Arab News

It’s All About Al-Aqsa

Israel’s latest moves reveal that no lessons seem to have been learned.
Al-Aqsa mosque, Al-Aqsa compound, Temple Mount, Haram Ash-sharif, Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, Palestinians, Israelis, Peter Isackson

The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on 7/2/2016. © Photographer RM / Shutterstock

May 25, 2021 12:48 EDT

AP journalist Joseph Krauss reports that “Israeli police escorted more than 250 Jewish visitors Sunday to a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem.” That flashpoint was the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the scene of clashes initiated by Israeli police that earlier this month helped trigger an 11-day war.

Considered the third holiest site in the world by Muslims after Mecca and Medina, Al-Aqsa was originally built a little over 1,400 years ago. Buffeted by earthquakes throughout its history, it was repeatedly restored. It remains an important symbol linked to the narrative of the life of Prophet Muhammad. After the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, the Israelis agreed to maintain it as a place of Muslim worship, but the authorities today claim the right to monitor and restrict access to the compound.

The Future of Jerusalem Matters to Us All


The Israeli raid inside the Al-Aqsa compound on May 7 and a campaign of expulsions of Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem were the twin precipitating causes of the latest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The symbolic significance of the attack on Al-Aqsa became immediately clear across the Arab and Muslim world, recently reputed by pundits and politicians to have become indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians

The mystique surrounding former US President Donald Trump’s celebrated Abraham Accords in August 2020 — touted as a “strategic realignment” generously amplified by the media — led many to believe that Arab solidarity with the Palestinians was a thing of the past. The oil-rich nations of the Middle East — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia — were deemed to be looking at a future of normalized relations with Israel. For most observers, that implied their silent acceptance of pariah status for Palestinians in the Jewish state.

The armed struggle this month has had its own effect of amplification. It has radically increased understanding across the globe of the humiliating conditions of daily life for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and even inside Israel. In the US, for the first time in recent memory, expressions of sympathy for the Palestinian cause have come to the fore. Even a Fox News collaborator, Gerardo Rivera, who calls himself a “Zionist Jew,” pleaded the case of the Palestinians on the air, to the profound displeasure of the non-Jewish, pro-Israeli Fox hosts.

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In other words, there is a hint that the tide of public opinion may be shifting. The disproportionately brutal behavior of the Israeli government has become too evident to justify dismissing any criticism of Israel as proof of anti-Semitism (despite Bret Stephens’ absurd insistence). The expectation is growing that in the aftermath of the conflict, adjustments will have to be made for a clearly desperate situation to evolve in a positive direction.

The actions of the Israeli authorities in the past few days cast doubt on that expectation. Inviting Israeli Jews, visibly with a settler mentality, to enter the mosque compound with the symbolic intent of claiming it as a possession of Israel rather than as a universal religious site can only be seen as a provocation. The Israeli authorities required Palestinian Muslims to surrender their ID at the door and barred those under 45 years old from entering.

Just as the Israeli government had dismissed the expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, calling it an isolated “real estate dispute” to be settled by the courts, enforcing policy concerning access to Al-Aqsa appears to the outside world for what it is: a hostile act targeted at Palestinians. Krauss cites police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, who justified the policy by claiming that “the site was open for ‘regular visits’ and that police had secured the area.”

Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Regular visits:

In the context of Al-Aqsa Mosque, planned and organized intimidation, monitored and enforced by the Israeli government to ensure that Palestinians understand that they must on all occasions feel humiliated by their political masters

Contextual Note

What does Rosenfield mean by “regular visits?” The word “regular” has several meanings in English. In this context, we would assume it means in accordance with the rules. But regular can also mean happening in a repetitive fashion or at an established frequency. As such, it may even be a synonym for often. It can also simply mean normal, making it a synonym of unremarkable. 

So, what should Palestinians and indeed the rest of the world understand when Rosenfield evokes Israeli visits that are “regular”? He wants listeners to think that it’s both natural (normal) and legal (according to the rules). But many Palestinians view the reality of Israeli “visits” to Al-Aqsa as normally and repetitively provocative. They also see them as strategically designed by right-wing Israeli visitors as an act of intimidation that serves as a prelude to the glorious day in the future when Jewish culture will have so overwhelmed Arab culture in East Jerusalem that the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound will function more as a museum or public monument than as a holy site for Muslims.

Or perhaps worse. Al Jazeera reports that in the immediate aftermath of last week’s ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, “hardline Israeli settler groups have raised calls on social media for Jewish worshippers to enter the premises. The groups’ objective is to rebuild the Third Jewish Temple on the grounds of Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to their websites.” That’s why the Israelis must frequent the mosque compound as “regularly” as possible. They are seeking to erase 1,400 years of history.

Historical Note

Although the Israeli government claims it has no intention of calling into question the status quo that grants Muslims the right to pray at the site, Al Jazeera notes that in the recent past, “increasing numbers of religious and far-right Israelis have visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.” Palestinians have noticed the trend, sparking their fear that Israel may be seeking to take it over or partition it.

Should such fears be taken seriously? Having witnessed Israeli encroachment on designated Palestinian territories through its relentless, decades-long settlement campaign and its direct attacks on Palestinian culture, Palestinians feel that their trepidation is justified. The expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah are but one recent example among many. Some have been more dramatic and economically destructive than others, such as the building of the West Bank separation wall, an act that should have evoked, in some people’s minds, the historical memory of the wall that surrounded the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw during World War II.

Regularity requires regulation. If “regular” behavior is to be encouraged, there is an absolute need for regulation, the establishment of rules and respect of the same. Without regulation, resolution will be impossible. The United Nations has repeatedly attempted to use its largely unenforceable resolutions as a means of regulation, but to no avail. The US veto at the Security Council has provided Israel with a foolproof insurance policy. This has allowed Israel to violate not only past treaties and dozens of UN resolutions with impunity, but also to escape scrutiny of the countless alleged cases of human rights abuses and even war crimes in recent decades.

The latest conflict demonstrates that any hope of stabilizing the asymmetric situation characterized by a nation committed to colonial domination and content with institutions that merit comparison with South Africa’s institution of apartheid will be illusory. The asymmetry and disequilibrium have suddenly become both too visible to neglect and too deep to maintain. A return to the precarious balance achieved since 2014 seems untenable. The Kushner peace plan promoted by Donald Trump, when it finally emerged after three years of being billed as the “deal of the century,” turned out to be the joke many of us expected it would be. That kind of improvisation is no longer conceivable.

The Americans and Europeans have steadfastly embraced the ideal of a “two-state solution” initially launched in 1974 and ratified by the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993. Most realistic observers today dismiss it as illusory. Historical events since 1993 have created a situation in which neither side now believes the kinds of rules that would apply to a viable two-state solution could be respected, let alone formulated.

Something must be done at the international level. Perhaps the next step will require “regular visits” by serious diplomats — especially American ones — willing for once to assume the role of honest brokers. Given the state of American democracy and the apparent indifference of the Biden administration to the Palestinian drama, that appears unlikely to happen any time soon. 

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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