Why Israel wants a religious war over Al-Aqsa – Al Jazeera English
Much of the media coverage of recent raids and protests by Israeli police and settlers at Al-Aqsa Mosque have focused on the “exclusive Muslim control” over the compound in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem, and Palestinian fears of the demand by Jewish settlers to “divide it”. Lost in the religious warfare narrative is the colonial impulse governing both Israeli actions and Palestinian reactions. Where does the struggle for Al-Aqsa fit within the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Four leading Palestinian figures give their take on the latest round of Israeli violence at Al-Aqsa.
Salman Abu Sitta: founder and president of Palestine Land Society
The escalating Israeli attempts to take over the Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem is a sign of Israeli boldness to complete the occupation of all Palestine. It is also a sign of Israeli realisation that neither Palestinians nor Arabs have a determined leadership to defend Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim rights.
This is a time of Israeli fanatic extremism at its height and the Arab defence at its lowest ebb.
At its origins, Zionism was a pure colonial project to serve the interests of wealthy European Jews who had financed European colonialism in the 19th century. It was a secular movement which used religion at later stages to recruit simple followers.
In his only visit to Jerusalem in 1898, [Theodor] Herzl found in Jerusalem a miserable Jewish community, full of superstition and fanaticism, and preferred to build his intended capital in Galilee.
Leading Zionists have expounded the priority of their aims clearly: to acquire land and bring Jews to colonise it. The Zionist programme was a gradual takeover of Palestine.
It is the same today. But history and international law go against Zionist schemes.
In July 1924, the British Mandate of Palestine, in spite of its bias towards Zionism, promulgated an order-in-council that guaranteed the status quo of religious sites and practises, which existed many centuries before.
When Jewish fanatics broke the law and attacked the Buraq Wall (Western Wall) in 1929, an international committee was convened to investigate the situation; it determined that the Buraq Wall is an absolute Muslim property and Jews are only allowed to pray there “as per custom”, provided they do not install any permanent structures.
The famous United Nations resolution 194 of December 1948, calling for the return of refugees, states that “the holy places, religious buildings, and sites in Palestine should be protected and free access to them assured, in accordance with existing rights and historical practise”.
The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict states that “the high contracting parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against cultural property. They shall refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another high contracting party; and, they shall refrain from any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property”.
But Israel violates all these laws.
After the Israeli destruction of the 800-year-old Moroccan Quarter in June 1967, Jews wanted to take the Noble Sanctuary. The burning of Saladin’s minbar in August 1969, the slaughter of worshippers on many occasions, and now, the brazen attempts to attack Al-Aqsa Mosque, highlight Israel’s unchecked behaviour.
This is a direct consequence of Israel revealing its true face of fanaticism, racism, and extended occupation. It is futile to call this Israeli government right-wing. Its basic structure is, as always, a settlers’ regime that now wants to ensure its full control of what is left of Palestine and to make Jerusalem the unchallenged political and religious capital of Greater Israel.
This development is a direct result of the absence of a trustworthy Palestinian leadership, of its acquiescence in the Oslo Accords to serve the Israeli occupation, of the failure of the Arab government to defend Arab rights – with some actually siding with Israel – and of the inability of 1.5 billion Muslims to defend the first Qibla and the third holy mosque after Mecca.
But resistance will undoubtedly rise, possibly from unexpected quarters.
Resistance can take many forms: legal, public, boycott, and international sanctions, to name a few. The list is endless.The burden will fall upon people, not governments.There is a great reservoir of power there.
|‘The escalating Israeli attempts to take over the Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the Noble Sanctuary is a sign of Israeli boldness to complete the occupation of all Palestine,’ says Abu Sitta [AP]|
The present struggle over Al-Aqsa is the consequence of Israel’s use of religious dogma as a cover for its violent settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank since 1967.
Recall that the key founders of Zionism and the Israeli state – Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, for instance – were not particularly religious and indeed anti-religious. Religious dogma was not the most prominent feature of Zionism in its earliest phases. Rather, Zionism was modelled after other 19th-century European Romantic nationalist movements.
After 1967, Israel sought excuses for its colonisation of the newly conquered West Bank, leading to the ascendancy of the so-called national-religious trend and the formation of Gush Emunim, the right-wing group that spearheaded the new settlement movement in the West Bank.
Their doctrine, once seen as fringe even in Israel, is now entirely mainstream. It posits that the modern-day Israeli state is justified in settling the whole “Land of Israel” because of promises contained in biblical texts.
In this sense, modern-day Zionist settler-colonialism is not terribly different from its defunct cousins in South Africa and Northern Ireland, where Afrikaners and Unionists respectively imagined themselves as beleaguered peoples fulfilling a covenant with God by settling the land.
The logical extension of this post-1967 trend is the so-called “temple movement”, which today finds support in the heart of the Israeli government and establishment.
Temple groups, funded by the state and the occupation municipality in Jerusalem, are actively agitating for the construction of a Jewish “Third Temple” in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
These are the groups behind the increasingly aggressive incursions into Al-Aqsa, under the guise of seeking more access for Jews. But the outcome they seek is the destruction of Al-Aqsa in order to build the temple; some groups have already developed detailed blueprints for it.
Many believe that violent provocations will bring about the conditions necessary to bring their vision to reality.
If they make a serious attempt to destroy Al-Aqsa – something that is growing more likely by the day – there is no underestimating the catastrophic geopolitical consequences.
The Palestinian and broader Muslim reactions to Israel’s use of religious dogma to justify its violent takeover of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank has sometimes been to advance religious counterclaims and to emphasise the Islamic sanctity of Al-Aqsa as the prime motivation for defending it.
But recasting the anti-colonial struggle in Palestine in religious terms would be a mistake, which ultimately plays into Israel’s hands.
Zionists actively promote the idea that Jews, represented by Israel, and Christians, represented by “the West”, are engaged in a global struggle against “radical Islam”. A religious struggle has no ultimate solution. It is an endless war. That suits Israel just fine.
A political, territorial and colonial struggle, by contrast, does have a solution: decolonisation and the restoration of the rights of the colonised people. That, of course, is the last thing Israel wants, which is why it will continue to stoke religious strife at Al-Aqsa.
|‘Resistance will undoubtedly rise, possibly from unexpected quarters,’ says Abu Sitta [Getty Images]|
Khalil Toufakji, head of Maps and Survey Department at the Orient House, Jerusalem
Israeli leaders have long strategised and planned to frame this conflict along religious lines. All of their designs for Jerusalem, ever since they occupied it in 1967, have been about how to increase the Jewish population of the city and decrease the Palestinian Muslim and Christian populations.
To achieve that end, Israel crafted several laws that favour incremental Israeli control of the city and systematic expelling of its Palestinian residents.
Israeli plans for Jerusalem are to put the Arab population in the city at only 12 percent, while the remaining 88 percent would be Jewish, with full Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, excluding the villages of Beit Hanina and other outlying areas.
The conflict in Jerusalem is a demographic one that Israel is framing along religious lines. In 1972, for example, then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir wanted the percentage of the city’s residents to be 78 percent Jewish and 22 percent Arab.
But now, the strategies have changed, with Israeli leaders speaking about a “Metropolitan Jerusalem” that would comprise about 10 percent of the entire land area of the West Bank. This would include all of the Israeli settlements that are now outside the municipal boundaries of the city and exclude the Palestinian areas located outside of the separation wall. This is known as Israel’s “master plan”, the “Jerusalem 2020“.
Accordingly, Israel plans to build a synagogue inside the Aqsa courtyard to further enhance its religious narrative, inflaming Muslims’ religious passion and solidifying its religious framing of the conflict.
Israel wants to drag Palestinians and Arabs into a religious war between Muslims and Jews, altering the nature of the conflict from a conflict over the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories to a religious war.
By framing the conflict as a religious one, Israel would argue on the world stage that Jews are once again being threatened with a holocaust, but this time around, at the hands of Muslims and in the Middle East, rather than in Europe.
It is a hideous design that incorporates politics, geography, law and slick PR tactics in order to convince the world.
At the same time, it is Israel that has systematically undermined the Palestinian Muslim and Christian historic presence in the city and worked tirelessly to eradicate the Palestinian character of the city.
|‘The Israeli government should work to restrain Jewish extremists before they drag the whole region into more conflict and more violence,’ says Pastor Noam [EPA]|
Very Reverend Hosam Naom, Dean of St George the Martyr Cathedral in Jerusalem
What’s happening in Al-Aqsa today is a very dangerous escalation, and it does undermine the peace and stability of our city. The Israeli government should work to restrain Jewish extremists before they drag the whole region into more conflict and more violence.
We as Palestinian Christians have always stood with our Muslim brothers and sisters in defence of our city and our holy places. We condemn any act of vandalism against holy sites of all Abrahamic faiths.
We also stress the importance of the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and we value the role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as custodian of these holy sites.
The tragic events at Al-Aqsa are a serious reminder to all of us of the need to have a solution to this conflict, and we hope it will be a peaceful one. We always pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and particularly in Jerusalem – is not about religion; that is, it is not between Muslims and Jews or Christians and Jews. The issue is much bigger than that.
From a Palestinian Christian perspective, the issue for us is the same as for the rest of Palestinians who are not Christians. Palestinians have the right to have their own state in their own territories as per the agreements signed between Palestinian leaders and Israel.
This conflict cannot be resolved along religious parameters or framed as a religious one simply because it is not. A religious war is very dangerous for all of us.
Palestinians aspire to be free in their own country, regardless of the religious affiliation of anyone who is party to this conflict.