Maha Akeel, Arab News
Published — Friday 23 February 2007
Last Update 23 February 2007 3:00 am
JEDDAH, 23 February 2007 — The foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) yesterday accused the international community of ignoring the excavations near the Al-Aqsa Mosque that many contend will affect the structural foundation of Islam’s third-holiest site.
The excavation is also perceived as part of Israel’s efforts to encourage Jewish settlements in Al-Quds, including predominantly Muslim East Jerusalem.
Expressing surprise at what he called the “deafening silence of the international community” toward Israel’s policies in Al-Quds, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu appealed to the world to preserve Jerusalem (which is also referred to as Al-Quds) as the convergence point of the world’s three monotheistic religions. It should, he said, be preserved as a pilgrimage destination for all three faiths.
Ihsanoglu made these remarks during an extraordinary meeting of the OIC to formulate a strong response to the archaeological excavation work being conducted near the mosque.
The OIC chief expressed the view of many when he said that Israel’s work in Jerusalem is part of an ongoing policy of encouraging Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Ihsanoglu said that the fulfillment of OIC’s responsibility requires that the member states should unite and pool their resources.
New Jewish housing continues to be constructed in East Jerusalem. Nof Zion consists of 395 new housing units scheduled to open this year in the heart of what every peace plan has considered the capital of a future Palestinian state. Critics say that Israeli policies in Jerusalem favor Jewish settlers over local Palestinian residents. These settlements and zoning issues are inexorably linked to the Al-Aqsa excavations, which is why organizations such as the OIC firmly oppose the digging. The OIC is asking the Middle East Quartet to put pressure on Israel to immediately end these excavations.
The final communiqué adopted by the OIC’s emergency extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee at the foreign ministers level condemned the excavation works carried out by Israel, an occupying power, that many say is threatening the Al-Aqsa Mosque in clear violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The ministers demanded that the UN Security Council intervene to take the necessary measures to protect the mosque.
The foreign minister of Malaysia reiterated this call for unity. “We must sternly and collectively in a cohesive voice demand an immediate stoppage to the excavation works carried out by Israel,” said Syed Hamid Albar. “Any inaction by the UN Security Council on Israel’s actions would be interpreted as promoting double standard in international practice.”
He asked that other organizations and NGOs be involved, including the UN Human Rights Council and UN’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and pointed to the need to disseminate and create awareness through mainstream media, especially in the West, of Israel’s efforts to alter the demographic composition of Jerusalem.
“I believe that only through our joint efforts will we be able to successfully strengthen Islamic solidarity among the OIC member states in dealing with unprecedented challenges the Islamic Ummah is facing today,” said Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in his speech.
The communiqué called on OIC member states to provide financial and moral support to the Palestinian population in Al-Quds and provide advisory and technical support to the Endowment Department in Al-Quds.
It also urged the OIC General Secretariat to follow the implementation of the international decisions and resolutions adopted regarding the preservation of Al-Quds’ religious, historical and demographic character, especially the decisions adopted by the 30th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in July 2006. These were approved by all UNESCO member states, including Israel. Under the agreement, Israel is to provide to the WHC all relevant information concerning its plans for new buildings and reconstruction of the access leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The communiqué also called on the OIC General Secretariat and the member states to organize activities that highlight the cause of Al-Quds and Palestine and expose the dangerous violations and illegal measures carried out by Israel.
The communiqué requests the UNESCO to form a committee to investigate the Israeli aggressions against Al-Aqsa Mosque and prevent it from tampering with the historical character of the Holy City. The ministers also affirmed the need to launch an international campaign to elucidate the dangers threatening Al-Aqsa Mosque and the sanctuaries of Al-Quds and the serious implications on security and stability in the region and beyond.