There is something ominous about the current wave of attacks on Christian and Muslim religious sites in and around Jerusalem. The pro-Israel media asserts that these attacks are the handiwork of an extremist fringe. This is not the case. They are part of a determined policy carried out by, for and with the approval of the Israeli government, under army and police protection.
While Israel's occupation authorities, as a matter of routine, obstruct Palestinians from worshipping in Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred in Islam, they allow illegal Jewish settlers to enter in order "to perform religious rites". No right-thinking mind would accept this parody. And yet, last Friday, for the first time since the occupation began in 1967, soldiers were stationed on the rooftop of the main prayer area of Al-Aqsa (in the area of the silver dome).
It does not take much to figure out that if Al-Aqsa Mosque had any value to these Jews, they would never commit acts of profanity and indecency therein. If they really had any religious affinity to the Noble Sanctuary, they would show due reverence and respect. Instead, they think that having military might and the power to deface and destroy the mosque gives them ownership rights; it doesn't. Nothing alters the fact that Al-Aqsa and it's environs belong to the Muslims, including the so-called "Wailing Wall", whose ownership was determined by a British Mandate inquiry before Israel was created in Palestine. Similarly, the discussions currently taking place in the Knesset to ban the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) in Jerusalem and Israel will not change anything, other than illustrate further the increasingly racist and extremist nature of the Israeli state.
As distressing as the current situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque may be, it is not unique. Similar acts of desecration are perpetrated daily against Christian and Muslim religious sites throughout historic Palestine. This week saw the defilement of the Baptist church in Jerusalem where insulting remarks against Mary, the mother of Jesus, were scrawled on its walls. The fate of Al-Hamra Mosque in Safad and Al-Mujadalah Mosque in Akka are other examples. Such is the rule of law and religious freedom in democratic Israel – 'the light unto nations'.
The timing of this escalation is not without significance. It comes amid growing international concern with the situation in Syria. The Netanyahu government has decided to seize the opportunity to complete the Judaisation of occupied Jerusalem. Despite several Security Council resolutions (476 and 478) declaring its 1980 Basic Law 'null and void', the Israeli parliament recently started discussions to amend the law to make Jerusalem the capital of all Jewish people wherever they be. Al-Aqsa Mosque, however, remains a major obstacle toward this symbolic objective. It has always been the heart of the holy city of Jerusalem. Netanyahu and his extremist coalition government hopes that by provoking confrontation and creating disorder, it will have a pretext to impose order and a division of the mosque, as Israel has done over the years at the Mosque of Abraham in Hebron, and restrict access even further for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligations and worship.
As is usually the case, Israel's Western allies, Britain included, remain in thrall to the pro-Israel Lobby and indifferent to its outrages. Eight months ago, the Cameron government prevented Sheikh Raed Salah from completing a speaking tour in the United Kingdom on the pretext that the issue of Al-Aqsa was 'sensitive' and Salah's discourse was likely to create community tensions. When challenged in court, the Home Secretary claimed that Mr. Salah's warnings about Israel's ulterior motives towards Al-Aqsa Mosque were untrue. After this week's public calls by Jewish settlers' leaders for material help to destroy the mosque, it would be interesting to hear what Theresa May has to say now.
Putting aside the motives, it is now evident that the future of Al-Aqsa Mosque has become one of the central issues of the conflict in Palestine. For decades, Israelis asserted there was no religious dimension to the conflict in the Holy Land; that it is only about politics. By attacking Al-Aqsa Mosque in the manner that they have, the Israelis have committed a fateful blunder from which they will emerge the losers. There is only one Al-Aqsa. It may be in Palestine but it does not belong to the Palestinians. Nor does it not belong to the 300 million Arabs. It is the sanctuary of 1.4 billion Muslims the world over.
Thus, when a Palestinian leader delivers a Friday sermon in Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, as Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh did this week, and women stand side-by-side with their menfolk at the doors of Al-Aqsa to defend it's sanctity, it means that something fundamental has changed in the dynamics of the conflict. The troika masquerading as a democratic government in Israel, led by the triad of Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak, may continue to deny this but it is only a matter of time before they realise the folly of their racist policies and see the inevitably devastating results. Israel has indeed committed a fateful blunder.