Thursday 05 October 2023

Why Israel’s provocations at Al-Aqsa Mosque could backfire

Palestinians are today more united in their resistance and awareness of Israel’s designs than ever before. In fact, many of the defenders of Al-Aqsa come from these very communities. If Israel continues with its provocations, it risks another Palestinian revolt like that of last May, which tellingly started in East Jerusalem.

Since April 15, the Israeli occupation army and police have raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem on a daily basis. Under the pretense of providing protection for provocative “visits” by thousands of illegal Israeli Zionist settlers and right-wing fanatics, the Israeli army has wounded hundreds of Palestinians, including journalists, and arrested hundreds more.


Palestinians understand that the ongoing attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound carry deeper political and strategic meanings for Israel than previous raids.


Al-Aqsa has experienced routine raids by Israeli forces under various guises in the past. However, the mosque has acquired additional meaning in recent years, especially following last May’s popular Palestinian fighters, mass protests, clashes and Israel’s war on Gaza, which Palestinians tellingly refer to as Operation Saif Al-Quds (Sword of Jerusalem).


Historically, Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has been at the heart of the popular struggle in Palestine, as well as the center of Israeli policies. Located in the Old City, the sanctuary is considered one of the holiest sites in Islam, as it is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith — the sayings of Prophet Muhammad. The compound contains several historic mosques, including Al-Aqsa, and 17 gates, along with other important Islamic sites.


For Palestinians, the significance of Al-Aqsa has increased due to the Israeli occupation, which has, throughout the years, targeted Palestinian mosques, churches and other holy sites. For example, during the 2014 Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs reported that 203 mosques were damaged by Israeli bombs, with 73 completely destroyed.


Therefore, Palestinian Muslims, as well as Christians, consider Al-Aqsa, the sanctuary and other Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem a red line that must not be crossed by Israel. Generation after generation, they have mobilized to protect the sites, even though sometimes they could not, such as in 1969, when Australian Zionsit extremist Denis Michael Rohan carried out an arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque.


Even the recent raids on the mosque were not confined to the bodily harm and mass arrest of worshippers. On April 15, the second Friday of Ramadan, the mosque’s famous stained-glass windows were shattered and furniture inside was left broken.


Zionist extremists are feeling increasingly empowered by the protection they are receiving from the Israeli military and the blank check provided to them by influential Israeli politicians. Many of the raids on Al-Haram Al-Sharif are led by far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, Likud politician Yehuda Glick and former government minister Uri Ariel.


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is undoubtedly using the raids as a way to keep the often rebellious far right and religious constituency in line. The sudden resignation on April 6 of Idit Silman, a member of the right-wing Yamina party, left Bennett even more desperate in his attempts to breathe life into his fractious coalition. Once a leader of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing the interests of illegal West Bank settlements, Bennett rose to power on the back of religious zealots, whether in Israel or in the Occupied Territories. Losing the support of the settlers could cost him his post.


Bennett’s behavior is consistent with that of previous Israeli leaders, who have escalated violence in Al-Aqsa as a way to distract from their own political woes or to appeal to Israel’s powerful constituency of right wing and religious extremists. In September 2000, Ariel Sharon raided the compound along with thousands of Israeli soldiers, police and like-minded extremists. He did so to provoke a Palestinian response and to topple the government of his arch-enemy, Ehud Barak. Sharon succeeded, but at a high price, as his “visit” unleashed the five-year-long Second Intifada, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada.


In 2017, thousands of Palestinians protested an Israeli attempt to install security cameras at the entrances to the holy shrine. This measure was also an attempt by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appease his right-wing supporters. But the mass protests in Jerusalem and subsequent Palestinian unity forced Israel to cancel its plans.


This time around, however, the Palestinians fear that Israel wants more than mere provocations. It plans to “impose a temporal and spatial division of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” according to Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian Authority’s top representative in East Jerusalem. This particular phrase — “temporal and spatial division” — is used by many Palestinians, as they fear a repeat of the Ibrahimi Mosque scenario.


Following the 1994 killing of 29 worshippers by Zionist extremist Baruch Goldstein and the subsequent fatalities at the hands of the Israeli army at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, Israel partitioned the mosque. It allocated the larger space to Zionist settlers while restricting access to Palestinians, who are only allowed to pray at certain times. This is precisely what Palestinians mean by temporal and spatial division, which has been at the heart of Israel’s strategy for many years.


Bennett, however, must tread carefully. Palestinians are today more united in their resistance and awareness of Israel’s designs than ever before. An important component of this unity is the Palestinian living in the 1948 occupied territories of Israel, who are now championing a similar political discourse to that of the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In fact, many of the defenders of Al-Aqsa come from these very communities. If Israel continues with its provocations, it risks another Palestinian revolt like that of last May, which tellingly started in East Jerusalem.


Appealing to right-wing voters by attacking, humiliating and provoking Palestinians is no longer an easy task, as was often the case. As Sword of Jerusalem has taught us, Palestinians are now capable of responding in a unified fashion and, despite their limited means, even putting pressure on Israel to reverse its policies. Bennett must remember this before carrying out any more violent provocations.

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