Anger Over Al-Aqsa Closure - But Towards Who?

Published July 16th, 2017 - 11:56 GMT
Palestinian women chant slogans outside the Lion's Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound (AFP)
Palestinian women chant slogans outside the Lion's Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound (AFP)

Israel’s decision on Friday to close the Aqsa mosque complex to worshippers for the first time since 1969 has sparked anger across the Muslim world.

The disputed holy site was shut down after two Israeli Druze police officers were shot dead, and four others injured, by three ‘Arab-Israeli’ gunmen who were also killed.

Many who had hoped to pray Friday prayers within the Aqsa compound were forced to worship instead in the surrounding streets of Jerusalem's Old City.

Muslims took to social media to protest the closure, which continued until Sunday afternoon, using a number of hashtags including “go pray in al-Aqsa” and “get angry for al-Aqsa”.

While anger was of course directed at Israel, the online conversation seemed to be dominated by intra-Arab fury.

Palestinian writer and campaigner, Radwan Al-akhras tweeted:

The silence of the scholars, and of governments, and of individuals about what is happening to #Al-Aqsa_Mosque is an abominable act, and is unreasonable and unacceptable. This situation is constricting our souls. God is the greatest.

The perception of silence from Muslim governments and leaders was not entirely justified, however.

Jordan, which administers the site through the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, on Friday called on Israel to “reopen Al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (compound) immediately.”

“The Jordanian government opposes any harm against Muslims in carrying out their religious worship in their holy places, freely and with no obstacles,” a government statement said. It warned against any attempt “to alter the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem.”

Responding to a call from the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of Jordanians demonstrated in Amman on Saturday, demanding the "liberation of al-Aqsa."

The Arab League said in a statement on Friday that by “banning Palestinians from praying” Israel would only “inflame extremism and escalate tension” in the region. Meanwhile the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which includes 57 nations, also called the closure of al-Aqsa “a serious crime and a dangerous precedent.”

Malaysia, Iran, Bahrain, Turkey and Egypt were among other Muslim nations to criticize the temporary shut down of the Temple Mount, as it is referred to by Jews.

A challenge to the status quo?

Last weekend's closure of al-Aqsa compound has sparked fears that Israel could push for a change to the uneasy status quo at the site, where non-Muslim worship has been prohibited for decades.

A number of politicians from Israel's right-wing Jewish Home party made comments to this effect following Friday's events.

"Israel must bolster its rule and control over the [holy sites], and to ensure that all Jews can pray there at any time in safety," said Eli Ben Dahan, Israel's deputy defence minister said in response to the attack, while lawmaker Moti Yegev said the holy site "should be closed to Muslim [worshippers] for a long time."

However, while tensions may rise in Jerusalem, any dramatic change with regard to control of al-Aqsa is unlikely for the time being, according to Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst for Israel/Palestine at the International Crisis Group

 "[Netanyahu] needs to do crisis management and he does not want to find himself losing relations with Jordan, when strategically they need each other so much in south Syria. He doesn't want to ruin the emerging relations that he's trying to build with the Gulf," Zalzberg told Al Jazeera.

"Muslims must open their hearts to one another"

Meanwhile, some online implied that in-fighting among Arabs was to blame for what they saw as inaction on the unprecedented shutdown of al-Aqsa.

A number of commenters made reference to ongoing political tensions among Palestinians, including using the hashtag “[Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas does not represent me”.

Abbas has recently taken a number of measures against Hamas, in an apparent attempt to pressure the Islamist party to cede power in Gaza. These include instructing Israel to cut power to the impoverished enclave and halting the salaries of Hamas MPs.

This caricature was drawn by [Palestinian cartoonist] Naji al-Ali in the eighties. We are still in the same situation, oh Naji al-Ali! #Al-aqsa_Mosque

One Iraqi tweeter criticized Saudi Arabia for what she saw as its focus on bombing Yemen instead of taking action to protect an Islamic holy site.

An official Saudi response was notably absent following the closure of al-Haram al-Sharif ("the noble sanctuary"), in perhaps yet another indication of an apparent warming in Riyadh's relationship with Tel Aviv.

Given the ongoing crisis of relations between Qatar and a number other Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, it is not surprising that one Qatari tweeted a call for unity on the issue of Palestine.

When Muslims open their hearts to one another, only then will the Jews be unable to shut the  doors of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The only solution is to agree.

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