By Juan Cole / Informed Comment
Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reports that dozens of Israeli squatters, with Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir at their head, stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque complex early on Sunday morning from the Moroccan Gate. They were closely guarded by Israeli police, who imposed restrictions on the entry of Palestinians.
It was the second time since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made Ben-Gvir a cabinet minister that he has stormed the grounds of al-Aqsa Mosque. This time he led his fellow fanatics to the area in front of the Buraq Mosque, a subterranean chamber with a ring on its wall where Muslims believed that the Prophet Muhammad tied his donkey, Buraq, before ascending from that place to the outskirts of heaven. The al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, which includes the Dome of the Rock and the Buraq Mosque, is the third holiest spot for the 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide.
Although many Jews call it the “Temple Mount,” there is no reason to believe that Solomon’s temple ever stood there. There are many disputes about where exactly the Second Temple stood, but Israeli archeologists have concluded that the al-Aqsa Mosque does not stand within the area of the ancient Temple. The Israeli religious establishment has decreed that no Jew should step foot there because there are human remains somewhere in the area. This may be a reference to the Zealots killed by Roman troops when they took the Second Temple in 70 CE and destroyed it.
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Ben-Gvir is therefore defying the Chief Rabbinate and making himself ritually impure in the eyes of Orthodox Jews.
Arab 48 reported from informed sources in Ben-Gvir’s far right wing Jewish Power bloc that PM Netanyahu was aware of the plans to storm the al-Aqsa compound.
Ben-Gvir said once he was at the site, “Israel is sovereign over Jerusalem,” and added, “the threats of Hamas no longer work.” He said, “We are the masters of Jerusalem and all of the land of Israel.”
The group of extremist squatters received information about the alleged Temple at the site and performed religious rites there. They also taunted the Palestinians.
At the same time, Israeli security has imposed restrictions on Palestinian young men coming to the compound.
The spokesman for the office of the president of the Palestine Authority, Nabil Abu Radina, said that this second incursion to the holy site would have repercussions. He said that the attempts of Ben-Gvir and others to change the Status Quo at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound were rejected and doomed to failure.
The al-Aqsa Compound Endowment is run by the government of Jordan, and the foreign minister condemned the incident in the strongest possible terms. He said that all 45 acres of the compound comprised a place of worship purely for Muslims. He said that the Jordanian Ministry of Endowments has exclusive jurisdiction over the compound.
I explained earlier,
The holy places in Jerusalem are governed by a kind of compact among religious groups called the “Status Quo,” which Israel had agreed to observe.
The UN reported last year,
“The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said that a few days ago, Israeli occupying forces stormed the Aqsa Mosque compound/Haram al-Sharif, shooting at worshipers and desecrating the mosque with military boots and violence. He pointed out that 200 Palestinians, including women and children were wounded and 400 arrested, yet Israel claims it is upholding the historic status quo.
Not only does Israel use security to justify killing Palestinian children on their way to school, it labels Palestinian worshippers as terrorists, he continued. Jewish extremists and settlers are not merely visiting Haram al‑Sharif, but are seeking a takeover. Israel has no authority over Haram al‑Sharif where the historic and legal status quo must be upheld, he said, adding that the occupying Power is also targeting the Palestinian identity of the city.”
The US State Department sharply criticized Ben-Gvir for his provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric.
The Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement, calling the incursion “fascist” and saying,
We strongly condemn the incursion by the Israeli Minister of National Security on May 21, accompanied by Israeli security forces, into the Haram-i Sharif, which clearly violates international law. It is in no way acceptable for the members of the Israeli Government to challenge the historical status of the Haram-i-Sharif and to engage in provocative and fascist actions. Once again, we call on the Israeli Government to immediately cease any provocative action that violates the historical status of the Haram-i-Sharif based on international law and to act responsibly.
Although secular Americans may not be able to see it, these disputes over al-Aqsa are some of the more dangerous events now happening in the world, and could easily boil over into Armageddon. I don’t think the world’s Muslims will take losing al-Aqsa lying down.
Juan Cole, a TomDispatch regular, is the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A New Translation From the Persian and Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. His latest book is Peace Movements in Islam. His award-winning blog is Informed Comment. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).