Struggle for the soul of Jerusalem

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It is the greatest of ironies that despite the seas of woe and hardship that the Palestinians have struggled through for their survival, the stakes of the occupation are only increasing. A struggle for the soul of Jerusalem is underway, throwing into peril not only the lives of Jerusalem’s Palestinians, but also the future of Islam’s shrines in the Holy Land. At this juncture, thousands of Palestinian lives and the fate of al-Masjid al-Aqsa stand in the balance.

Israeli politicians have been loudly clamoring for demolishing al-Masjid al-Aqsa and rebuilding in its place, the Third Temple — the prior two temples having been destroyed respectively by the Babylonian King Nebuchnezzer and the Roman Emperor Titus. This directly contradicts the terms of the Six Day War, where the Zionists agreed to give both Muslims and Jews access to the holy site, restricting Jews to the Wailing Wall and safeguarding Muslim attendance at the Aqsa compound. 

Years of incendiary speeches finally bore fruit when on November 5, 2014 over 60 Israeli military personnel and right-wing settlers stormed the Aqsa compound, injuring Muslims there and damaging the structure of the holy building itself. “The Israeli police allowed the settlers [occupiers] to enter and storm the compound and are now providing them protection,” said Shaykh Azzam al-Khatib, director-general of the Organization for Muslim Endowments and al-Aqsa Affairs, a Palestinian NGO. “At least 15 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, including two in the head and one in the eye, while dozens suffered teargas inhalation,” a Palestinian guard of the holy complex told Anadolu Agency. 

Then, on the Friday of that week, Israel prevented Muslim worshippers under the age of 35 from praying at the Aqsa compound. The AP news service reported, “Hundreds of Palestinians knelt on prayer carpets in a Jerusalem street Friday, faced by a cordon of Israeli riot police who blocked them from reaching Islam’s third-holiest shrine in the nearby Old City.” The Islamic waqf, the Jordanian religious trust that administers al-Aqsa, reported that Israeli security forces also damaged the masjid’s doors, burnt carpets and broke glass during the confrontation. These actions of the State of Israel, a flagrant breach of treaties and statues of international law with respect to the religious plurality of the Holy City, even led to the normally quietist Jordan to withdraw its ambassador from Israel.

There is indeed a battle for Jerusalem afoot. Not even the most rabidly right-wing squatter could find fault with these sentiments. Netanyahu is declaring war on the plurality of Jerusalem, anointing it as Jewish Jerusalem. Only determined Palestinian resistance has prevented the Zionist State from demolishing al-Masjid al-Aqsa, built as a small prayer house by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab during his khilafah, and expanded by the Umayyads. As a November 20 article on the website Mondoweiss by Philip Weiss observed, “Netanyahu’s battle for Jerusalem cannot end well for any of us.” The capital of peace and religious plurality is being remade as a symbol of Zionist racism and exclusivism, to the point that Islam’s third holiest structure is now endangered. Had the Muslims through the history of their rule over the Holy City followed the same policy adopted by the Zionists in this bloodstained time, the Wailing Wall structure would have long since been demolished.

The retaliatory land grab is of course part and parcel of the dream of rebuilding the Third Temple — the vision that this reconstruction project will reclaim Jerusalem as the Jewish capital, and lead to an explosion of settlement that will finally push out the Palestinian inhabitants of the city. Amid Israeli sqatters and voracious politicians, social media has now entered in the game of rebranding the “Third Temple” project. In the past three months, crowdraiser platform Indiegogo has hosted two separate campaigns to gather funds for rebuilding the Temple on the ruins of al-Aqsa, raising at the end of September 2014 more than $100,000 from donors around the world. 

Latecomer Mahmoud Abbas declared that Israel’s actions vis-à-vis al-Masjid Al-Aqsa were equal to a “declaration of war” on Arabs and Muslims. Of course, Abbas has now been reduced to the pitiable position of Israeli punching bag, who is lambasted or ridiculed at the pleasure of the politicians keeping him in power in order to divide the Palestinians. While Abbas’ comments against Israeli violence against al-Masjid al-Aqsa smacked more of self-defense rather than sincerity, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lashed out at him. “Abu Mazen [Abbas] is trying to ignite the area by using the most sensitive place, the Temple Mount,” Lieberman said on November 22. “Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority are the ones behind the riots of East Jerusalem residents,” he charged.

Palestinians are once more standing in the brink, struggling against all odds to protect Islam from being wiped out from Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Muslims watch on, without the power to support their brethren en masse.

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