The calendar brought the people of Jerusalem to a potential crash, and there was no one wise enough to avoid it.
The first day of Eid Al Ahda fell on Sunday, August 11, which also coincided with what is considered to be the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’av.
While top Jewish rabbis have ruled since 1967 that it is “forbidden for Jews to go up to the Temple Mount”, a small group of extremist Jews has been growing in numbers and demanding the right, not only to visit Al Aqsa Mosque, but also to hold prayers there. The issue had come to a head back in 2014, when the attempts by Muslims to prevent extremists from laying claim to their mosque led to an Israeli-Jordanian-US understanding. The agreement, reached under the supervision of then US secretary of state John Kerry and in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was simple. The mosque, which Jordan is the custodian for, “is for Muslims to pray, and for all others to visit”.
But as the successive Israeli governments have become more and more right-wing and beholden to the religious Zionists, it became difficult for any sane policy to be enacted. What was often for the local Israeli police to decide has become a political decision and has gained tremendous political weight.
This was clear during this past Ramadan. Israeli police prevented the small, but radical, group of extremist Jews from entering Al Haram Al Sharif/Al Aqsa Mosque during the last ten days of this holy month. In Islam, the holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad during those last ten days, and for devout Muslims, being present in the mosque compound is special and has added religious value.
Yet, despite all that, the Israeli police, with direction from the right-wing political sector, insisted on the visitation rights to the mosque despite the rejection of the Waqf administration.
But when the date of the first day of Eid Al Adha became clear, the Waqf council was not willing to continue making concessions and had to make a point. They announced that the Eid morning prayers would be delayed one hour, to be followed by the worshippers staying on site to ensure that the threats of thousands of extremist Jews entering the mosque be stopped. Prayers at all East Jerusalem mosques were cancelled, and all were called to join the Eid prayers in Al Aqsa Mosque. Families cancelled the normal visits to the graveyards of their loved ones and the traditional Eid meal in order to be in Al Aqsa to protect it. Wasfi Kilani, the executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Reconstruction of Al Aqsa Mosque, told the Saudi newspaper Arab News that the people of Jerusalem had “sacrificed” their personal and communal rights for the sake of Al Aqsa.
Some 100,000 Palestinians showed up in Al Aqsa, vowing to protect it with their bare chests. Even a small Palestinian Christian group was seen distributing sweets in an act of national solidarity.
The Israeli government, however, insisted on the visitation of the mosque despite the knowledge that a bloodbath could occur. The Israeli police attempted to force their way into the mosque and clashes broke, leaving many Palestinians injured. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu initially ordered the closure of the mosque area to Jewish extremists, but when politicians used the decision to declare that Netanyahu was “weak”, he rescinded his own order and told the police that the visits must go on no matter, leading to further clashes.
What the people of Jerusalem have shown was a powerful testimony of people power. Not only did the people of Jerusalem make personal sacrifices to protect their mosque, but they showed up in huge numbers to ensure that their mosque is not violated by radicals who want to violate the status quo that has existed for eleven centuries. With the exception of Jordan, the incident in Jerusalem failed to produce any important Arab, Islamic or international response.
Although August 11 will be remembered as a day of sacrifice and heroism for the people of Jerusalem, it will also be remembered as yet another sign of Arab and Islamic abandonment as well as absence of any international effort to protect the people of Jerusalem and their UNESCO-recognised world heritage site.
Daoud Kuttab is a columnist in the Jordan Times
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