On June 2, hundreds of Zionists stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem. The action provoked protests throughout Palestine and the region. It was committed with full police protection on the so-called Jerusalem Day which celebrates the occupation of East Jerusalem by Israeli forces in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967.
Israeli police heavily repressed the protests by Palestinians and attacked them with rubber bullets and pepper spray. They also arrested several Palestinians and charged them with rioting.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known as Haram al Sharif, is considered the third holiest place of Islam. It is managed by the Muslim Waqf organization as per an agreement signed between Israel and Jordan.
The Zionists who entered Al-Aqsa are part of the Third Temple Movement. The ‘movement’ is led by a set of extremist Jews who demand the demolition of Al-Aqsa and the rebuilding of the Temple. This movement is part of the Israeli policy to construct a historical narrative to justify the continued colonization and occupation of Palestinian land and historical monuments, as well as the genocide of Palestinian people. It promotes the Zionist narrative which posits Palestinians as intruders into the promised land of the Jews. This narrative implies the land did not belong to the Palestinians living there and hence, was ‘empty’ before Israel was founded in 1948. A key element of this revisionist process is the eradication of all existing symbols of Palestinian or Muslim presence.
With regards to the Al-Aqsa compound, Zionists claim that the Temple Mount lies on the premises. This refers to the second temple of Solomon (built around 6th century BC) which was destroyed during Roman rule. The Western Wall is believed to be a remnant of the second temple. It is considered the holiest place for Jews and is adjacent to the Al-Aqsa compound.
Every year, Zionists celebrate the ‘Independence Day of Israel’ on May 8. A large number of Jews gather and enter the Al-Aqsa on the day in complete defiance of the sensitivities of Muslims. On June 2, which is celebrated as ‘Jerusalem Day’, most of the Palestinians (around 400,000) living the old quarters in East Jerusalem are forced to shut their businesses because of the threat posed by the settlers marching throughout the Palestinian quarters in a provocative manner. These have become annual rituals of threat and intimation for Palestinians.
This year, Jerusalem Day fell on one of the last days of the holy month of Ramadan. For the past 30 years, access to the mosque has been restricted for Jews during the last days of Ramadan.
This year, on May 16, an Israeli court rejected a petition presented by a group of extremists seeking access but stated that ultimately the police would be responsible for deciding whether or not they would be able to enter. On May 13, Haaretz had reported that the police had planned to stop any such access on Jerusalem Day due to Ramadan. However, in the end, the changed political scenario seems to have led to a shift in their position.
The intrusion of Zionists to Al-Aqsa is also seen by my many as an attempt to advance the chances of the ruling Likud party in the upcoming Knesset elections.
After the failure of the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Likud alliance to form a new government, the Knesset voted to dissolve the parliament and call for fresh elections on September 17. The right-wing alliance was divided due to disagreements over a conscription law proposed by the government which would make it compulsory for the Orthodox Jews to serve in the army. Hitherto, they had been exempted.
His long-term ally and former defence minister Avigdor Liberman refused to join the coalition led by Netanyahu until Haredi Jews (an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community) were included in the list of communities in the proposed legislation. Netanyahu could not take the risk of angering the community which is significant for his electoral fortune, hence leading to the collapse of talks.
The Zionist incursion into Al-Aqsa mosque was condemned by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas termed it a “terrorist” act. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called it a deliberate provocation which can lead to the escalation of tensions.
The incursion of Zionist extremists into the Al-Aqsa compound is not only a provocation but also violates Israeli law. The Preservation of Holy Places Law passed during the Levi Eshkol’s premiership after the 1967 war stipulates that access to religious places for worshipers is protected by the state. Article 1 of the law says “The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.” It prescribes five years’ imprisonment for anyone preventing people from accessing their religious places. As per the Israeli law, Jews are only allowed to visit the mosque at designated visiting hours and are not allowed to pray.
However, successive Israeli governments, and particularly Likud-led governments, have violated the law on numerous occasions. The government and Zionist forces often use the mosque entry for political gains. Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to Al-Aqsa in September 2000 was one of the catalysts for the Second Intifada.