Scribblings: Raiders of the Lost Minds

Another “raid” at the Temple Mount

 

On Feb. 5, a Jordanian Government minister said something he must have known was not only untrue but absurd. 

He said that “occupation forces and settlers” carried out “30,000 raids” on the al-Aqsa Mosque in 2018. Awqaf (religious endowments) Minister Abdul Nasser Abul Bassal, in a statement to Jordan’s Petra news service, also referred to these supposed raids as “break-ins at al-Aqsa Mosque.” He contrasted the “30,000 raids” last year with the “5,000 raid incidents in 2005” and went on to warn that if these “provocative practices and the attacks by extremists” aren’t stopped by the “Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, Arab and Islamic countries, UNESCO and relevant international organisations”, it “will take the region to a religious war that His Majesty King Abdullah [of Jordan] has always warned against.”

What can he possibly be referring to that amounts to 30,000 “raids” – that is more than 80 “raids” per day – in a single year? 

He is almost certainly referring to the number of individual Jews who visited the Temple Mount compound, the 36-acre historic holy site where the al-Aqsa mosque is located, and which Jews, Christians and even most Muslims believe is the site of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 CE. To be clear, none of them raided or even entered the “al-Aqsa Mosque.” Non-Muslims have not been allowed into the al-Aqsa Mosque since 2000. 

Also none of them “broke in”. It has been the case that non-Muslims, including Jews, have been allowed to visit the Temple Mount, which is under the control of Muslim religious authorities, during set visitor hours for at least the last hundred years (except during active wars). This was the case well before Israel was established or gained control of the Old City of Jerusalem.

While there has been an increase in the number of visibly religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount in recent years – while in the past most Orthodox rabbis forbade such visits, some are now permitting or encouraging them – they represent a tiny fraction of the total visitors to the compound. They are certainly less than 1% of the total visitors to the site – in 2013, there were 4,000,000 Muslim visitors and 200,000 Christian ones. 

More than this, Israel has strictly policed a rule that says Jews may not pray, even silently, on the Mount, or bring prayer books or other religious items, in order to protect Muslim sensitivities, despite the site being the world’s holiest for Jews. Any Jew who is caught mouthing anything that might be a prayer is immediately removed from the area. Frankly, this is basically a blatant violation of religious freedom, but one perhaps defensible given the volatility of the Temple Mount as a flashpoint for violence. 

But that is just the point – the Temple Mount is a flashpoint for violence precisely because people like Minister Abdul Nasser Abul Bassal are determined to make it one by saying crazy things about it. He is not alone in referring to visits by Jews – and only Jews, not Christians – as “raids” or “break-ins” in recent years, even though such peaceful visits have been going on since time immemorial. Similar language is also common among Palestinian leaders and in Palestinian media, and in Arabic media such as Al Jazeera. 

Moreover, continuing false claims about a threat to the al-Aqsa has been a key element of incitement against Israel and Jews in the Middle East since at least the 1920s. The most important Palestinian Arab leader of the time, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, used the al-Aqsa issue repeatedly to stoke anti-Jewish violence. 

Yet today, even an intelligent and accomplished person like a minister in the Government of Jordan – which is at peace with Israel, and benefits greatly from this in numerous ways, and absolutely does not want violence to break out over the Temple Mount issue given the Jordanian Government’s fragility – is still prepared to use such obviously absurd language about “raids” and “break-ins” to incite against Jews. It just goes to show how crazy a place the Middle East often is.