Jewish extremists intensify al-Aqsa incursions

Scores of Israelis have entered the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem under heavy escort from Israeli forces in past weeks.

Hundreds more forced their way into the compound in occupied East Jerusalem in recent days coinciding with the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.

Firas al-Dibs, a spokesperson for the Islamic waqf, or foundation, that runs the compound, said that the frequent incursions by settlers who were praying openly were elevating tension at the holy site.

Pictures and videos showing armed occupation forces guarding settlers in the mosque compound circulated on social media:

Israeli occupation forces assaulted al-Aqsa staff and worshippers and detained guards:

Palestinian worshippers performed prayers in the mosque precinct as an act of resistance to the incursions by Jewish extremists.

The al-Aqsa mosque compound, including the golden Dome of the Rock, is one of the most revered sites for Muslims.

After Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel’s chief rabbis banned Jewish prayer on the site for theological reasons, but messianic Jewish extremists increasingly ignore such edicts.

Temple movement

Palestinians view the increasingly aggressive incursions as steps in a gradual takeover by settlers who are backed by the so-called Temple movement.

Supported by senior politicians and rabbis in Israel and funded by the government, 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.

In a boost to the Temple movement in July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that lawmakers may visit the al-Aqsa mosque compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount, once every three months.

Previously, Israeli lawmakers were not allowed to visit the compound due to an agreement between Jordan – which claims a special role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem – and Israel.

Following Netanyahu’s announcement, members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, “have repeatedly exploited their renewed visits to the Temple Mount and adjacent spaces to promote activities that mirror and reinforce the Temple movements’ agenda,” Ir Amim, a nonprofit group that monitors Israeli violations in Jerusalem, stated.

Israeli lawmakers who went up to the compound immediately carried out provocations that will only heighten Palestinian fears and stoke violence as they have in the past, Ir Amim said.

Lawmaker Amir Ohana, for instance, made a video of himself demanding, “When will we see the Israeli flag here?” and asserting the need for “absolute” Israeli sovereignty over the site.

Agriculture minister Uri Ariel, a leading figure in the Temple movement, also made a video stating that the “Muslims are not the owners of the Mount” and yearning that “the Temple be built so there will no longer be days of mourning.”

The Temple movements’ plans to replace the Muslim holy sites would be the apocalyptic culmination of Israel’s ongoing efforts to erase Palestinian culture, reinvent Jerusalem’s history according to a Zionist narrative, change its Islamic features and push Palestinians out of the city.

Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli settlers gathered at the Ibrahimi mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday to perform Yom Kippur prayers.

Israeli settlers permanently took over most of the Ibrahimi mosque following the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers at the site by Baruch Goldstein, an American settler.

Palestinians have long feared that the division of the Ibrahimi mosque could serve as a model for an Israeli takeover of the al-Aqsa compound in whole or in part.

Israeli settlement construction surges

As incursions continued at holy sites, Israel continued its violent encroachment on Palestinian properties.

On Thursday, Israeli settlers tried to take over land owned by a Palestinian in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, the news agency Wafa reported.

Witnesses told the news agency that Israeli settlers bulldozed the land in the presence of Arieh King, a right-wing settler leader and member of the Israeli-run Jerusalem city council.

“The residents of the neighborhood gathered in the area and prevented them from completing the bulldozing,” Wafa reported.

These photos show the plot of land that the settlers attempted to seize:

Across the occupied West Bank, housing starts in Israel’s settlements, all of which are illegal under international law, have surged 187 percent in the second quarter of 2018 compared to the first, according to The Jerusalem Post.

This “could be the first sign of an upward turn of actual West Bank settler construction in the era of the Trump administration,” the newspaper stated.

Settler attacks

Israelis from the occupied West Bank settlement of Yitzhar continue to harass and attack Palestinians from the nearby village of Urif with impunity, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported.

This video published by B’Tselem shows Israeli settlers and soldiers jointly attacking Urif with stones and tear gas on 6 July:

At the end of that assault, the settlers had torched or damaged some 160 fruit trees belonging to five families in the village. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli fire engine showed up in the village, but only extinguished the fire near a shed the settlers had erected days earlier on village lands.

And in June, an Israeli settler hit 71-year-old Palestinian shepherd Salim Shehadeh on his head with a heavy object.

Shehadeh was on his way home in Urif after grazing his sheep nearby when he was attacked. He lost consciousness and woke up in a hospital.

In July, among a number of incidents of vandalism and harassment, Israeli settlers burned two cars belonging to Ziad Shehadeh and his wife Rajaa in the village.

After burning the cars, settlers spray painted “Watch out!” in Arabic on the fence around the family’s home, according to B’Tselem.

The family lived in fear following the incident, and the couple’s 4-year-old child has had trouble sleeping.

“I was afraid that the settlers would torch the whole house,” Ziad told B’Tselem.

“They came over and we stayed on the roof watching the area. I don’t know what to do. We feel that our lives are in danger and we’re afraid to sleep. It’s very hard to feel unsafe inside your own home.”

In August, settlers went back and damaged a new car Ziad had purchased to replace the ones the settlers torched. They also broke windows and punctured tires in two other cars belonging to their neighbors.

“I’m also scared. I don’t open the windows and porch door anymore, not even during the day, because they can appear at any moment,” Rajaa told B’Tselem.

“It’s very difficult to live with this tension.”

Yitzhar, which is built on hundreds of acres of land stolen from Urif and other Palestinian villages, is home to some of the most violent settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Yitzhar’s rabbi Yosef Elitzur has praised settlers who commit so-called price tag attacks.

Elitzur also co-authored a book justifying the killing of non-Jewish children of Israel’s enemies since “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.”

Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.