Unlike a prayer: Israel's not-so-silent encroachment on Al-Aqsa

Unlike a prayer: Israel's not-so-silent encroachment on Al-Aqsa
6 min read
13 Oct, 2021
Opinion: The latest escalations by Israel is proof that conflict is not incidental or circumstantial to Zionism; it is integral to its logic and necessary for its functioning, writes Emad Moussa.
View of the Al-Aqsa Mosque across a fence perforated with the Jewish star of David in mount of olives in Jerusalem. [Getty]

On 7 October, and for the first time since 1967, The Israeli-run Jerusalem Magistrate court allowed Jewish settlers to perform silent prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem. Responding to an appeal by Jerusalem police who feared the decision would rekindle violence, the Jerusalem District Court reversed the ruling a day later.

Walla Hebrew news reported that the reversal was also pressured by the US who feared that disturbing the status quo in Jerusalem would lead to escalation.

Rescinding the decision, however, reinstates an unofficial arrangement that over the past few years has allowed Israeli settlers to enter the site but without praying. In other words, it goes back to a situation less explosive, but remains highly controversial and a constant cause for escalation.

Only five months ago did we witness the settlers' incursions leading to widespread violence that snowballed into a full-blown war in Gaza, adding to a long list of bloody clashes the years prior sparked by this very same reason. Thirty-one years ago this month, provocative actions by Jewish settlers at Al-Aqsa Compound led to what became known as Black Monday, where the IDF clashed with Palestinians and killed seventeen of them.

"The avid observer knows that the settlers' violations stem from ideological or Biblical claims to Jerusalem and that they serve Israel’s long-term plans to de-Palestinise the city"

Brushing over all that, the Israeli authorities continue to escalate the situation by either encouraging or turning a blind eye to the settlers' incursions. Defusing the situation, apparently, is only done by restricting Palestinians' access to their holy site, allowing the settlers to roam freely under police protection.

The avid observer knows that the settlers' violations stem from ideological or Biblical claims to Jerusalem and that they serve Israel’s long-term plans to de-Palestinise the city.

Beyond that, however, lays the Israeli need to maintain the state of conflict, not merely to achieve its expansionist goals, but also to justify the essential purpose of Zionism and rationalise Israel's colonial identity today.

Zionism is contextualised as an emancipatory movement for Jews through the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Indeed, primarily from a Western perspective, Israel's history has been viewed as a heroic tale of people rising from the ashes of Nazi death camps and centuries of persecution to establish their own state in 1948.

This heroism was piggybacked on the notion of the "New Jew", one who’s independent and free from persecution. Myth-making and cherry-picking events from ancient Jewish history served to create a linear, organic relationship between ancient Judaism and the modern Zionist project.

At the time, that seemed like an effort to "normalise" the status of the Jews, to make Israel an equal member of the international community within the framework of the global economic and political system.

But by being a colonial project anchored in and justified by a history of trauma and victimisation, Zionism ended up emphasising the "Jewish problem"- Jews as a persecuted European minority - it set out to rectify. In other words, it re-established the mindset of the Jews as a beleaguered community, despite being the superior power.


Zionism's initial mistake was ignoring the native population. In the words of renowned Jewish writer Isaac Deutscher, "The state of Israel has had explosives - the grievances of hundreds of thousands of displaced Arabs - built into its very foundations."

From Herzl to Ben-Gurion and Meir, all the way to Shamir and Netanyahu, it was most convenient to pretend Palestinians did not exist. After all, Zionism marketed Palestine as "a land without people for a people without a land" - a colonial endeavour devoid of guilt.

When the Palestinians began to resist the colonisation of their land, instead of steering an objective reevaluation of the "Palestinian problem," the Zionist leaders saw resistance as a confirmation that, indeed, ha-olam kulo negedeinu (the whole world is against us).

As such, the old prophetic norms that grew up in situations of powerlessness in Jewish history, and which the early Zionists deemed detrimental to the intellectual and psychological progression of the Jewish nation, became the standard in today's Israel - never mind the current state's powerful military and nuclear arsenal.

That made it easy for the Israeli-Jewish public to accept as facts narratives that framed Palestinian acts of dissidence as terrorism directed at Jews qua Jews; Arabs' opposition to the Jewish state as a continuation of Nazism; or criticism of Israel's policies against the Palestinians as anti-Semitism.

With this mentality firmly in place, any actions that physically challenged Israel's belligerent practices only emphasised the nation's siege mentality, as a people who dwell alone, surrounded by enemies and forever threatened. Every military action by the Israeli state, therefore, was justified as self-defence.

Perceived as a nation with exceptional needs and the product of exceptional socio-historical circumstances, Israel becomes elevated above any historical or political analysis, or governed by legal norms. That, among other things, meant obfuscating its colonial, belligerent nature.

The alternative to exceptionalism is a normal country bound by normal moral and legal obligations. It means acknowledging the injustice it inflicted upon the Palestinians and launching a series of political and financial reparations, somewhat similar to those sanctioned against post-World War II Germany by Israel.

But, owning up to its nature as a colonial regime, Israel will be exposed to its negative self, the terrifying fact of being a perpetrator, which would fly in the face of most things that Israel holds dear about her identity.

"By admitting Palestinian victimisation, Israeli Jews also admit they had become their worst nightmare"

By admitting Palestinian victimisation, Israeli Jews also admit they had become their worst nightmare. Or, as Marc Ellis, an outspoken American-Jewish intellectual, said that by ending Auschwitz - a reference to the Jewish history of victimisation - Israeli Jews will be compelled to "think the unthinkable", that the future of the Jewish people is "bound up in an essential solidarity with those whom we [Jews] have displaced, a solidarity with the Palestinian people."

Israeli officials are well aware that provocative actions in Jerusalem will not bring Israel peace or stability. They also are aware that it is unsustainable to not resolve the "Palestinian question" and or resort to temporarily alleviative measures to manage the conflict.

Yet, Israel's leaders continue to take the path of perpetual conflict, because conflict is the only condition that justifies, let alone explains, Israel's current state of affairs.

The alternative is seeing oneself for what it truly is: a victim-turned-victimiser, in contradiction to the moral or historical arguments that the Israeli state and Zionism have long barricaded themselves behind.

Conflict, in other words, is not incidental or circumstantial to Zionism; it is integral to its logic and necessary for its functioning. Without conflict, Zionism becomes meaningless.

Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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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.