Despite a news blackout, events on the ground confirm that the battle for Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque has entered a new and dangerous phase. In the past, officials on both sides of the divide claimed that Palestine-Israel was just a “political dispute”; religious persuasion, they insisted, was not an important factor. This is no longer the case; religious heritage and rights now dominate the discourse and are shaping the course of events.
When thousands of Jews converged on occupied Jerusalem last weekend to mark what they believed to be the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the message was abundantly clear. Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister Eli Dahan confirmed their intention: “We are here to announce that we’ve returned to Jerusalem and that we’re preparing our hearts to return to the Temple Mount and rebuild the Temple.” As a warning, he added, “We’re not ashamed of this: we want to build the Third Temple on the Temple Mount.” The “Temple Mount”, of course, is the site of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, home to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the world famous Dome of the Rock Mosque; it is Islam’s third holiest site.
Dahan’s remarks were not the rant of a lunatic fringe. They were a reflection of the prevailing view within the Israeli political establishment; that the Temple is central to the Jewish people without which they cannot exist. To them, Al-Aqsa Mosque is an inconvenient obstacle in the way of their enterprise.
The late Meir Kahane, who founded and led the terrorist Kach movement, claimed that Israel’s biggest mistake was that it did not destroy Al-Aqsa in 1967 when Jerusalem was occupied during the Six-Day War. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the issue is now simply one of unfinished business.
The Arab League has no illusions about the far-reaching consequences if any harm should come to Al-Aqsa Mosque. Its Deputy Secretary General, Ahmad Bin Hilli, has warned that Israel’s illegal activities in Jerusalem will only lead to more tensions and clashes, and open the doors for a religious conflict the outcome of which no one will be able to control or determine.
Until now, weekly ritual condemnations by the League, the Palestinian Authority and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have failed to deter the Israelis from their brinkmanship. Moreover, why should they, when senior officials from Arab countries, past and present, have accepted Israeli invitations to be fêted in occupied Jerusalem. Anyone can see that the current Israeli threats and desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque are a natural consequence of such Arab appeasement.
Clearly encouraged by these public visits, Israel’s Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Ze’ev Elkin, felt confident enough to dismiss recent concerns by Jordan’s King Abdullah as empty words expressed only for public consumption. According to the 1994 Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel, the latter agreed to respect Jordan’s special historic role in the custodianship of Al-Aqsa. Hence, King Abdullah’s reaffirmation this week that, “Al-Aqsa Mosque is Islamic and there will be no partition or sharing [of it].”
It goes without saying that the situation in Jerusalem requires an official and popular response that matches the gravity of the threat. However, the problem with the Jordanian and like-minded Arab authorities is that they want to have normal relations with Israel and yet reject the occupation. They can’t have it both ways, though, and to make matters worse, they have recklessly disregarded the will of their citizens on these matters. The people of the region, meanwhile, have already made their feelings abundantly clear; there must be no normalisation with Israel on any level until the occupation is ended and Palestinian rights are restored. In Jordan, parliament has voted on several occasions to abrogate the Wadi Araba (Peace Treaty) only to be overruled by the royal prerogative.
When the next conflagration starts – as it inevitably will if things continue as they are – there are others who must share the blame. The Western governments who turn a blind eye to the activities of the so-called charities and philanthropists who fund Israeli settler networks are equally culpable. As such, the West cannot be serious about preventing young Muslims drifting towards extremism while its governments tacitly endorse the daily outrages committed by illegal settlers in Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Given that the ongoing Israeli assaults on the sacred mosque are clear breaches of international law, the least that the Western democracies can do is shut down the charities that fund the occupation, as they do with Muslim charities accused of funding “terrorism”. Extremism and terrorism have no colour, race or creed and so collective efforts to prevent them should be blind to superficial differences.
It took five years to quell the intifada that erupted after Ariel Sharon’s provocative foray into the Noble Sanctuary in 2000. Until and unless the world makes a serious effort to curb Israeli extremism of all kinds, and end its brutal military occupation of Palestine, it will take much longer to deal with the consequences of damage done to Al Aqsa Mosque by Jewish fanatics.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.