declared himself to be a Zionist and warned in a speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews — the nearest thing to AIPAC on this side of the Atlantic that any thought of a boycott campaign against Israel is unacceptable. In both instances the message to the occupier was clear; carry on with more of the same illegal and unjust behaviour, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you.
UN Resolution 2787 called “upon all states dedicated to the ideals of freedom and peace to give all their political, moral and material assistance to peoples struggling for liberation, self-determination and independence against colonial and alien domination”; what happened to its lofty ideals? Countries like Canada and Britain appear to have abandoned them when the country being questioned is Israel.
On the ground, the coordination and division of roles between Israel’s army, Jewish settlers, the judiciary and the politicians continue unimpeded. The sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has now, to all intents and purposes, been turned into an Israeli military outpost, contradicting the universal right to worship that all humanity is entitled to. Indeed, days after International Women’s Day, Palestinian women were prevented from attending classes in the mosques spread around Al-Aqsa’s courtyards. The silence of those critics of Islam who have a lot to say about Muslim women being oppressed is deafening in the face of the brutality of Israeli soldiers against Palestinian women.
In the absence of any meaningful political negotiations the politicians should tell us how to protect Palestinian rights. All they are doing at the moment is giving Israel time to realise its ambitions at the expense of Muslims.
These despicable acts of sacrilege will continue for as long as Israel enjoys the support of the US and its western allies. Every failure to act is an incentive which emboldens Israel to impose its administrative control over Al-Aqsa Mosque, to determine who enters the sacred site and when they can enter. These unjustified and deliberate attempts to insult and humiliate Muslims can only add to the dangerous climate of regional instability and move it inexorably towards the abyss of religious confrontation.