Wednesday 06 December 2023

Al-Aqsa Mosque still burns
in the flames of apartheid

Wafa Aludaini


54 years have passed since the criminal arson of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, yet the famed religious site is still engulfed by the flames of Judaization and apartheid. On August 21, 1969, Australian Zionist Michael Dennis Rohan carried out a politically motivated arson attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque within Jerusalem’s Haram Al-Sharif compound. The blaze damaged part of the old wooden roof and a 900-year-old pulpit, a gift from the Islamic conqueror Salahudin al-Ayyubi. Mosaic panels on the walls and ceilings were also destroyed by the fire. The aggressor, who was brought by the Jewish Agency to work in Israel, was arrested two days after the attack. The court found him not guilty by reason of mental illness, and was later deported to Australia.


In the years since this crime, the Zionist Jewish hostility towards Al-Aqsa Mosque has continually grown. Al-Aqsa has been the flashpoint site for several assaults since Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the focus of a political movement seeking to Judaize the compound and distort the Muslim history of the site. Daily incursions by extremist Jewish groups at Al-Aqsa Mosque have seen a marked increase in participants. Meanwhile, Palestinian Muslims are regularly barred from visiting their holy place and praying, a mark of the increasingly sinister environment under Israel’s current far-right fascist government. Knesset Members and ministers in the current government have extensively expressed their official support for the extremist groups who invade Al-Aqsa compound and provoke Palestinian worshipers, and have even participated in or led the incursions on the compound, violating long-standing governing policies at the Mosque. In May, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, invaded Al-Aqsa compound, where he told reporters, "We are the owners of Jerusalem and the entire Land of Israel." Recently, settlers have intentionally violated the policies at Haram Al-Sharif by performing prayers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. These ongoing violations risk shifting the site’s status quo, under which the Islamic Waqf is responsible for administration of the Mosque with the Israeli occupation responsible for external security, which has been the established status of the compound since Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in 1967. Under the current policies, non-Muslims are allowed into the site during visiting hours, but not permitted to pray.


One significant threat to the building itself is the prevention of restoration work on the Mosque by the Israeli occupation government, which occurs simultaneously with ongoing archaeological excavations undertaken by the occupation underneath and surrounding the Mosque. These excavations threaten the very infrastructure of the temple compound, while the inability to restore the existing structure increases the likelihood of future building collapse. Bassam Al-Hallaq, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque's Restoration Department, says that the obstacles placed by the occupation in the face of the restoration work are causing severe damage to the facilities and chapels of Al-Aqsa Mosque, as every restoration or maintenance operation, no matter how small, needs approval from the occupation police. Since 2000, the occupation authorities have restricted any restoration work inside the compound, and as of a few years ago, all restorative projects have been suspended by the Israeli police.


A further looming threat overshadowing Al-Aqsa’s existence is the recent talk among Israeli settlers about the commencement of building a Jewish Temple in the area of the Dome of the Rock within the Al-Aqsa compound. According to a recent report by Israeli Channel 12 released on July 29, 2023, the Israeli government attempted to acquire five red heifers, aimed at Judaizing the Al-Aqsa Mosque.


The report detailed how settler groups, in coordination with the Israeli government, sought to purchase five red heifers from the United States. The report further indicated that the current government is funding the Red Heifer Project, and that four of these heifers were brought in on a private plane and recipients are awaiting the arrival of the fifth. According to the Israeli settlers’ belief, if these heifers remain 100% red and without any disqualifying blemishes, then they are eligible to be burned to spread their ashes, an alleged ritual the settlers consider as part of carrying out their Temple construction plans.


The occupation's attempts to change the historic status of Jerusalem (Al-Quds) and the Judaization of it are manifold, yet all of these plots are continuously undermined by the defiance of Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem (Al-Quds), who remain steadfast in the face of the occupation’s crimes.



- Wafa Aludaini is a Gaza-based journalist and activist. She contributed this article to the Palestinian Information Center.

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