Israel uses Eid to push forward al-Aqsa takeover

Israeli police injured dozens of Palestinians praying at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Sunday, the first day of Eid al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice.

The Muslim holiday this year coincides with the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, which in Jewish belief commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

The Islamic Waqf – the body responsible for Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem – announced on Friday that only the al-Aqsa mosque would open its doors for prayers in Jerusalem on the first day of the holiday.

Israel initially closed the al-Aqsa mosque compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call al-Haram al-Sharif, for Jewish worshippers on Sunday, as is the norm, to avoid clashes with Muslim worshippers.

Israel regularly imposes tight closures on all Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip for days during Jewish holidays.

Israel then reversed its decision, allowing more than 1,700 Jewish Israelis to enter the compound under the protection of occupation forces:

Israel fired tear gas canisters, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinian worshippers in the compound.

This video shows Israeli forces firing rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinians:

Local media circulated pictures and videos showing Israeli forces attacking Palestinian worshippers:

This video shows Palestinians, including children, running from Israeli forces:

Fifteen Palestinians were hospitalized and seven arrested.

Gradual takeover

Jewish religious authorities backed the ban on Jewish worshippers from entering the compound during the Tisha B’Av holiday out of religious principles.

“Jews are strictly prohibited from entering Temple Mount according to Jewish law, and it would be best if they avoid from entering the complex all year long,” Yitzhak Yosef, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, stated.

This reflects the longstanding position of Israel’s official rabbinate.

But Jewish nationalist groups with close links to the government defy this position.

Activists from the so-called Temple movement encourage Jews to go to al-Aqsa, using such incursions as steps toward a gradual takeover of the site by settlers.

“It seems the Arabs are going to win over the battle to open Temple Mount to Jews on Tisha B’Av,” an activist with the movement told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“When hundreds of thousands of Jews arrive at Temple Mount, no one will be able to prevent the building of the Temple,” another said.

The ultimate aim of the movement – openly declared by many of its adherents – is the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock and their replacement with a Jewish temple.

However, Temple movement activists often obscure this goal and claim they merely want more access for Jews to pray at the site, framing the matter as an issue of equality and civil rights.

But as The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah told Al Jazeera English on Sunday, “you can’t have civil rights under military occupation when Palestinians have no civil rights, no human rights.”

“The thing I would ask [Likud lawmaker] Yehuda Glick, which I don’t see too many journalists doing, why have you and your Temple movement published blueprints for this Jewish temple, which will be built on the ruins of al-Aqsa mosque?” Abunimah added.

Glick is a leader of the Israeli-government backed Temple movement.

United States envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted in support of Israeli settlers.

“Don’t let anyone claim Israel is ‘judaizing’ the City of Jerusalem,” Greenblatt stated.

Israel’s strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan celebrated the decision to allow Jewish Israelis into the compound to “strengthen Israeli sovereignty on the mount.”

Such comments expose how Israel’s real agenda is to use Jewish worship at the site as a cover and alibi for its illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem.

Condemnations

Jordan – the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem – condemned Israeli violence against Palestinian worshippers.

Foreign minister Ayman Safadi said that “attempts by the occupying authorities will not change the status quo of occupied Jerusalem.”

Safadi warned that Israel’s violations of the holy site could lead to an “explosion” in the already volatile situation.

Jordan called on the international community to pressure Israel to halt its provocations.

The Palestinian Authority also called for international action.

Settler organization strengthens hold

Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Church filed a lawsuit with an Israeli court last week seeking to overturn leases of Jerusalem properties to a settler organization.

The 99-year leases are for three prime properties near Jaffa Gate. They were given to Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing organization involved in Israeli settlement on Palestinian land in Jerusalem.

In June, the Israeli high court ruled in favor of the settler organization, giving the greenlight for it to take over the properties.

The church claims to have new evidence of corruption including bribes between the settler group and church officials involved in the leases, Haaretz reported.

Previously, Ateret Cohanim claimed to have bought the church land in 2004 from Ireneus I, the Greek Orthodox patriarch at the time.

The Greek Orthodox Church has subsequently taken over the site but Ateret Cohanim is now trying to seize the land that it says it bought over a decade ago.

Ireneus I claims his ousting was not legal and still identifies as the patriarch.

Theophilos III, the current patriarch, has rejected the sale that his predecessor approved, saying it involved corruption.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.