On 4 March, the newly formed Israeli Blue and White party’s leaders, Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, declared that Israel will not pull out from the occupied Golan Heights. Gantz, the party head, said they would increase settlements and double the population. Their reason; they will not hand the area over to Bashar Al-Assad, a brutal dictator who massacre his own people.
The West Bank and Golan Heights are, on paper, occupied territories, but on the ground the status quo has long been change with US approval and EU silence, contrary to UN resolutions.
The Jerusalem Post reported that during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first visit to Washington in 2017, he asked the American administration of Donald Trump to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. The Americans said: “To quiet the lobby campaign. The US Congress will approve the Israeli desire to legalise the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights.” Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, made the Israelis demands more land and territories.
Yet, it seems that many do not really grasp that Jerusalem plays a pivotal part in the conscious of the people. It is not related only to spiritual beliefs, but also affects the way people see the world and governs their priorities, their reactions and feelings. Religious symbols, the sanctuaries in particular, are at the heart of this concept. The three religious places are Makkah, Medina and Jerusalem.
Although many Israeli rabbis insist that it is a sin for a Jew to enter what they call the “Temple Mount” time and again, Netanyahu through direct government intervention or by overlooking Jewish settler groups’ aggression, encourages them enter Al-Aqsa Mosque to create a new status quo, or at least to turn it into a “disputed place”, which eventually ends by giving Israelis part of the holy site.
Thousands of these settlers desecrate Al-Aqsa on a daily basis, amid protests from Muslim worshippers. Many a time, this situation escalated religious prejudice and led to bloody confrontations where people from the two sides lost their lives. According to international agreements, Al-Aqsa is under Jordanian custodianship, but on the ground Israel posts its forces in its courtyards and stop Muslims from entering it for prayers or close it completely.
In June 2017, Israeli authorities installed metal detectors at the Lion’s Gate (Bab Al-Asbat Gate) of Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is, as mentioned earlier, under Jordanian custodianship and part of East Jerusalem, which is considered occupied. This led to wide-spread protests by Muslims both in the occupied territories and around the world.
In 2003, Israeli authorities sealed Bab Al-Rahma Gate under the pretext that it was used by a terrorist organisation and prevented Muslims using it. Lately, following reports that Jewish settlers were turning the place into a synagogue, Muslims broke the locks and reclaimed the area, which is legally not under Israeli jurisdiction. Thousands of Muslims gathered to stress the identity of the holy site and offered congregation prayers there.
Israeli authorities banned many Muslim religious and community leaders from entering the area and took the issue to the Israeli occupation court. The court, as was expected, order the closure of the gate. The Palestinian Authority and Jordan declared that Israel has no jurisdiction over the area, and its procedures are null, according international law and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Things are simmering and at any time we could witness another series of reactions from Palestinians, that Netanyahu, will most probably use in his election campaign.
Israel, under Netanyahu, has gone through a deep change from a secular state based on religious myths, to a full fledge, religious one. The religious right-wing members are present in all Israeli institutions, including the judiciary, the army and the police. He did not restrict his mission to Israel, Netanyahu has pursued a campaign to demonise Islam and worked on spreading the notion of Islamophobia; a form of xenophobia. He presents himself an expert on terrorism, which is strictly related to Muslims, in his rhetoric. He knows that his merchandise will sell if right-wing governments are in power so he supports the formation of right-wing governments around the world.
By awakening religious prejudices and dividing the world on new fault lines, Netanyahu is opening Pandora’s box and will endanger the whole of humanity by igniting global religious wars. If he succeeds and this situation materialises, then it will hinder all kinds of relations including economic ties, returning world politics to the Middle Ages.
The coalition of Evangelicals, religious Zionists and despotic regimes ruling the Muslim world make an explosive formula that represents a real danger to world freedom and modern values, snatched from the jaws of religious authorities that ruled Europe and the world in the Middle Ages. Let us hope that the world will set itself free from all this tyranny soon.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.