Opinion

What’s really happening at Jerusalem’s holy sites?

By initiating the latest tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the Palestinian extremists are seeking to rally the world against Israel.

Muslims attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, March 24, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Muslims attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, March 24, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Bassam Tawil

Since the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on March 22, Israeli authorities have taken a series of measures to enable free access for Muslim worshippers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, also known as the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), in Jerusalem.

The measures include providing free-of-charge shuttle services for the worshippers, as well as sealing off several main streets in Jerusalem to traffic so that the Muslims will be able to enter and exit the city without delay.

As a result, tens of thousands of Muslims from Israel and the West Bank were able to attend prayers at the mosque, especially on Fridays, in the first two weeks of Ramadan. That is, until a group of extremist Muslims decided to turn the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound into a scene of anarchy and lawlessness, violating the sanctity of the holy site and endangering the lives of the peaceful worshippers who came to the holy site with the sole purpose of praying.

These extremists, some wearing masks, seemingly did not come to pray. They came, on the face of it, with the aim of rioting and causing disorder. They came with stones, fireworks, wood planks and iron rods. That is not what Muslim worshippers usually bring to a mosque. They also prevented worshippers from leaving the mosque. Their intention was, to all appearances, to create a violent riot against Jewish visitors and the police. In addition, they desecrated the mosque by smuggling fireworks, clubs and stones in and barricading themselves inside using iron rods and furniture among other objects.

When the Israeli police moved to evict the agitators, Israel found itself under attack from a number of countries, as well as many in the Western mainstream media, for “assaulting peaceful worshippers” and sending its troops to “storm” one of Islam’s holiest sites.

Ironically, Israel is being accused of “obstructing” Muslims’ access to the mosque at a time when—thanks to Israel’s hundreds of cost-free coaches that bus Muslims to Jerusalem during Ramadan from all over Israel—a record number of 200,000 worshippers attended the most recent Friday prayer. The number of Muslims who attend the prayers on other days of the year has always been much less.

If Israeli authorities were “hindering” the arrival of worshippers to the mosque, how have up to 200,000 worshippers been reaching the site since the beginning of Ramadan? These figures were not provided by the Israeli authorities, but by the Jordanian-controlled Islamic Waqf Department, which oversees the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. On March 31, for example, the department announced that 250,000 worshippers attended the Friday prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is not unusual for such a large number of Muslims to attend prayers at the mosque during Ramadan.

Last year, Muslims reported that more than 200,000 worshippers attended one of the Friday prayers during Ramadan. Previous years saw similar numbers of Muslims converging on the holy site in Jerusalem, mainly thanks to Israel’s measures facilitating their entry into, and stay inside, the city.

The latest tensions began when a few hundred extremists barricaded themselves inside the mosque after evening prayers. The instigators claimed that they had decided to spend the night inside the mosque to prevent Jews from “storming” the compound. This claim was totally false: no Jew was planning to set foot inside the mosque. This is also not the first time that this lie has been used to incite violence against Israel and Jews. It is also not the first time that a relatively small group of violent extremists have barricaded themselves inside the mosque during Ramadan.

Jews have, for the past few years, been conducting peaceful outdoor tours of the Temple Mount compound, which is also the holiest site for Jews.

There is no law prohibiting non-Muslims, including Jews, from touring the site. In fact, the Islamic religious authorities have long welcomed non-Muslims as visitors at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The issue here, however, is that some Muslims have decided that they do not want to see any Jews visiting the site. That is apparently because Muslim leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have been telling their people that the Jews have no right to visit Judaism’s holiest site.

Abbas and other Muslim figures, such as his prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, continue to deny any Jewish religious and historical connection to Jerusalem in particular and Israel in general, despite massive archeological and archival evidence to the contrary. This includes the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus Flavius, and even the Koran, which mentions the presence of the Jews and Moses in the “Holy Land” multiple times (eg: 17:104; 2:47-48; 9:30; 2:83; 3:110; 3:199; 7:159; 2:62; 22:40; 5:5; 7:145).

Here is what Abbas had to say in 2015 about Jews visiting the Temple Mount:

“The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are ours. They are all ours, and they [Jews] have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We salute every drop spilled for the sake of Jerusalem.”

Since Abbas’s false—actually, slanderous—accusation, dozens of Jews have been murdered in various terror attacks, including stabbings, car-rammings, shootings and bombings, under the pretext of defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Jewish “aggression.”

If there is any violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, it comes from Muslims who resort to verbal and physical abuse against the Jewish visitors and police officers accompanying them. The Muslims have even set up groups of men and women, called Murabitun (“defenders of the faith”), as part of an effort to harass and intimidate Jews who visit the Temple Mount.

The full responsibility for the latest tensions between Israel and the Palestinians lies solely on the Muslims who hijacked Ramadan, evidently to incite violence and spew hatred against Israel and Jews.

Instead of condemning the violent extremists for defiling the mosque, Palestinian leaders and their supporters are blaming Israel for using force to remove them from the mosque to ensure free access to the site for tens of thousands of Muslims who did want to worship.

Instead of calling out the agitators for bringing stones, iron rods and fireworks into the mosque, Palestinian leaders and some Western media outlets continue to issue false accusations and libelous accusations against Israel and the Jews.

By allowing these violent extremists to barricade themselves inside the mosque, the Islamic Waqf Department is acting against its own instructions. On March 21, the Islamic Waqf Department issued a directive in which it stated that Muslims should not stay overnight at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This was agreed to during the recent Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh summits between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as by Jordan and Egypt, to tamp down tensions at the holy site.

Those who are desecrating the mosque are the people hiding inside it and attacking police officers with fireworks and rocks. Those who are desecrating the mosque are the people who damaged the interior of the mosque by using fireworks as weapons. Those who are desecrating the mosque are the people who, after almost every prayer, raise flags and banners of terror groups such as Hamas and chant slogans in support of terrorism.

Where in the Koran does it say that a Muslim who goes to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is required to chant slogans in support of Mohammed Deif, a Hamas arch-terrorist wanted for his involvement in a series of terror attacks that wounded and killed dozens of Jews?

It is Hamas’s charter that openly calls for the elimination of Israel—Hamas, that has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, Canada, as well as other countries.

Is there a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) that encourages Muslims to use a mosque to chant slogans denouncing Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a “spy” for Israel and threatening that Muslims will “stomp on your [Abbas’s] head”? Abbas is often criticized by many Palestinians for allegedly displaying a “moderate” policy towards and allowing his security forces to conduct security coordination with the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank.

By initiating the latest tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the Palestinian extremists are seeking to rally the world against Israel by depicting it as an oppressive state that has no respect for Islamic holy sites. These instigators are hoping to drag Israel into a military confrontation with other Arabs and Muslims, especially in neighboring Syria and Lebanon, from where Palestinians have fired rockets at Israel in the past few days.

These extremists do not hide their affiliation with Hamas and other Iranian terror proxies such as Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Iran’s mullahs say they want to see Israel “wiped off the map.” So do Iran’s proxies in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

The Palestinians who are desecrating the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem are inspired and empowered by Iran’s mullahs. The Iranian regime does not care if the mosque is vandalized or burned down by Palestinian terrorists: it knows that many in the international community will continue to blame Israel, and exonerate those who declare jihad (holy war) on Israel and the Jews.

The mainstream media in the West—who spout misinformation and outright lies about what is really taking place at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound—are fully complicit in this naked jihad to wipe out the Jews.

Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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