Jordan flexes its muscles after first Israeli threat to Al Aqsa since Jerusalem deal

Published May 12th, 2013 - 11:35 GMT

Outrage swept the Middle East last week as, amid celebrations in Jerusalem by Israelis celebrating “Jerusalem Day’ on Wednesday, Israeli settlers and security forces stormed the Al Haram Al Sharif, also known as Al Aqsa mosque.

Dozens of Israelis entered Al Aqsa mosque, which is the third holiest site in Islam, and obstructed many Muslims from praying while arresting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Hussein.  He was taken away for questioning and questioned by Israeli security forces.

Israeli police forces kept Hussein in custody for six hours, according to Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, who told Reuters that the Palestinian religious authority was questioned over “recent disturbances” between Palestinians and Israelis in East Jerusalem.

“They took me from my house at eight in the morning, accusing me of incitement,” Hussein told Reuters. “I do not incite. I protect Al Aqsa Mosque, and that is the nature of my work.”

Almost immediately, protests rippled across the region. Jordan in particular took a firm standpoint on the matter, with the Lower House of the parliament unanimously calling to expel the Israeli ambassador in Jordan, Daniel Nevo, in response to the crimes against Al Haram Al Sharif and the top Palestinian religious leader.

Jordanians in several cities took to the streets in protest against the Israeli actions, with civilians swarming the Israeli embassy in Rabiah on Wednesday night as soon as the news broke, with a presence of angry crowds still noticeable on Friday. Three days worth of demos rippled across the country, with action reported in Zarqa, Karak, Irbid and Tafileh. In Irbid on Friday, eyewitnesses reported that protestors burnt an Israeli flag, and shouted “no to a Zionist embassy on Jordanian land”.

On Wednesday, swift action by Jordan’s ambassador in Tel Aviv reportedly helped secure the release of Hussein.

Regional leaders quickly took to the press with their comments on the fracas; Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president called it “a flagrant challenge to the freedom of worship”.

Jordan’s Prime Minister, Abdullah Ensour, pledged the efforts of the Jordanian government towards holding Israel responsible for the attacks, stating, “the government will call on the Security Council to meet in order to deal with its responsibilities connected to these violations”.

The Jordanian representative to the Arab League also called for a meeting to discuss the violations. The League will convene on Sunday to talk over East Jerusalem’s recent developments and what action to take against Israel, according to Jordan’s Ambassador to Egypt Bisher Khasawneh, who spoke to The Jordan Times.

Aside from the obvious sensitivities regarding Israelis, who are widely seen throughout the Middle East as an ‘occupying’ force who is in the region illegally, storming one of the holiest sites in Islam, the strong Jordanian reaction to the event has multiple layers.

As a result of the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, some 85 per cent of Palestinian families were forcibly removed from their homes and a large majority chose to move to Jordan. Even more Palestinians joined them in 1967, after the six-day war, when Israel made significant territorial gains in Palestine.

It is estimated that some two million Palestinians are currently living in Jordan, which is just under half the population of the Kingdom.

Extra sensitivity is added to the Jerusalem issue as the Hashemite ruling family of Jordan on March 31, 2013 signed an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas that recognizes the Jordanian ruling family as an official custodian of the holy city.

The Hashemite family has historically considered itself a protector of Jerusalem, due to the family’s heritage being linked to the Prophet Mohammad.

The agreement marked the first time that Palestine officially recognized Jordan’s role in protecting the Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem, a tradition that dates back to King Abdullah I, the founder of Jordan, in 1924.

The agreement armed Jordan with the legal means to spearhead diplomatic efforts that would prevent Israeli violations against the city, such as those seen on Wednesday.

It was under this new role as custodian that Jordan’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Hussein Majali officially summoned Nevo, the Israeli ambassador in Amman. 

Majali said that the continued and systematic acts of aggression by Israeli settlers against the holy sites in Jerusalem create tension, spark violence in the region and abort peace efforts that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

Majali stressed that the Holy City of Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque specifically are a “red line” for the Kingdom.

He called on the Israeli diplomat to clearly convey this message, in person, via formal diplomatic channels to his government.

By Rhiannon Williams

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