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When is visiting Al-Aqsa considered normalisation?

January 29, 2019 at 4:29 am

Palestinian Muslims gather in front of the Dome of the Rock after the mosque reopened in Jerusalem on 14 January 2019 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Some Arabs occasionally engage in visits to the occupied Palestinian territories, with visas issued by the occupation’s embassies. This raises the debate over and over again over whether visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque, while under occupation, is considered normalisation with the occupation or not? Meanwhile, the Arab officials are racing into Tel Aviv’s embrace and are constantly feeding us meaningless claims that they are doing this to serve the Palestinian cause. However, we soon discover that they are only serving Israel and their positions of power.

A few days ago, the media circles across the Arab world were surprised by the fact that an Egyptian journalist living in Istanbul visited the occupied territories and posted his pictures in front of Al-Aqsa Mosque. He claimed that “tranquillity can only be found in God’s homes,” as if the over 82,000 mosques were not God’s homes or not tranquil.

However, I will not engage in a religious debate, but rather in the Egyptian journalist’s political claim that his visit to the occupied Palestinian territories with an Israeli visa issued on his Egyptian passport is not a form of normalisation. I believe that this is the worst form of normalisation with the occupation and the ugliest form of recognition. There are some political determinants that must be taken into consideration when determining if a visit to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered normalisation or not.

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These determinants are as follows:

First: In the case of Palestinians, whether residing at home or abroad, their visit to the Palestinian territories is a special case and is not applied to any other Arabs. In this case, Palestinians are visiting their country, land, and mosque and can do so at any time and under any circumstance. The occupation came to their country by force and the Palestinians’ dealing with the occupation is a matter of force and dealing with the status quo. They are not doing so of their desire and out of recognition of the occupation. Therefore, we may find Palestinians carrying Israeli documents, dealing in the Israeli currency, and obtaining Israeli permits, and none of these actions can be considered normalisation.

Second, citizens of foreign countries, whether of Arab or non-Arab origin, cannot visit the Palestinian territories within the framework of normalisation (such as American, British and Turkish citizens). This is because there are already existing relations between these countries and Israel and there is mutual recognition. Israel is not trying to build relationships with these countries, and there has never been war in the past between Israel and these countries. This means that there has never been a normalisation project put into place. As for the Arab countries, whether they are officials, professionals, or citizens, their visit to Israel is a form of normalisation with the occupation.

Thirdly, visiting the Palestinian territories in the context of participating in an Israeli event or response to an official invitation is considered a form of normalisation, whether the visitor is Arab or a foreigner, and regardless of whether they entered the Palestinian territories with their Arab or foreign passport. Those who accept invitations from the Israeli Foreign Ministry or Israeli research centres, universities, or academies are involved in normalisation with the occupation. It is important to remember that some prestigious international universities and research centres boycott Israel, but we still find Arab academics visiting Israel.

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Fourthly, it is important to remember that normalisation means the integration of Israel into the Arab region and dealing with it as a natural component of our region. This means that the Japanese visiting Israel is meaningless regarding normalisation, while the visit of any Arab citizen carries a lot of significance.

It remains to be said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the first Muslim Qibla, is definitely worth visiting, but those who wish to visit it should work towards its liberation first, and second, before deciding to visit the Holy Mosque, they should think about whether it is serving the nation or serving the occupation. We may find two men praying in the Al-Aqsa Mosque shoulder to shoulder, but the first could be a member of the Murabitoun, stationed to protect the mosque, while the second is a normaliser who handed in his recognition of the occupation papers at the mosque’s entrance before entering.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 28 January 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.