Tensions Mount Again at Al-Aqsa

A Third Intifada?

Tension over control of the Haram al Sharif compound of mosques in Jerusalem’s Old City has reached a pitch unseen since clashes at the site sparked the second intifada nine years ago.

Ten days of intermittently bloody clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem culminated yesterday in warnings by Palestinian officials that Israel was “sparking a fire” in the city. Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper similarly wondered whether a third intifada was imminent.

Israel, meanwhile, deployed 20,000 police to safeguard the annual Jerusalem march, which was reported to have attracted a crowd of 70,000 passing through sensitive Palestinian neighbourhoods close to the Old City.

The ostensible cause of friction is Israel’s religious holidays that have brought Jewish worshippers to the Western Wall, located next to the Haram al Sharif and traditionally considered the holiest site in Judaism. The wall is the only remnant of the Jewish temple destroyed by Herod in AD70.

At a deeper level for Palestinians, however, the ease with which Jews can access sites in and around Jerusalem, while the city is off-limits to the vast majority of Palestinians, highlights the extent to which Palestinian control over Jerusalem and its holy places has been eroded by four decades of occupation.

That point was reinforced on Sunday when the gates to the mosque compound were shut by Israeli police, who cited safety concerns for 30,000 Jews praying at the Western Wall for Succot.

Jerusalem’s police chief, Aharon Franco, also incensed Palestinians on Monday by castigating them for being “ungrateful” after Israel had allowed them to pray at Al Aqsa during Ramadan.

In fact, only a small proportion of Palestinians can reach the mosque. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza cannot get past Israel’s separation wall, and the 1.5 million Palestinians in Israel and Jerusalem are finding it harder to pray there. This week police have been allowing only women and Palestinian men with Israeli identification cards showing they are aged at least 50 to enter.

Both the Palestinian Authority and Jordan issued statements this week warning that Jewish groups, including extremists who want to blow up the mosques, should be prevented from entering the Haram.

It was in this context that the leader of the Islamic Movement inside Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, called on Israel’s Palestinian citizens to “shield the [Al Aqsa] mosque with their bodies”.

Concerned that most Palestnians can no longer access the mosques, Salah has taken it on himself to campaign against Israeli moves under the banner “Al-Aqsa is in danger”, urging Israel’s Palestinian minority to protect the mosques by increasing their visits and ensuring a strong Islamic presence at the site.

In a further provocation by Israel yesterday, Salah was arrested on suspicion of incitement and sedition. A judge released him a few hours later but only on condition that he stay away from Jerusalem.

Palestinian concerns about Israeli intentions towards the Haram are not without foundation. Israel’s religious and secular leaders have been staking an ever-stronger claim to sovereignty over the compound since the occupation began, despite an original agreement to leave control with Islamic authorities.

On the ground that has been reflected in Israel’s efforts to reshape the geography of the city.

It began with the hasty razing of a Muslim neighbourhood next to the Western Wall that was home to 1,000 Palestinians. In place of the homes a huge prayer plaza was created.

Next a ring of Jewish settlements were built separating East Jerusalem from the West Bank, and more recently Jewish extremists have been taking over Palestinian neighbourhoods just outside the Old City, such as Sheikh Jarrah, Ras al-Amud and Silwan.

With official backing, Jewish settlers have also been confiscating and buying Palestinian homes in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, including next to the mosques, to establish armed encampments.

They have also been assisted by Israeli archeologists in digging extensively under the quarter. Tensions over the excavations escalated dramatically in 1996 when Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister then as now, approved the opening of the Western Wall tunnels under the mosques. In the ensuing violence, at least 70 Palestinians were killed.

In addition, Israeli officials and rabbis have been redefining the significance in Jewish religious thought of the compound, or Temple Mount as it is known to Jews.

The rabbinical consensus since the Middle Ages has been that Jews are forbidden from entering the compound for fear of desecrating the site of the temple’s inner sanctum, whose location is unknown. Instead religious Jews are supposed to venerate the site but not to visit it or seek to possess it in any way.

That view has been shifting since a wave of religious nationalism was unleashed by the seemingly miraculous nature of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day war. As the Israeli army captured the Old City in 1967, for example, its chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, rushed to the Haram to read from the Bible and blow a ram’s horn, as the ancient temple priests had once done.

At the Camp David talks with the Palestinians in 2000, Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister at the time, demanded – against all Jewish teachings – that the whole compound be declared the “Holy of Holies”, a status reserved for the temple’s inner sanctum. His adviser Moshe Amirav said Barak had used this precondition to “blow up” the negotiations.

The Camp David failure led to an explosion of violence at the Haram al-Sharif a few months later that triggered the second intifada.

Islamic sovereignty was challenged again in 2003 when Israeli police unilaterally decided to open the compound to non-Muslims. In practice, this has given messianic cults, who want the mosques destroyed to make way for a third temple, access under police protection.

It was precisely rumours that Jewish extremists had entered the compound on the eve of Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur, that provided the spark for the latest round of clashes.

It is reported that a growing number of settler rabbis want the injunction against Jews praying at the compound lifted, adding to Palestinian fears that Israeli officials, rabbis, settlers and fundamentalists are conspiring to engineer a final takeover of the Haram al Sharif.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 7th, 2009 at 4:53pm #

    The extremity of Israeli religio-fascist mania seems to be growing daily. Plainly a psychopathological sickness like Zionazism tends to exacerbate its malignant features over time, as a process of unnatural selection advantages the worst and sidelines the better. As emigration from Israel of Jews not wishing to live in a state run by fanatic Rabbis and a military/political elite increasing dominated by demented and evil zealots with no compunctions in killing children and other innocents, grows, the tendency to barbaric violence and extreme racial supremacism grows. Netanyahu, in my opinion, has plainly grown more vicious, more deranged over the years, and he is supported by secular fascists like Avigdor Lieberman, and religious mafiosi like Shas, whose operations are financed by gangs of criminal orthodox ‘Rabbis’ in the US, who specialise in activities like extracting donor organs from Moldovan peasants at gunpoint.
    As Israel represents a unique situation in history, where one tiny country, and the tribe it supposedly represents, a mere 0.5% or so of humanity, through its unprecedented money power that has entirely corrupted the politics of the Western powers, totally dominates Western media, politics and opinion, it is of paramount importance that that country behave in as rational a manner as possible. Instead we see an increasing belligerence and bellicosity, apparently unbounded aggressiveness and total lack of scruple or pity in inflicting death and destruction on the imprisoned Palestinians, and, through total dominance of the Western mainstream media, an increasingly hysterical assault on all opinion, and all those that hold it, not absolutely subservient, grovellingly so, to the world’s most dangerous and vicious rogue state.
    Israel stands today not just as the brutal colonial, settler apartheid state, but as a cancer that is spreading death and destruction throughout the Middle East, through its puppet hyperpower and its totally compliant political caste, bought and sold to a man by Judaic money power. Its ruling elites are amongst the most brutal, bloodthirsty racists anywhere, and a perverted religious fundamentalism, that proudly proclaims that killing civilians is a good deed or mitzvah, and that holds goy souls as closer to those of animals than those of Jews, provides a state ideology at least as noxious as Nazism. So where does it end? Apparently in the destruction of Iran, at least. These machinations over al-Aqsa are, I believe, clearly partly yet another provocation against Islam, underlining the fact that the Israeli ruling pathocracy are bent, Hell-bent, on provoking a religious world war, partly that favourite Israeli sport, spitting in the Palestinian face then killing a few when they are provoked, accompanied by ritual denunciations opf ‘terrorwism’, and probably an attempt to concoct a further casus belli for war on Iran. If Iran reacts strongly to any Israeli provocation over al-Aqsa, Israel can rely on the human refuse of the Rightwing Western media to then join in further demonisation of Iran, before the bombs start falling. It does all seem to be inexorably leading to an attack some time early next year, February 28th my bet, for perverted religious reasons.. God help us all.

  2. mary said on October 8th, 2009 at 3:13am #

    Perhaps the supporters of ‘the gallant little state’ on this website would care to read about the loss of limbs, the loss of their loved ones and the loss of their homes as recounted here by Wafa, Hala, Majeda and Raya and others:-

    In conjunction with the presentation of the UN Fact Finding Mission’s report to the Human Rights Council on 29 September, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) release “Through Women’s Eyes: A PCHR Report on the Gender-Specific Impact and Consequences of Operation Cast Lead”.

    The Israeli offensive claimed the lives of 118 women, and injured at least 825 more. However, although the numbers of victims and casualties illustrate the appalling human toll of this conflict, the true extent of the suffering lies in the day-to-day reality of life in the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead, as civilians struggle to rebuild their lives, come to terms with their loss, and restore some semblance of human dignity.

    PCHR has released ‘Through Women’s Eyes’ in order to highlight the gender-specific impact of Operation Cast Lead and the illegal Israeli closure.


  3. mary said on October 8th, 2009 at 1:50pm #

    Loud and clear from Lieberman – Peace is an illusion. So now we know, if we didn’t know before, that they are all playing a game of Charades.

    Thursday, 8 October 2009 13:48 UK

    Peace an illusion, says Israel FM

    Dropping comprehensive peace moves would suit Israel’s plans for Jerusalem.

    Israel’s foreign minister has said there is no chance of an early solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and told people to “learn to live with it”.

    Avigdor Lieberman does not lead Israeli peace negotiations, but his statement casts a pall over latest US diplomatic efforts to revive negotiations.

    Envoy George Mitchell is in the region, spearheading Obama administration efforts to relaunch negotiations.

    Talks are stalled over the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied land.

    Mr Mitchell is due to meet Mr Lieberman and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

    Reports quote US officials saying the visit was unlikely to conclude with a resumption of talks. …

  4. MEBOSA RITCHIE said on October 8th, 2009 at 2:34pm #

    thanks mary
    your great endeavour saves us reading anything
    can you please copy/paste the bible for us

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 9th, 2009 at 1:22am #

    mary, Lieberman is just telling the truth. Most of these Russian ‘Jews’ are as Jewish as I, and forget the rules of the game. Never tell the goyim the truth. Peace was never on the Zionazi agenda, not since the days of Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky. All the Palestinian ‘two-legged animals’ will get is the butt of a rifle in the face, or white phosphorus sprayed over their children. Under Labor, the Israelis played the lying game, the stalling for time as the colonies were built and expanded game, with enthusiasm, but Sharon, and the wanna-be Sharon, Netanyahu (he’s even fattening up for the role) get their jollies from spitting in the goy face, particularly House Negro Obama, whose abject humiliation Netanyahu seems to be really enjoying.

  6. b99 said on October 9th, 2009 at 5:54am #

    Israel allows the tunnels to exist because it’s the only way Gazans can survive the siege by Israel – otherwise, it would be glaringly obvious to the world that Gaza is an Israeli operated Death Camp. Punishing the Gentiles for their crimes in central Europe.

  7. kalidas said on October 9th, 2009 at 1:30pm #

    Well then, it must be doubly tough to be a Russian..

  8. mary said on October 10th, 2009 at 2:36pm #

    MR will enjoy reading these two reports six days apart. Imagine the terror – you are below ground in the heat in a dangerous fragile tunnel and everything collapses as the bombs explode.

    Gaza Tunnels Bombed in Night Time Raid
    Saturday, 03 October 2009 14:38

    In yet another night-time raid, Israeli fighter jets have attacked several targets across the Gaza Strip.

    A building on the outskirts of Gaza City as well as two cross-border tunnels – also known as “Gaza’s feeding tubes” – along Rafah were hit in the pre-dawn attack.

    The tunnels – linking the south of the impoverished enclave to Egypt, have served as conduits for vital supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip- and are frequently attacked by Israeli and Egyptian security forces.
    Published yesterday (updated) 10/10/2009 09:03 Gazans carry wounded workers out of a collapsed tunnel [MaanImages Archive]Gaza – Ma’an – Five Gazans were injured while working inside the tunnels between Rafah and Egypt on Friday morning, medical sources confirmed.

    Officials at Abu Yousef An-Najjar Hospital in Khan Younis said two workers suffered electrical shocks and three others were injured when a tunnel collapsed. One of the youth lost a finger, they said.

    Israeli forces dropped three bombs in the Gaza tunnel region on Friday morning. Locals say the impact of the strikes destabilizes the already fragile tunnels, which provide goods as diverse as cars and food basics to a besieged Palestinian population in the locked down Gaza Strip.