By Khalid Amayreh
Recent Israeli police violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque confirms that Israel’s leaders condone attempts by Jewish fanatics to destroy the second holiest Islamic shrine
|Israeli border policemen charge towards Palestinian demonstrators during clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound
Al-Aqsa Mosque esplanade witnessed yet another episode of violence on Sunday, 27 September, writes Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank, when a group of Jewish religious fanatics disguised as foreign tourists tried to storm Haram Al-Sharif, apparently to gain “prayer rites” at the Islamic sanctuary.
The Muslim guards, along with worshipers, who had been expecting an intrusion of some sort to take place in light of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), peacefully ousted the intruders after they began performing Jewish rituals and calling for the destruction of Islamic holy places.
However, as soon as the zealots left the esplanade, dozens of crack Israeli policemen stormed the sanctuary compound, attacking worshipers, beating them with truncheons, and firing rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades all over the area.
More than 40 Palestinians were hurt, two seriously. One elderly man was hit in the eye with a rubber-coated bullet. A young man also suffered concussion in the head when he was hit with a stun grenade.
In addition, dozens of other people suffered from tear gas inhalation as well as brutal beatings by police using “exaggerated force”.
Mahmoud Abu Atta, who witnessed the episode, described to Al-Ahram Weekly what happened. “When the zealots were repulsed rather peacefully, the police became very outraged and agitated. As many as 70 policemen attacked us indiscriminately, young and old, with full force, using rubber-coated bullets, truncheons, tear gas and even poisonous gas… I insist poisonous gas. Then the police chased worshipers inside the main mosque, Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the soldiers fired heavily into the holy place, causing many people to suffocate as a result of gas inhalation.”
“I saw the police gang up on young people, beating them mercilessly. The police were not out to maintain law and order. They just wanted to retaliate and punish us for repulsing the fanatical settlers,” Atta added. He said the worshipers sought desperately to defend themselves against exaggerated police brutality, using stones, shoes and chairs.
More confrontations broke out later near Bab Al-Majles when the Israeli police prevented hundreds of other Muslims, including leaders of the Islamic movement in Israel, from accessing Al-Aqsa. At least four people were injured and many were detained and taken away to nearby police lockups. The police also assaulted Abdel-Azim Salhab, head of the Supreme Muslim Council, as he was trying to enter the Sanctuary of Jerusalem through the northern gate, known as Bab Al-Asbat.
Salhab and other Muslim officials in Jerusalem had called on Muslims throughout the city to head for Al-Aqsa Mosque to protect it from Jewish fanatics trying to take over the Islamic shrine. The call was heeded as hundreds of Jerusalemites and other Muslims from across the Green Line (Israel) arrived at the mosque to repulse the zealots.
The police also prevented a number of prominent Muslim religious and civic figures from entering Al-Aqsa compound — including Sheikh Ikrma Sabri, an imam and preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Hatem Abdel-Qader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was also barred from entering.
Speaking to the Weekly, Sabri described the situation as “very grave” and “could explode at any moment”. The Muslim scholar accused the Israeli occupation authorities of trying to gradually desensitise Muslim reactions to Jewish attempts to create “new facts” at the compound. “They simply want to take over part of the Haram. They are trying to partition the Haram as they did in Hebron with the Ibrahimi Mosque. Muslims must never ever allow such a thing to happen.”
“We constantly urge Muslims here to maintain a permanent and uninterrupted presence at Al-Aqsa Mosque. And I can say this has been the case for many years. But the preservation of Al-Aqsa Mosque is not the sole responsibility of Muslims in Palestine, because the holy sanctuary belongs to the entire Muslim umma. Hence it is the responsibility of the entire umma to protect and safeguard this holy place from Zionist plots and evil designs.”
In recent years, fanatical messianic Jewish groups have become more daring in their attempts to gain a foothold at the Islamic holy place as the police allowed them to perform Jewish Talmudic rites and rituals within the Haram esplanade. Some of the rituals included the attempted laying of a cornerstone for the building of a Jewish temple, presumably after the destruction of the Islamic edifices in the area.
Politically, the latest tension is undoubtedly leaving a dark shadow on stumbling American efforts to restart stalled peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Observers in the occupied territories contend that an outbreak of violence, especially if Jewish provocations persisted, could easily deteriorate into a third Intifada that would make all talk about a peace process irrelevant.