By James M. Wall
Israeli riot police are shown above “maintaining peace” at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound. This picture was taken on March 8, 2013, during “clashes” between Palestinian defenders and Jews who claim they only want to pray on land sacred to them.
These so-called religious clashes erupt when Israeli settlers provocatively arrive at the al-Aqsa compound, especially on Jewish holy days, protected by Israeli police.
The latest incursion of the compound came this week during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year when repentance is the order of the day.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at his weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, blamed Palestinians for inciting “the recent uptick in violence on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem”. He called for “harsher measures” against stone throwers.
Jordan’s King Abdullah reiterated his criticism of Israel’s response to the escalation in violence during a meeting with members of the Joint (Arab) List in Amman. The King asked, “What is Netanyahu trying to achieve with this action; is he trying to cause an explosion?”
The King promised to put the violence in Jerusalem on the agenda of the upcoming UN meeting.
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an went deeper when it reported on a recent paper by Nur Arafeh, a Policy Fellow of Al Shabaka the Palestinian Policy Network, entitled “In Jerusalem, ‘Religious War’ Is Used to Cloak Colonialism.”
“The escalating clashes between Israeli settlers and Jerusalemite Palestinians are the harbingers of a major eruption with incalculable consequences.
Immediately billed as a “religious war” by the media and Israeli right wingers, they are in fact the outcome of longstanding Israeli plans to Judaize the city and empty it of its Palestinian inhabitants.”
Nur Arafeh has recommendations to Palestinian leaders who, she feels, have failed to give adequate support to Palestinian Jerusalemites. “First and foremost”, she writes:
“Palestinians need proactive leadership that will propel the status of Jerusalem to the forefront of government commitment and to the heart of the national struggle as a matter of urgency. It is vital that Palestinians project a clear vision of Jerusalem to counter the prevailing Israeli vision. Information and communication are key tools to counter Israel’s re-writing of history and silencing of the Palestinian narrative.
“In particular, Palestinian leadership should confront Israeli attempts to frame its colonial policies in religious terms and should remind the world that the core issues are those of occupation, dispossession, and land theft. It is imperative to challenge the power of the Israeli discourse by exposing its shameful record of oppression in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territory.” (emphasis added).
Nur Arafeh ends her paper with this additional warning:
“Without concerted efforts by Palestinians with Arab and international support to uphold Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the present small fires in the city could turn into a conflagration with permanent damage to Palestinian and Arab heritage in the city and to the Palestinian Jerusalemite presence in the city of their ancestors.”
A significant area of that heritage is the al-Aqsa mosque compound (also known as the al-Haram al-Sharif (holy sanctuary), which contains the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Dome of the Rock, where, as Muslims believe, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
From the Jewish religious perspective, the compound (known by Jews as the Temple Mount) is seen as a Jewish sacred site, derived from their belief that it was once the location of two ancient Jewish temples.
Acknowledging these conflicting sacred claims, the newly-victorious Israeli government chose to reach a so-called agreement with the newly-defeated Palestinians, by setting up a 1967 status quo understanding under which Jews were forbidden to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Keeping the peace in the newly conquered West Bank at that particular moment in Israel’s ambitions in the region, was for Israel a politically sensible move. They knew there would be time, as Israel’s power in the region was further consolidated, to eventually eliminate that particular status quo agreement.
Israel’s pragmatic choice was imposed on a newly conquered population. There are no “agreements” between the victor and the vanquished.
As a military occupying power facing no serious opposition from an occupied population, and little interference from its chief sponsor, the American government, Israel has steadily expanded its initial colonial base to encompass the area of what Israel politicians are now openly calling Judea and Samaria.
I had my first “Judea and Samaria” moment during an early 1980s media trip to the region. I displayed my media badge and asked an Israeli official a question about the occupied West Bank.
His snide answer was both revealing and chilling.
“West Bank? I don’t know any West Bank, I do know of a Bank Leumi, but I don’t know of any West Bank.”
Many years after that encounter, Israel’s Bank Leumi is still doing a brisk corporate business. Ha’aretz recently reported, for example, that Bank Leumi had “agreed to pay $400 million to settle two separate investigations into whether it helped its American clients evade U.S. taxes”.
The actual occupied West Bank continues to suffer from the encroachment of Ultra Orthodox Jewish settlers who, aided and abetted by Israel’s secular conservative politicians, have steadily established settlements in “Judea and Samaria”.
What mindset would see “others” as these invasive Ultra Orthodox Jewish settlers see Muslims? Watch the U.S. Republican presidential nomination debates.
Or, check out this Texas mindset reported by The New York Times from Dallas, Texas:
“Ahmed Mohamed’s homemade alarm clock got him suspended from his suburban Dallas high school and detained and handcuffed by police officers on Monday after school officials accused him of making a fake bomb.”
National figures reacted in a different manner.
“By Wednesday, Ahmed Mohamed’s clock earned him an invitation to the White House, support from Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg, and a moment of head-spinning attention as questions arose whether he had been targeted because of his name and his religion”.
Questions arose? There can be no questions. There can only be lamentations over the conduct of a Texas school system which functions from the same narrow vision as those Ultra Orthodox Jewish settlers living illegally in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Media Matters collected right-wing media responses to Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest and found expressions of caution in these “dangerous” times. Here is a sample from Fox News:
“On the September 18 edition of Fox News’ The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, Fox contributor Mike Gallagher repeatedly compared Ahmed’s homemade clock to a bomb, and suggested that the student should have been more “forthcoming” when he was interrogated by the police.”
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the Israeli settler narrative dutifully swallowed by the media, continues to describe the clash between the invading settler Ultra Orthodox Jews and the Palestinian defenders of al-Aqsa, as an inevitable age-old “religious conflict”.
On the contrary, this is not a “religious conflict”; it is a larcenous seizure of property by Israel’s right-wing government which delivers suffering to Palestinians who are deprived of their freedom and their land.
As an example of the extremism of the Ultra Orthodox-driven settler movement, Nur Arafeh writes that “on July 27, 2014, extremists among these settlers posted on YouTube, the video below of what a group calling itself the Temple Institute describes as ‘a third temple replacing al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock’.”
Replacing al-Aqsa with a third Temple would enflame the Islamic world. Still, if history has taught us anything, it has warned us what happens when politicians gain power on fear instilled in their citizens, coupled with an ugly ignorance of the “other”.
This toxic combinations of fear and ignorance enables politicians to make stupid and disastrous decisions. Messing with the al-Aqsa compound could conceivably be an extreme example of one such decision.
Nur Arafeh’s paper concludes with policy recommendations for the PLO/PA, Palestinian academics and analysts, and the international solidarity movement.
These policy recommendations to Palestinians are essential, to be sure, but there is also eye-opening wisdom for western readers in Nur Arafeh’s analysis.
Her analysis is a harsh reminder that controlling Palestinian land from the sea to the river has been the below the radar economic and military impetus behind Political Zionism since the late 1800s.
Israel’s creeping colonial movement is but the latest and darkest chapter of that Political Zionist enterprise, a narrowly focused desire to control the many for the benefit of the select few.
Political Zionism is not a religious movement. It is rather, an heritical corruption of the spiritual power and beauty of the Jewish faith.
When you stop to think about it, Political Zionism operates very much like those Texans officials who love God on Sunday and arrest a Muslim boy during the week.
- The picture of the al-Asqa mosque compound “guarded” by Israel soldiers, was taken by Mahfouz Abu Turk. It is an APA image retrieved from https://al-shabaka.org/briefs/in-jerusalem-religious-war-is-used-to-cloak-colonialism/.jpg. The picture of Nur Arafeh is from the same source. The picture of Ahmed Mohamed is an AP photo from the Dallas Morning Times. The video of the teenagers is from YouTube, posted by The Temple Institute.