'Storming' is exactly what Israeli forces and settlers are doing at al-Aqsa

'Storming' is exactly what Israeli forces and settlers are doing at al-Aqsa
5 min read
10 May, 2022
In attacking and expelling Palestinians from al-Aqsa during Ramadan, Israeli forces and settlers have violated the status quo at the holy site and disrespected the sanctity of the mosque, writes Daoud Kuttab.
Israeli forces respond to hundreds of settlers storming al-Aqsa Mosque, the world's third-holiest site for Muslims, on the occasion of Israel's foundation anniversary, in Jerusalem on May 05, 2022. [Getty]

Ever since the eruption of the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000, which began when Israeli forced killed Palestinians protesting against the provocative visit by Israel’s opposition leader at the time Ariel Sharon to the al-Aqsa mosque compound, a notable shift occurred in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel forcibly removed the Jordanian waqf guard, which has been tasked with managing the compound, from the Mughrabi gate, leaving the gate guarded only by an Israeli police officer.

Since Israel began its ongoing occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, it has severely restricted Palestinians’ access to al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest mosque and a UNESCO recognized world heritage site. Each of the gates providing entry into the compound have two guards: one is an armed Israeli police officer and the other is an unarmed guard of the Islamic waqf council.

Officially, the Jordanian government, which pays the salaries of the one thousand waqf employees in the Old City of Jerusalem, is the custodian and guardian of the Islamic site. This custodianship is part of what is often referred to as the status quo understanding and has been validated in various forms directly and indirectly by all relevant parties.

"Since Israel began its ongoing occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, it has severely restricted Palestinians’ access to al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest mosque and a UNESCO recognized world heritage site"

Therefore, the decision by Israel to break from the status quo and kick out the waqf guard from the Mughrabi gate created a gap in the management of the Islamic holy site. Now, the Israeli government unilaterally decides who is allowed to enter the mosque without getting permission from the site’s managers.

This has meant that those entering the mosque are doing so without coordination with the custodians of the mosque, and those entering from a side gate without any members of the waqf are considered to be trespassing.

Every day, the Islamic Waqf Council issues a statement documenting the number of people who “storm” the holy site, or entered without permission. Israel objects to the term but the definition reflects what is happening, as the owners of the location are objecting to the uninvited guests who have ulterior motives.

Many of the Israeli settlers “storming” al-Aqsa in recent weeks are not your typical tourists wanting to see an important site, but religious zealots who insist that this property is God-given to them some 3,000 years ago and therefore they have a right to pray in a location they say is the remnant of the Jewish temple that was destroyed in 70 AD.

The term storming is defined as “the forceful attack and capture of a building or other place by troops.”

What happened in the early morning hours of April 15th, the second Friday in the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, fits this definition. To prepare the grounds for the uninvited and unwanted visit mandated by a right-wing ideological prime minister, Israeli security forces were ordered to secure the area.

Tear gas, rubber-covered metal bullets, and stun grenades were projected at the Muslim youth gathered inside al-Aqsa mosque, injuring hundreds of Palestinians worshippers. Traditionally crafted windows were shot and destroyed and Palestinians walking around - be they elderly men and women, children, or even people on crutches - were beaten by batons to allow for the Jewish “visitors” to be able to enter, make the rounds, and then exit.

The young Palestinians were defending their mosque. Despite what the Israeli narrative would have you believe, the Palestinians did not attack the Israeli settlers, but defended themselves once the Israeli forces began their attack aimed at “clearing” the area.

Had the Bennet government done what many previous Israeli administrations had done and asked Jewish visitors to postpone their visit until the end of the holy month of Ramadan, they could have avoided the tensions. Any reasonable security official in charge of keeping the peace at a sensitive site would have known that and many in the past have done so.

Perspectives

However, despite condemnation by Jordan, recent remarks by Bennett asserting that decisions regarding al-Aqsa will be made unilaterally in violation of standing agreements promise to further inflame tensions. The current ideological government based on a fragile coalition that has even gotten shakier after the resignation of one of its members appears to have allowed ideology to trump logic and common practice.

Apart from the month of Ramadan, Israeli settlers interested in visiting the world heritage site can easily join other tourists. But at times of religious importance, there are stricter rules.

This happens everywhere. If you wanted to visit St Peter’s Church in Rome on Easter Sunday, you would not be allowed because there is mass going on. Similarly, no visitor would be allowed to visit the Western Wall at the height of the Passover week.

The solution, therefore, is simple and requires a return to the status quo. To have peace, Israel must agree to treat al-Aqsa like any other holy place, allowing visits only during agreed hours for visitation and recognising the sanctity of the site.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist.

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.