The Israeli occupying force’s latest incursions in Al Haram Al Sharif are entirely predictable. Last week, Palestinians attempted to stop Israeli Agriculture Minister, Uri Ariel, from entering the compound, which is the third holiest site in Islam. Ariel was backed by heavy Israeli police presence, who used force against Palestinians protesting his visit, injuring more than 40 Palestinians and inflicting damage to Al Aqsa Mosque. This visit was not the first of its kind. For years, Israeli extremists, disguising themselves as “freedom of religion” activists and backed by the Israeli government have pressed for greater Israeli presence in Al Haram Al Sharif. Sadly, the world continues to sit by idly, providing excuses to justify Israel’s behaviour.
Israel routinely places tight restrictions on Palestinians seeking to pray in Al Haram Al Sharif, claiming that these restrictions are necessary for “public safety”. These restrictions include bans on men under the age of 50 and women under the age of 45 and wholesale bans on Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank praying at the compound without first obtaining special (and unattainable) Israeli “permission” to enter occupied Jerusalem.
Yet, while Palestinians must seek Israeli permission to pray at their holy site, Israel continues to facilitate access to Israelis who have openly declared that they intend to remove all Muslim holy sites and replace them with a Jewish temple. While couching themselves as “freedom of religion” activists who aim to end “discrimination” against Jews, the Temple Mount Faithful — those who continue to be given access to Al Haram Al Sharif — have stated that they aim at “liberating the Temple Mount of Arab (Islamic) occupation. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque were placed on this Jewish or biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination. The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of God without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed, transferred to and rebuilt at Makkah”.
And lest it be thought that these individuals are merely “extremists,” these individuals, include current and former members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party as well as individuals from his governing coalition. In short, this is not a small, persecuted religious minority that simply seeks religious freedom, but a group of occupiers backed by the colonising state who aim to do to Al Haram Al Sharif what they have done to the rest of Palestine: Take over, destroy and pretend we never existed.
We, Palestinians, have lived this experience before: One only needs to recall the fate of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Twenty-one years ago, a massacre was perpetrated by an Israeli colonist in which he opened fire on Palestinians praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29 Palestinians. In the days that followed, the Israeli army killed an additional 21 Palestinians, as Palestinians protested this massacre and Israeli repression. But, rather than punish the illegal Israeli colonists or remove the illegal Israeli colony, these Israeli “extremists” were rewarded. Today, half of the mosque has been taken over by Jewish Israelis with backing from the Israeli army and the state. Palestinians must now undergo security screening to be allowed into the mosque and are routinely denied access. Yes, you read that correctly: Israel commits massacres and Palestinians pay the price.
And so too will be the case with Al Haram Al Sharif. Backed by financial and political support from Israel, these “activists” will continue in their quest to remove the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque to make way for a Jewish temple.
The international community’s response has been typically mealy-mouthed, calling on “both sides” to “demonstrate restraint”. Absent, of course, is any reference to Israel’s nearly 50-year military occupation and its continued denial of freedom, including freedom of religion, to millions of Palestinians. This is not a case of two equal parties in a quibble, but of a 50-year occupier and coloniser who has systematically tried to wipe out Palestine and the Palestinian response to such war crimes. Unlike Israel, Palestinians do not have F-16s, an army or tanks. We do not have thousands of security personnel protecting Palestinian worshippers for even the most privileged Palestinian must obtain Israeli permission to pray in a mosque in occupied Jerusalem.
Israel’s actions in Al Haram Al Sharif and the international community’s lack of response represent the cause of Palestine in a nutshell: Rights of millions of Palestinians are inferior to those of Jews, even when the aim is to destroy.
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. You can follow her on Twitter at www. twitter.com/@dianabuttu.