By Dr Daud Abdullah, for Al Jazeera English
Director of the Middle East Monitor
In a move that appears to be a celebration of the 16th anniversary of the massacre of 29 worshippers by the terrorist Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli government has proclaimed that the Ibrahimi Mosque in Khalil (Hebron) and Masjid Bilal ibn Rabah (mosque) in Bethlehem are "Jewish Heritage sites".
Goldstein, an American-born Israeli settler who served as a medic in the military, opened fire on worshippers at a mosque in Hebron on February 25, 1994, killing 29 and wounding more than 150, before being subdued and beaten to death.
The announcement by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, though not surprising, is the latest in a series of Israeli attacks on Islamic historical and religious sites in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
It is consistent with the Israelis' long-standing ambition to dispose of all non-Jewish religious symbols and presence in Palestine.
While the Israeli government was announcing the annexation of the Islamic sites, dozens of settlers attempted to storm into Jericho on the pretext that they were visiting an ancient synagogue.
Under the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of May 1994, Israel agreed to dissolve its civil administration and "transferred its powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority".
Palestinian protesters clashed with Israel forces over Tel Aviv's decision to declare the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron a national heritage site for Jews [EPA]
Israel disinterested in peace
In his first reaction to the annexation of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, said: "This proves that Israel is not interested in peace and negotiations."
The question is: when was Israel ever interested in such? When has it ever recognised the rights of the Palestinians? Israel's founding fathers made no secret of the fact that they wanted all of historic Palestine, but without the Palestinians and all that is associated with their history.
Hence, David Ben Gurion recorded in his memoirs, The Revolt: "The partition of the Homeland [Israel] is illegal. It will never be recognised. The signature by institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever."
Everything that has happened in Palestine since 1948, and in Jerusalem and Hebron in particular over the past year, can be explained in the context of this statement.
Those who ignore it, not least the Arab and Muslim leadership, do so at their peril.
That having been said, the timing of these latest provocations against the Ibrahimi Mosque has not gone unnoticed.
The Israeli moves come at a time of huge embarrassment for the European patrons of the Zionist project, who saw their passports, among them diplomatic documents, being used illegally to carry out the murder of a Palestinian figure in Dubai, a "moderate" and thus by definition a friendly country.
In as much as the announcement of the new "heritage sites" coincides with the anniversary of the Goldstein massacre, it has been pointedly described as a crude distraction away from the issue of the criminal responsibility for the Dubai murder and the discomfort it has caused many in Europe.
Observers have rightly noted that while the European Union maintains its proscription of Hamas as a "terrorist organisation", they are yet to produce any evidence that the organisation has carried out a single military operation outside Occupied Palestine.
This is in stark contrast to the Israeli government, which threatens, attacks and occupies the lands of neighbouring countries, and assassinates its opponents in other sovereign nations.
Nevertheless, Israel continues to receive the patronage and support of the European Union.
If nothing else, the Zionists have surely perfected the art of gradualism, taking Palestinian territory inch by inch and brick by brick. Thus, when the Israeli government partitioned the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994 and took two-thirds of it for Jews, it was safe to assume that was not the end of the affair.
While many Palestinians hold the occupation authorities responsible for the escalating tensions and damage to the mosque, they are embittered equally with the Palestinian Authority (PA) for having surrendered the area adjoining the second most important mosque in all of historic Palestine, as part of the "Hebron Protocol" of 1996.
Today, the security agencies loyal to US General Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator between Israel and the Palestinians, and the PA prevent young people living in Hebron from going to the Ibrahimi Mosque to defend it against Jewish settlers.
With the greatest sense of foreboding they point out that today it is the Ibrahimi Mosque but tomorrow it could be Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam, which is under serious threat.
Salih al-Razim, the imam of the Ibrahimi Mosque, recalls that during the last five years the occupation authorities have prevented systematically the call to prayer in the mosque, particularly the daily maghrib (sunset) prayer, and all prayers on Saturdays.
Typically, the occupiers''claim that the mosque was being annexed because it was in a state of disrepair is disingenuous because they themselves have deliberately obstructed more than 90% of maintenance efforts by the mosque authorities. In effect, theirs is only a device to intervene and seize control of the mosque.
Since the Palestinians have maintained the Ibrahimi Mosque for more than one thousand years there is nothing preventing them from doing so today apart from the occupation authorities.
Meanwhile, in April 2009 the same authorities took a huge stone from the Khatouniyah Palace and embedded it in the square in front of the Knesset, claiming that this was a stone from the "Second Temple".
Fakhri Abu Diyab, a member of the Council for the Defence of Real Estate in Silwan, reported that the Israeli operation was monitored and documented even though some of it took place in the early hours of the morning.
Several months later, in late December 2009, the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage reported the theft of archaeological artifacts of historical importance from the Umayyad palaces in Al-Khatouniyah.
The stones in question were transported to the Ma'ale Adumim colony-settlement where some were off-loaded in a dump; other items were taken to warehouses run by the Israeli antiquities department in the Rockefeller Museum, ironically the former Palestine Archaeological Museum.
It is believed that the Islamic relics will be given cosmetic treatment and then reappear, miraculously, as "Jewish" relics. We know this because it's not the first time that this has been done.
Scores of mosques were destroyed across Palestine in 1948 (as reported inter alia in Haaretz on July 6, 2009) and in the succeeding years as part of the deliberate policy to obliterate the Islamic identity of the country. Many were converted into museums, night clubs and restaurants.
The Great Mosque (Jaame'a al-Kabir) in Bir al-Saba'a (Beersheba) was used as a detention centre and subsequently as a court before it was abandoned.
The Afula Mosque was converted into a synagogue and Al-Qaysayrieh Mosque became a restaurant.
None of these acts will give legitimacy to the claims of the Zionist Occupation. The presence of the Palestinian population in Hebron and Jerusalem represent the greatest obstacle to the process of annexation and Judaisation.
This latest outrage could well signal the beginning of a new phase in the conflict – one that has the potential to resonate well beyond Palestine.
This article is also published on Al Jazeera English
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.