Warnings of Israeli attacks on Al-Aqsa were ignored. Why?
It was all expected. The brutal Israeli attacks during Ramadan, and especially Tuesday night, on worshippers in Islam’s third-holiest mosque came as no surprise. Everyone predicted it. Jordan, the custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem, called for top-level security meetings to avert the attacks. King Abdullah, whose Hashemite family has taken on the burden of administering the holy site built 1,400 years ago, had taken a personal involvement in the Aqaba summit, which was followed by the Sharm El-Sheikh meetings. His and others’ efforts to de-escalate the tensions have failed due to Israeli intransigence and an inability to stand up to their fanatics.
All persons and governments of interest, including Washington and Cairo, pushed for security meetings to avert violence and escalation in and around this holy mosque, which is revered by 1.9 billion Muslim faithful around the world. Israel promised de-escalation, but did the opposite. But the current Benjamin Netanyahu-led government, full of extremists and subservient to their wishes, appears unable to control its extremist tendencies. Huge popular protests in Israel over plans to overhaul the judicial system have shaken the usually politically steady prime minister. Leaving the sensitive issue of Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and Passover to the extremist minister of national security has inflamed the situation.
The Israeli government turned a blind eye to radical Jewish zealots who set up a site near the Al-Aqsa Mosque where animals were supposed to be sacrificed. They also did nothing to stop a radical organization posting large rewards for any fanatic willing to breach the mosque area to spread the ashes of the sacrificed lamb. Instead, Israeli troops decided that the big problem facing them was the fact that a few Muslim worshippers had decided to stay overnight at the holy site. The practice of Itikaf has been going on during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan for centuries. True, the larger number of people staying overnight during the fasting month do so in the final 10 days, but due to real and serious threats of fanatic Jewish individuals storming the mosque, many decided to preempt this violation of the status quo by literally offering their own bodies in the protection of their holy site.
Warnings by governments and others to the Israeli leadership went unnoticed, as the Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir was in charge and wanted to show off to his peers that he is true to his own warped ideology. Efforts to extract a statement from Ben-Gvir respecting the status quo and opposing the storming of the mosque failed as the minister in charge of security ignored an expected blood bath.
The Israeli government turned a blind eye to radical Jewish zealots who set up a site near the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been largely a political one, even though the Zionist movement has used religion to advance its claims of a divine right to the land of Palestine. But, as far as the international community was concerned, Israel was acting as a democratic civilized country that believed in the right of worship and respected humanitarian law. Efforts by Palestinians, Israelis and international NGOs to expose this lie went unnoticed until hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews demonstrated in opposition to what they perceived as undemocratic moves even against fellow (largely secular) Jewish Israelis.
The decision by the Netanyahu settler-controlled government to ignore warnings and violate the millennial-long status quo pushes the area and the region, as well as the global community, into a religious conflict with an ending that no one can predict. Palestinians are using their own bodies to protect their holy places, but the larger world community of Muslims, and others who understand the dangers of what is happening in Jerusalem, will not allow the creation and perpetuation of a religious war.
Faith is an important part of individual and communal life. It is important that one’s faith is left to the relationship between humans and their God. Faith is also a communal issue, and the insertion of political conflict in violation of long-held beliefs and attachments to holy places is a dangerous act that is totally avoidable.
Powerful rulers who have occupied Jerusalem have failed to control the city when they attempted to take on the wishes of the local community of faith with whom they are dealing. Israel is no exception to this proven rule. The sooner the Israelis understand and respect the status quo and ensure that political differences are solved politically without the insertion of religious emotions, the better for all concerned.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is a holy Muslim site that is administered by a respected leadership that has been working hard to avoid violence and bloodshed. If all the preparations and warnings go unheeded, then one has to conclude that there are sinister parties that do not want to see stability and peace. Respect for the holy site and its tradition is a necessary step in keeping the area and the region stable and peaceful. The patience of those whose faith and traditions are being violated should not be further tested.
• Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.