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Targeting Haram Al-Sharif

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  • ummyakoub
    Targeting Haram Al-Sharif Provocative visits by non-Muslims aid Sharon in quietly destroying the roadmap, writes Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem ... Click to view
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5 5:54 AM
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      Targeting Haram Al-Sharif
      Provocative visits by non-Muslims aid Sharon in quietly destroying
      the roadmap, writes Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem
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      Click to view caption
      The Temple Mount
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      Israeli police sealed off areas around the Old City in East Jerusalem
      last Friday in an attempt to severely limit the number of Muslim
      worshippers reaching the mosque compound of the Haram Al- Sharif to
      pray. Of those who got past the cordons, only Muslims over the age of
      40 were allowed to enter the area, which contains Al-Aqsa and the
      Dome of the Rock mosques.

      Officials said they had imposed the measures to prevent rioting at
      Friday prayers, the occasion for past violent confrontations between
      Palestinians and the Israeli security forces.

      Such restrictions are regularly in force on Fridays but the Israeli
      authorities were said to be particularly nervous on this occasion
      after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat repeatedly denounced
      Israel's recent decision to allow non- Muslims to enter the compound,
      in violation of a 34-month ban on such visits by the Islamic
      authorities, the Waqf.

      Visits by "non-Muslims" -- apparently Christian tourists and secular
      Jews -- were secretly begun by the police two months ago. Acting with
      the approval of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Public
      Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, the police were said to have
      recruited tourists in the streets of the Old City.

      When the visits were revealed, both Israeli President Moshe Katsav
      and the newly elected mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, denounced
      them.

      Lupolianski, the city's first ultra-Orthodox mayor, called the new
      arrangement provocative.

      Last week, however, it was widely reported by the Hebrew media that
      the police had introduced a new policy: taking small groups
      of "skullcap- wearing" Israelis up to the Haram Al-Sharif, or the
      Temple Mount as it is known to Jews who revere it as the site of the
      Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in AD70.

      Muslim officials said they had seen Jews holding prayer books and
      reading from the Torah inside the compound. Before the Intifada
      Jewish prayer at the site was banned by agreement of the rabbinical
      authorities, the Israeli police and the Waqf. Historically, Judaism
      has opposed all prayer on the Mount. In response Arafat called Arab
      ambassadors and diplomats to his office last Tuesday and urged them
      to put pressure on their governments to lobby Israel and the US to
      stop the visits. He told them: "Jewish settlers and extremists are
      desecrating the Al-Aqsa mosque by storming it under the protection of
      the Israeli police."

      Visiting restrictions were imposed by the Waqf nearly three years
      ago, in the immediate aftermath of Sharon's incendiary visit to the
      compound on 28 September 2000, when he was opposition leader. Israeli
      snipers responded to Palestinian riots at the compound the next day
      by shooting dead several protesters, lighting the touchpaper of the
      current Intifada.

      Sharon used his visit, backed by 1,000 security men, to assert
      Israeli claims to sovereignty over the mosque compound. On the way
      down from the Haram, after a 45-minute stroll around the esplanade,
      he told waiting reporters: "The Temple Mount is in our hands and will
      remain in our hands. It is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the
      right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount."

      In saying this, Sharon was only reiterating the view of every Israeli
      leader since 1967, when Arab East Jerusalem, including the Old City,
      was captured by the army. Afterwards Israel illegally annexed the
      Arab neighbourhoods and declared the city the Jewish state's "eternal
      and undivided capital".

      But whatever the rhetoric, in practice Israel had always balked at
      interfering too overtly with what the Israeli military commander,
      Moshe Dayan, termed in 1967 "the status quo" on the Haram. Although
      Israeli police govern access to its nine entry gates, and can enter
      the compound at will, the Muslim authorities have been allowed,
      nominally at least, to maintain their unbroken 750- year control of
      the site.

      Instead Israel focussed its attention on the Western Wall, below the
      Haram's raised esplanade. This too was once Waqf property but in 1967
      Israel took charge of the area, demolishing more than 100
      neighbouring Muslim homes to create a prayer plaza in front of the
      wall. In 1984 the wall was registered as property of the Jewish
      state.

      Sharon's visit, however, was a more direct kind of provocation than
      his words. An army general -- one assigned a degree of responsibility
      by the Israeli judiciary for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians
      in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982 -- effectively stormed the
      Haram with a triumphant escort of police and media.

      It was not the first time Sharon had tried to upset Muslim
      sensitivities in Jerusalem. In December 1987 he bought and moved into
      an apartment in the Muslim quarter of the Old City, followed by
      several dozen right-wing students. In 1991 as housing minister he
      helped Jewish extremists take over a house in Silwan, an Arab village
      within the Jerusalem municipality. And in May 1992 Sharon
      announced: "We have set a goal for ourselves of not leaving one
      neighbourhood in East Jerusalem without Jews, not one." Even the
      city's mayor, Teddy Kollek, was forced to denounce what he called
      Sharon's "messianism".

      But Sharon remained uncharacteristically quiet about the Haram-Temple
      Mount dispute after his victory in the Knesset elections of early
      2001. Maybe his hand was stayed by the subsequent ferment in the
      occupied territories or by the international outrage at the later
      excesses of the Israeli army in invading Palestinian cities.

      Only in the last few months -- buoyed by his re-election in January --
      did Sharon begin his campaign to reassert Jewish claims to
      sovereignty over the Haram.

      Sharon has several reasons for being obsessed about the Old City, and
      the Temple Mount in particular. First, it is the tourist magnet that
      will reap its sovereign owner a large financial reward in times of
      peace. Without it, Israel will be quite literally a poorer country.
      Second, it is a potent historic symbol of identity and nationhood for
      both peoples: Sharon, however, would rather it cemented Jews'
      bondedness to their state than stoked Arab longing for a Palestinian
      nation he never wants to see. Third, territorial separation between
      Jews and Arabs is nigh impossible as long as the heart of Jerusalem
      is in Israeli hands. Sharon's much beloved West Bank settlement
      project may stand or fall with Israel's sovereignty over the Temple
      Mount and the precedent created by the settlers of East Jerusalem.

      With a freer hand to start mischief-making on the Haram-Temple Mount,
      Sharon launched his latest provocation last week: visits by religious
      Jews. Arafat condemned the move as "a big crime which cannot be
      ignored".

      Sharon had been planning the move for some time: the daily Ha'aretz
      newspaper reported back in January that he had been holding secret
      meetings with rabbis to tell them he was working "quietly" towards
      this goal.

      The timing of the visits now has offered Sharon two clear advantages.
      First, he is facing growing pressure from the US to submit to a peace
      process -- the roadmap -- whose stated goal is the creation of a
      Palestinian state, one which will be asserting a rival claim to the
      holy sites of Jerusalem. Better, in Sharon's thinking, to start
      fashioning the reality of Jewish sovereignty now than wait for a last-
      minute scramble against a new Palestinian government-in-waiting.

      But, more importantly, Sharon is looking for an escape route to avoid
      ever reaching the point where he might have to attend an
      international "final status" conference and negotiate over dividing
      Jerusalem and the holy sites. He needs a way, when the time is right,
      to ensure the roadmap is torn up -- and that the Palestinians are
      blamed.

      He has several options: he can assassinate a Palestinian leader to
      break the resistance factions' commitment to a cease-fire; he can
      continue suffocating the Palestinian population with checkpoints
      while disingenously, claiming to be dismantling settler outposts; he
      can carry on building a "separation fence" that in practice only
      serves to confiscate thousands of acres of Palestinian farming land;
      or he can refuse to make meaningful concessions on prisoner releases.

      But all carry the risk of heaping condemnation on his head rather
      than that of Arafat and the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

      Inflaming Muslim sensitivities over the running sore of who controls
      the Haram-Temple Mount complex is a more artful strategy for
      undermining any Palestinian good will engendered by the roadmap.
      Arafat appears to understand this, even as Abbas is getting drunk on
      his recent acclaim in Washington.

      Sharon believes the slow-burn outrage of Palestinians at provocations
      over the Haram is less likely to be traced back to the small steps he
      has been taking to assert Jewish claims at the site.

      The first of those steps went almost unreported by the Western and
      Arab media. Sharon arrested the leader of the Islamic Movement in
      Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah. Salah had long been antagonising Sharon
      and the security establishment with his "Al-Aqsa is in danger"
      campaign.

      Salah recognised that Israel had succeeded in progressively
      intimidating the Waqf into silence. After Sharon's rampages through
      the West Bank and Gaza, most members wanted only to keep their heads
      down. Any doubters had the point underlined to them last month when
      the police pulled in the chief Muslim cleric of Jerusalem, Sheikh
      Ikrima Sabri, for questioning in matters apparently related to
      Salah's arrest.

      With the Palestinian Waqf and the Islamic Movement asserting rival
      claims to authority over the Haram, Palestinian officials have been
      loath either to come to Salah's defence or criticise the Waqf. But
      Arafat appears finally to have acknowledged the Waqf's impotence: he
      berated its members at a meeting last Wednesday for not preventing
      the visits by religious Jews or voicing protests.

      One of the clearest weaknesses in Israel's arguments in the Haram-
      Temple Mount dispute has been its claim that the status quo was
      ruptured three years ago with the Waqf's ban on non- Muslim visits.
      Until then, Israel claimed, all three religions had equal access.

      In fact, this is a gross simplification. Israel effectively changed
      the rules during the 1990s through its ever-tighter restrictions on
      the freedom of movement of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.
      In the last few years it has been almost impossible for Palestinians
      to reach the Haram to pray.

      While the Waqf was reluctant to criticise this policy, Salah openly
      acted to redress the imbalance by transporting thousands of Israeli
      Arabs to pray there. He also used his status as an Israeli citizen to
      reassert Muslim rights, organising mass rallies and raising millions
      of dollars from Arab states to help with restoration work on the
      site.

      If anybody was in position to challenge Sharon's claims to the Haram-
      Temple Mount it was Salah. But he is now behind bars, on charges of
      helping Hamas that even the Israeli police seem unconvinced by.
      Whatever the truth of the allegations, the point is that he and his
      popular movement have been neutralised for the foreseeable future.

      Next, Sharon gave the green light to Hanegbi, his security minister,
      to start inciting over the access issue. As Salah was being
      interrogated by the Shin Bet, Hanegbi was warning that Jews must be
      allowed to return to the site to pray whether the Waqf agreed or not.

      "It is impossible to reconcile ourselves for a prolonged period to a
      situation where it is not permitted for all adherents of all
      religions to visit and pray at Temple Mount," he said.

      The significance of this comment went unremarked by the Hebrew media,
      which has grown used to hearing such opinions from government
      figures. In fact, however, it constitutes a further change in the
      status quo.

      Religious Jews have been banned from both entering and praying on the
      Temple Mount by rabbinical authorities since the Middle Ages. This
      view held in 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem. A notice
      signed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and immediately posted at the
      gate to the compound nearest the Western Wall stated: "Entrance to
      the area of the Temple Mount is forbidden to everyone by Jewish law
      owing to the sacredness of the place."

      The rabbinical reasoning was that no one knew where the Second Temple
      was precisely located on the Mount and so any Jews entering would
      risk violating the "strict prohibition against desecrating the purity
      of the temple site". More than 300 rabbis supported this ruling in
      1967.

      However, the rabbinical consensus has been slowly eroding, mainly in
      Israel. Two chief rabbis, Shlomo Goren in the 1970s and Moredchai
      Eliahu in the 1980s, argued in favour of Jews being allowed to enter
      the site. The reasons why are complex. With the birth of Israel in
      1948, Judaism was as good as nationalised for the first time in more
      than 2,000 years. The state chose to invest religious authority in
      one stream, Orthodoxy, a classical view of Judaism whose roots
      remained firmly entrenched in the Middle Ages. The two other, more
      modern streams, Reform and Conservatism, which dominate in the
      Diaspora, have been shunned to this day.

      But while Israel's rabbis were drawn from the most traditionalist
      among world Jewry, they were also subject to nationalist influences
      and pressures that rabbis in the Diaspora could avoid. Judaism and
      Zionism jostled uncomfortably for primacy in their hearts.

      Rabbi Goren, for example, was with the first soldiers to enter the
      newly conquered Haram- Temple Mount in 1967. Goren is recorded as
      having suggested to the military commander that they put explosives
      under the Mosque of Omar and "get rid of it once and for all".

      The sort of personal religious-nationalist fervour many of the rabbis
      and their followers experienced with the seemingly miraculous
      conquest of Jerusalem and Jewish holy sites in the West Bank had a
      profound effect. Some began to believe that Israel was paving the way
      for the arrival of the Messiah.

      There were consequences for the wider society too. Through a system
      of double-funding for religious schools, more and more parents were
      encouraged to send their children to non-secular institutions. Today,
      some 40 per cent of Jewish Israeli children attend either ultra-
      Orthodox or national-religious schools. There is little doubt this is
      likely to colour their perception of the significance of the holy
      places in Jewish life.

      The messianism of the "hilltop youth" -- young settlers who have
      recently been resisting the army's feeble efforts at dismantling
      settlements -- is an outcome. But ignorance of Jewish tradition,
      particularly relating to the Temple Mount, is now evident in much of
      the Jewish public.

      Right-wing nationalist politicians like Sharon, former Likud Prime
      Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the former Mayor of Jerusalem Ehud
      Olmert have been keen to exploit this ignorance for their own
      political ends. And not to be outdone, so too have left-wing leaders.

      All have worked tirelessly to place Temple Mount at the centre of
      Israel's claims to exclusive sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem,
      and have thereby made any chance of peace with the Palestinians
      unattainable.

      Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak, took exactly this position in his
      negotiations with Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000, making
      Jersualem and control of Temple Mount -- what he termed "the holy of
      holies" -- the biggest stumbling blocks in the talks.

      He demanded sovereignty over the Old City, including the Haram-Temple
      Mount, with the Palestinians only "administering" the Muslim and
      Christian quarters. Jews for the first time would be allowed to pray
      at the Haram in a special section.

      When this failed to win Arafat's consent, the Americans were reported
      to have proposed giving the Palestinians custody of the Haram, while
      Israel was to hold "residual sovereignty". In the Old City the
      Palestinians would get sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian
      quarters and Israel the Jewish and Armenian quarters. Arafat rejected
      this offer too, warning that relinquishing the Muslim holy places
      would be his "funeral".

      In fact, although it may sound strange to those used to hearing the
      speeches of modern Israeli politicians, Judaism has traditionally
      avoided sanctifying specific religious sites.

      As Shemaryahu Talmon, professor of Bible studies at Hebrew
      University, has observed: "In Jewish tradition it is the whole
      circumference of the city [meaning the walled Old City] which is held
      and will be held holy. In distinction from other religions that have
      pinned their pious reverence for Jerusalem on select localities in
      her Judaism has sanctified the city as such."

      But the battle by politicians and some rabbis to sanctify -- at least
      in the minds of the Jewish public -- Israel's territorial claims to
      Jerusalem has unleashed the seeds of a dangerous Jewish extremism.

      Since the 1970s several militant groups have been spawned, some not
      only claiming prayer rights on the Haram-Temple Mount but also
      willing the destruction of the mosques and their replacement by the
      Third Temple. They include the Temple Mount Faithful, the Jerusalem
      Temple Foundation and the Ateret Kohanim (Crown of Priests). The
      latter has been supported by Netanyahu, Sharon and Olmert.

      Recently an Israeli architect, Gideon Harlap, was commissioned to
      design a $3 million synagogue to be built next to the Dome of the
      Rock.

      It was precisely such fanatical plans -- given succour by the last
      three successive prime ministers -- that Salah was warning about in
      his "Al- Aqsa is in danger" campaign.

      More subtle threats exist too. In May it was revealed that a
      ministerial committee on Jerusalem, led by Natan Sharansky, was
      devising ways to increase Israelis' attachment to Jerusalem. This
      included bringing one million Israeli tourists -- 20 per cent of the
      Jewish population -- to the city each year.

      Making a regular "pilgrimage" to the holy city will become all but
      compulsory for most Jews: children will be brought on school trips;
      soldiers will be required to undergo Jerusalem courses as part of
      their "Zionist training"; trade unions will arrange workers visits;
      and local authorities will be expected to subsidise organised tours.

      One dissident voice was raised this month amid all this public
      clamour: that of Labour Party leader Shimon Peres. His spokesman
      suggested that the holy sites in the Old City be placed under United
      Nations stewardship and the city be declared a "world capital". No
      one else in Israel seems to be listening.

      http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/649/re10.htm


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