Incitement and tensions in east Jerusalem
Sep 22, 2015
Update from AIJAC
Sept. 22, 2015
Number 09/15 #04
Today’s Update looks at the main causes of the recent escalation in tension and violence in east Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount where Israeli police have faced off against Palestinian stone throwers and reported finding pipe bombs. The stone throwing claimed the life last week of 64-year-old Alexander Levlovich whose car was hit by a rock whilst he was driving in east Jerusalem.
The violence is being encouraged through incitement coming from a range of Palestinian sources. These include Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas who declared on September 16 that “The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.
Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has compiled a selection of quotes from PA officials who have used visits by Jews to the site as an opportunity to incite violence against Israelis. There are also reports that Palestinians were throwing stones at pilgrims visiting Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem and even Molotov cocktails at Jews visiting Joseph’s Tomb near Nablus this week.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to deter stone throwers, the Israeli Cabinet has authorised the deployment of snipers in Jerusalem. Israel has also condemned Jordan’s King Abdullah - who has nominal oversight over the Wakf (Muslim religious authority which administers the Islamic holy sites) – for not condemning stone throwers and saying that the site was for Muslim prayer only.
First up, Ynet’s Ron Ben Yishai blamed the violence on the PA’s support of a mens organization called Murabitun and a women’s organization called Murabitat, whose people get paid to riot in the temple mount area and prevent Jews from even freely moving about in the areas permitted to them. Israel has recently banned these groups. Ben Yishai proposes a series of responses to counter the violence, including “checkpoints on the entrances and exits of Palestinian neighborhoods that are likely problem areas”; “uniformed and undercover police and IDF forces (in cases other than Jerusalems)” in large numbers and “equipped with riot dispersal means, and in especially dangerous scenarios, should be covered by snipers, who will fire low-caliber bullets…to wound, with a veteran officer being physically near each sniper, overseeing them…This kind of action might lead the adult Palestinians in these neighborhoods to mollify, even slightly, the local youths.” To read this article, CLICK HERE.
Next, also from Ynet is a piece by Nahum Barnea, who visited the Temple Mount to witness first hand what is occurring. Niso Shaham, a former Israeli high ranking official responsible for the sites security, tells him of the malignant role played by the Islamist organisation Islamic Movement in Israel led by Sheikh Raed Salah who is trying to push out the Wakf. To read this piece, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Qanta Ahmed, who promotes Muslim-Jewish dialogue, laments the rage directed at Jews and Judaism by some of her co-religionists. Ahmed calls on Muslims to acquaint themselves with Judaism, noting how detached these Muslims [are] from the knowledge that Judaism is Islam’s predecessor, the Torah among our Divine Books. To read this article, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- UN Watch reveals that Saudi Arabia, one of the worlds worse human rights abusers, has been elected to chair a UN Human Rights Council panel which makes key appointments, an election that was initially kept secret.
- Douglas Murray of the Gatestone Institute highlights the case of a Saudi minor, arrested at a protest, convicted of firearms offences without access to a lawyer, allegedly after signing a false confession under torture, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.
- Recent AIJAC guest and former George W. Bush Administration senior official Elliott Abrams argues that allowing Russia’s military into Syria is just the latest in a series of disastrous mistakes Barack Obama has made in relation to Syria.
- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tells reporters, following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Russia will not interfere in Israeli strikes against Syrian arms transfers to Hezbollah.
- David Makovsky of the Washington Institute analyses Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow.
- Emeritus professor of international law at Purdue University Louis Rene Beres points out legal shortcomings in the Iran nuclear agreement.
- From the Washington Institute, former State Department counter-proliferation adviser Robert Einhorn and former IAEA deputy director-general Olli Heinonen discuss the implications of the Iran deal for proliferation in the Middle East, while former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus (Ret.) and James Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, examine its implications for regional security.
- Isi Leibler writes that in condemning the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, Israels Chief Rabbis have regrettably besmirched one of “Israel’s most dedicated allies and ardent supporters, and sets out how the Embassy has earned this praise.
Handling the stone-throwing terrorists
Ynetnews, September 15, 2015
The rising tide of clashes at the Temple Mount, and increased incidents of stone throwing in Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods are no coincidence. The rise can be attributed to a number of reasons, with the leading cause being the growing incitement on social networks which is pushing Palestinian youths into the streets to “defend” the Al Aqsa mosque. As they put it, the Jews and the state of Israel are trying to change the existing status-quo.
Every year, during the main Israeli holidays, large numbers of Jews visit the western wall, and tourist visits to the temple mount increase. Concurrently, a wave of incitement begins to take hold, and is not solely limited to social networks. The incitement is also spread by imams, and interested parties like the notorious Shiekh Raed Salah. The incitement takes like wildfire to brush and spreads rapidly across society. In contrast to the past where muezzins would deliver the call toaction through minaret speakers, today everything happens within the networks.
Stone-throwing is usually a byproduct of the temple mount riots. The outbursts by Palestinian youth and the barricading inside the Al Aqsa mosque, and the Israeli polices attempts to bring back order to the area and prevent harm from coming to Jews, are intensively covered by the media and not just from Arab countries, but Western ones as well. This leads to responses by governments, such as Jordans.
Jordan has been appointed by the World Supreme Council for Mosques (WSCM) to be a patron and guardian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, and so it is allegedly obligated to protect these places from any attempt by Israel to take control of them and change their status quo. The Jordanian clerks know very well whats happening at the temple mount. They know there are organizations sent by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and inspired by Hamas, a mens organization called Murabitun and a womens organization called Murabitat, whose people get paid to riot in the temple mount area and prevent Jews from even freely moving about in the areas permitted to them.
They know that these riots and the youths barricading of the mosque are meant to incite the Palestinian public, but King Abdullah, who has already warned of the deterioration of ties between Israel and Jordan, needs to also think about the danger he, and his regime, face in an age when radical Islam is rising throughout the region, and so he publishes statements of condemnation.
The stone-throwing this year is a particularly powerful phenomenon, after the Jewish terrorist arson attack in the village of Doma (near Nablus), in which three members of the Dawabsha family were murdered. The recent death of family mother Riham Dawabsha, the latest victim, reignited the flames of rage. The unrelenting media coverage is further fanning the fire. But this time the stone-throwing has resulted in a loss of life, when Alexander Levlovich, a 64-year-old man from Jerusalem, was killed on Rosh Hashanah eve.
This murder makes it very clear that the stone and Molotov cocktail are deadly weapons, no less so than a firearm. The problem is that in western democracies, mostly in Europe and North America the places that havent experienced a true intifada of stone-throwing the act is seen sometimes as a prank, or a nuisance which is somewhat dangerous, but not one that justifies the use of deadly (or semi-deadly) force. It isnt seen as something that justifies the use of live fire, even of rubber bullets, which are considered a legitimate tool for combating stone-throwers and cocktail-lobbers.
Drastic measures like the prolonged jailing of minors are met with harsh criticism in the international community, in a way that makes the effect of the de-legitimizing campaign against us more powerful. So what do we do?
The police handle the temple mount riots carefully and skillfully. A certain pattern has developed, in which the youths barricade themselves inside the Al Aqsa mosque, then curse and insult Jewish visitors to the temple mount. The Israeli polices special forces then storm the mosque and evict the youths, despite the firecrackers and Molotov cocktails they are pelted with.
Things usually cool down between holidays, but the Jewish month of Tishrei is crowded with them, and so it marks a month of non-stop riots. What happens on the temple mount can be described as a closed playground where the police has enough experience to manage things with hardly any bloodshed. It should be mentioned that officers are often among those wounded in the riots. The tougher problem is the stone-throwing. The prime minister even gathered a special meeting in order to try and find new ways to better enforce the law, and punish stone-throwers and their guardians.
Most stone-throwers are kids, teenagers, and young men, between the ages of 10-20. Those who do the most damage are the 14-year-olds and above. They have the strength to take a rock or heavy boulder, sometimes a block of concrete, and slam it into the windshield of a Jewish-driven car that passes by. Thats why these people need to be the targets of most law enforcement means. Heavy fines given to the parents, pre-trial arrests, and administrative detentions for the adult stone-throwers, might bring about immediate results.
The point is to throw a heavy blanket on the area. That term covers a few means of action, chief among them the deployment of uniformed and undercover police and IDF forces (in cases other than Jerusalems), which will move in large groups and be capable of facing large numbers of young stone-throwers and rioters. They need to be equipped with riot dispersal means, and in especially dangerous scenarios, should be covered by snipers, who will fire low-caliber bullets if and only if they receive a direct order from an officer, whose position is that of a company commander or higher. These shots will not be meant to kill, but to wound, with a veteran officer being physically near each sniper, overseeing them.
Another means is the use of checkpoints on the entrances and exits of Palestinian neighborhoods that are likely problem areas, such as Abu-Tor, Zur Baher, Silwan, and others. The containment of these neighborhoods in places that will allow for what the IDF calls breathing checkpoints ones that let residents move in and out by car and foot. Whoever goes in or out will be subject to searches, which is a very effective means, even though it significantly obstructs the local residents lives. This kind of action might lead the adult Palestinians in these neighborhoods to mollify, even slightly, the local youths.
Its true that the youngsters can exit these neighborhoods through alternative routes, but thats much harder and less comfortable. In addition, there will be patrols and cameras that will monitor the entire area from above. The balloon which served the Israeli police well during the previous riot wave in Jerusalem is an excellent means of tracking. I prefer not to address Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdans idea of preventing the advancement of judges who punish stone-throwers lightly, out of respect for the minister.
The combination of a clear uniformed presence and undercover activity of officers in the field, monitoring by cameras, and blocking the entry and exit points of problematic neighborhoods, will no doubt calm the situation, but we cant fall into delusion. The waves of riots and stone-throwing at the temple mount will come back again, and again, and again.
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Fear and loathing at the Temple Mount
Ynetnews, Sept. 9 201
Wednesday was quiet on the Temple Mount relatively. At 1:30pm a line of 70 visitors gathered at the southern edge of the Wailing Walls plaza, near a small barred gate.
The heat was intense, suffocating, as is often the case in Jerusalem at the end of summer. Two metal signs in Hebrew and English, warned: It is against the Torah to enter the Temple Mount area due to its sanctity.” The Chief Rabbinate had signed the warning.
But Israel being Israel, every instruction comes with a wink. On the side of the sign forbidding entry hangs a big mezuzah, so that the person who decides in any event to enter will have something to kiss.
A tourist wearing a big black kippah, appropriate for visiting the Jews’ holiest site, is, to his shock, forced by the security guards to remove it. Kippahs are forbidden there. They anger the Muslims.
Two of those standing in line stood out. One, wearing a denim shirt, with a small red beard, was carrying forbidden artifacts in his backpack. When he was asked to leave his backpack behind, a commotion broke out.
The second, in the work uniform of a soldier of the religious Nahal Haredi battalion, his side-locks swaying, a wool hat hung carelessly on his head, was at the front of the line, as if he were the owner. The police gathered around. No less than twelve Special Patrol Unit policemen surrounded them.
Further along, Shlomi Tubul, Temple Mount police commander, was protecting them. Tubuls eyes were red. He had a busy Rosh Hashanah at the Temple Mount.
It looked like a stroll by two high-level gangsters in the prison yard, or a prime ministers tour of a terrorist attack site. Every one of the participants knew that he was taking part in a play, that nothing was real. The two young men moved forward at a snail’s pace, playing their game near the policemen and the Muslims on the esplanade.
They spoke loudly, taking turns, as if they were having an argument. They spoke about Jews, Muslims, the slain, mosques. Their words were meant to pressure the policemen, to spur them to action. One policeman filmed the procession, pace by pace.
The first stop was Al-Aqsas façade. Outside the mosques western door sat a group of elderly women, dressed in black, on plastic chairs. When the procession passed by, they started shouting Allahu Akbar. The screams were part of a ritual. Just like the childrens game “hot or cold”, when the child gets closer to the hidden object, the children scream, hot, hotter, burning, and when he gets further from it they scream cold, colder, freezing.
After exactly two minutes the women were quiet, and resumed speaking to each other calmly. But a girl of about 12 or 13 stubbornly followed the procession eastward. She screamed in a clear, strong voice: Allahu akbar, and the duet took place on both sides of Kerem Hazeitim, on the eastern side of the Mount. Schoolchildren in uniforms silently watched the spectacle. The Waqf officials accompanied the procession from a safe distance.
I followed them, drawn to the performance, embarrassed by its wretchedness. On this side, the less toured part of the Mount, there was a huge pile of building debris, scrap-iron, a broken-down tractor, collapsed roofing, and garbage that was waiting in vain to be picked up. One looking for stones to throw would find a veritable treasure trove here. I asked one of the Waqf officials why they dont get rid of the garbage, and he responded: They wont let us.
One of his friends said: Look, two people are causing the state all this uproar. They dont care about anything. Look at how many soldiers, how much money is spent.
Everyone is getting money, he said, the police, the settlers, the screaming women. Its all income.
Visiting time was almost over. The two young men tried to climb the staircase leading to the Dome of the Rock. The police blocked their way. This is also part of the ritual. They both now turned their backs on the Shalshelet Gate, from which they are supposed to leave the site, and went backwards, looking small, transparent. The police pushed them almost without touching them, the police moving forward, the two backwards, a kind of Temple Mount pasodoble.
You are infidels, one of the Waqf officials screamed at them in Hebrew. He was wearing a black t-shirt with the words CastroMan written on it.
Then Sheikh Zihad Abu Halayel came and lectured to the policemen: Do you want blood to be spilt here, Jewish blood, Arab blood? Tubul listened patiently to the speech. He kept his reaction to himself.
The sheikh approached me. He was wearing a brown robe and a keffiyeh. His left hand held a walking stick and a yellow robe, carefully folded. His right hand held a paper coffee cup. He looked noble, except for the paper cup. In a paper cup, its not the same coffee.
You listen to me and write, he told me in good Hebrew. I was a junk peddler in Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. Once I saw small children in a burning house. I entered and saved them. I also got burned a bit. Thank God the Magen David Adom came and took me and the kids to the hospital.
“When did this happen?” I asked him.
When Olmert was mayor, he said.
Hes from the village Dura, south of Hebron. In his old age he has found recognition he organizes reconciliation ceremonies and serves as a conciliator and a gate preacher. The settlers together with the police want to create chaos at Al-Aqsa, he said. They want to scream, to hit, they want our lives to end. If they want peace they should stop the settlers at the entrance gate. They should not let them enter.
I asked him why he doesnt reconcile between the Jews and the Arabs given that he is an expert at reconciliations.
He got riled up. “Reconciliation? What kind of reconciliation? We have 10,000 prisoners. We have land that you have stolen. We have little kids that you have burnt. Give us first what is ours, what belongs to us, and then we will have reconciliation.
He got angrier. Netanyahu, that dog he said.
I cut him off. “Why are you cursing that way?”I said “You are an old, respectable man.”
He saw that I had stopped writing. You write what I told you, he ordered.
Niso Shaham, a former deputy commissioner, knows the Temple Mount better than any other police officer in Israel. He was a commander of its security three times first as an officer responsible for the holy sites in Jerusalem, then as a commander of the area and a third time as a district commander.
He wove exceptionally trusting relationships with all the major players on the Temple Mount, starting with the Waqf, the Jordanian government, the Palestinian Authority and ending with the Jews who are most attached to the site. They were wary of him and respected him. More importantly, they accepted his authority, and through him the states authority.
I asked him what he thought of the situation on the Temple Mount. He told me he was worried. During Rosh Hashanah they found three pipe bombs on the Temple Mount, he said. In 20 years there’s been nothing like it.
I asked why this was happening.
He gave me a crash course on the status quo.
Lets start with the Jordanians, he said. For them the Temple Mount is an opportunity but also a thorn in their side. Its an opportunity as it gives them a standing and influence. A thorn, as people come to them with complaints. Any change in the status quo threatens them.
“But the status quo changes all the time,” I said. “At one time a religious Jew wouldnt dare to go to the Temple Mount due to the religious interdiction. Today, thousands of them go. Uri Ariel, a government minister, wants to build a synagogue there. How can a country that preaches freedom of religion refuse his request?”
There are always powers, from the Jewish side and the Arab side, who want to change the status quo, he said. The Jews are harder to control, for obvious reasons. But this is the polices job. It requires an intelligent police officer, who knows how to be generous, but also holds a big stick. One must never show weakness.
If I understand Shaham correctly, the problem does not stem from action but rather from oversight: a government that evades dealing with the Temple Mount during relatively quiet times, ends up encountering it during difficult times, of blood and fire.
Shaham believed in a combination of generosity and aggressiveness. He used to say to Adnan Husseini, the governor of Jerusalem on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, that he wears a straightjacket to meetings with him as if Husseini gets him angry he may act wildly. What did you wear today? Husseini would ask him at the start of every meeting, half in jest and half seriously.
The Islamic Movement in Israel, said Shaham, that of Sheikh Raed Salah, wants to take control of the Temple Mount. The Palestinian Waqf hates this as this harms its standing. The Jordanians are angry. The salaries of the Waqfs workers, including the 164 security guards on the Mount, come from Jordan. Salah would collect contributions and would give each guard an additional $200 a month. This would kill the Waqf leadership. Do you know what that does to a young man from Silwan, who is living on a small Jordanian salary in dinars?
Sheikh Salah is from the city of Umm al-Fahm. His father was an Israeli policeman and his brother was an officer in the police force. His years-long struggle against what he deemed Israeli attempts to expel the Muslims from Al-Aqsa caused much damage.
People from both sides were killed in the resulting clashes and terrorist attacks. Our ties with Jordan and the rest of the Arab world were damaged. The Hashemite Kingdom’s monarchy suffered as a result. Arab MKs were dragged into the quagmire he created as a response to right wing MKs.
The sheik’s campaign began as false incitement, and later became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Controlling the Temple Mount is as important in Islamic fundamentalism it is in Jewish fundamentalism. Thats how things are in wars between religions, just like wars rooted in nationalism.
Muslim tradition revered Jerusalem because it was revered by Jews and Christians. The story says that the Prophet Mohammed rose to the heavens from Jerusalem. He tied up his infamous horse, Al Buraq, to the city’s walls.
Recent generations of Muslims have changed the horse’s location from the Eastern Wall to the Western Wall, due to the reverence Jews hold towards the Western Wall. The marks left by the rope are still displayed to this day, on the southern corner of the Western Wall.
“You should have placed Sheik Salah in the same cell with Uri Ariel, deep in the Nafha Prison,” I told Niso Shaham. “They would have quickly realized how similar they are to each other, in their aspirations, working methods, and determination, and they would have become good friends.
“Raed Salah is a genius,” said Shaham. “He once told me that, ‘you can kill me, but you can’t kill Islam.’ He established the Murabitan the groups of men who are Israeli citizens who would riot on the Temple Mount, and the Marabitat, the women’s group. He used to drive them and pay them. I wanted to arrest them. My commanders told me to forget about it.
“They would show up in buses, seat themselves under the olive tree in front of Al Aqsa and listen to the Imam’s sermon,” he continued. “When they would see an Israeli visitor they would start yelling. They scared the Waqf just as much as they scared the Israelis.
“When I wanted to arrest them, they would ask me under what article. I told them according to article gimmel, which doesnt actually exist in the books. First security then articles.”
“How do you explain the religious Zionists’ movement to visit the mount?”I asked.
“When settlers started visiting the mount, I went to the rabbis,” he said. “I asked what it was about. The answers were mumbled. They didnt know how to deal with the movement. The phenomenon was part of the breakdown in the religious hierarchy. The nationalist ideology took precedence over the religious ideology.
“This is where the police come into the picture,” he added. “I didnt allow right wing politicians to enter. I told one of them, you can see the Temple Mount in a movie. You’re not just anyone: Youre a symbol. I dont let people who are trying to change the status quo up to the mount.”
“But they have the right to,” I pointed out.
“There is a time and place where even rights shouldnt be fulfilled,” Shaham said. “Thats why I opposed Sharon’s visit in 2000. The Muslim High Council agreed to hear me out. I told them that he was the head of the opposition. It’s his right.
“Jerusalem’s mufti heads the High Council. ‘What saddens me most, and what I dont understand,’ he said, ‘is how we can’t defeat you. Youre a nation that doesnt learn its lesson, doing silly things all the time, and we still lose against you.
“‘If Sharon visits the Temple Mount, rivers of blood will spill here,’ the Mufti said,” he recalled. “Who brings Ariel Sharon, a catastrophic figure for the Arab world, to the Temple Mount a day after the one year anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre? I told them he wouldnt enter the mosques. I would make sure of that. He replied saying that in his eyes the whole mount was a mosque.
“I went with that to Barak, who was the Prime Minister back then. ‘There will be an intifada,’ I said. Barak replied,’ you’re saying this, but there is no intelligence to prove it.’ ‘When the visit will happen there will be intelligence,’ I said. Danny Yatom, Barak’s chief of staff waved me out.”
“Why,” I asked, “is the status quo so holy in your eyes?”
“I’ll tell you a story,” he said. “One day, when I was commander of the David sector, the Franciscan patriarch called me. In our previous meeting he spoke to me in English. This time he insisted on speaking Italian, for the record. His assistant translated. ‘You blocked the entrance to the new gate,’ he said. ‘The patriarchs’ building is close to the new gate.’
“I told him they were doing construction work on the new light rail. There was no alternative.
“‘We have had the right to enter through the gate for a hundred years,’ the patriarch said. ‘You’re hurting the status quo.’ ‘A hundred years ago, I said, there were horse drawn carriages. Now there is a train.’ ‘Status quo beats the train,’ he said.”
“How did it end?” I asked.
“There was a police booth next to Gethsemane, on the Franciscan property. After a few days, he brought a crane, and moved the booth away from there.”
“What does Netanyahu need to do?” I asked.
“He needs to stand up and proclaim that the status quo from 1967 won’t be altered. The way things were is how they shall remain. Whoever attempts to target the status quo will be targeted.”
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At al-Aqsa, a sentinel moment for Islam
Times of Israel, Sept. 21, 2015.
For some years the gentle rhythm of the Jewish calendar has whispered in my Muslim ear. As my many Jewish friends around the world make their various observations whether in degrees of devout orthodoxy or in their own words culturally Jewish but avowedly secular, it has over the years become impossible for me to ignore the arrival of this, the holiest time of the Jewish year.
It was in South Carolina that I first attended Shabbat services. It was in New York that I first learned of Selichot. It was in Raanana, Israel that I first fasted on Yom Kippur. It was in Long Island that I first recited the Kaddish, as we buried my rabbi. It was in Boston that I first celebrated a Jewish marriage. In the intervening years I have grown to anticipate and enjoy the arrival of Rosh Hashanah the Head of the Year and the Days of Atonement which immediately follow. As I watch my friends retreat into private observations and reflections, I too reflect, and account, hoping my name might also be recorded in the Book of Life anew.
My Jewish year began with a Jewish wedding in Tel Aviv, Shabbat in Melbourne and Sydney, memorial services in Warsaw, Krakow and Auschwitz as I marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, springtime in Jerusalem joining others in combating anti-Semitism, my witnessed commitment to defend the vulnerable as I accepted an Honorary Fellowship at The Technion-Israel Institute of Science and Technology, and an East Coast summer considering my contribution to honoring Jewish memory with colleagues at the Shoah Foundation.
In between, I have practiced medicine and Islam. I have observed Ramadan, performed my salaat and, as every Muslim with means is required, spent freely in the name of my Maker. Though not a Jew, increasingly I find my Muslim life enriched by the Jewry surrounding it, my Islam informed by the mysteries of the Jewish year experienced through the Judaism vividly embodied by the diverse Jewish people who accompany me in this life.
How different my comfort with the proximity of Judaism to my Islam, a proximity which constantly deepens my attachment to my own faith as well as the faith revealed to us by Moses. Judaism increases my understanding of Our God and expands my dimensions of Islam. How stark a difference this comfort in Jewish solidarity shown to me from the televised discomfort, the rage of Muslims rejecting Judaism at its epicenter, the self appointed Sentinels purportedly guarding Al-Aqsa from the Jewish people, from the Keepers of Gods Covenant. How their aversion recoils, where my attraction draws me nearer. How their rejection colors hatreds violently, as my belief is calmed and soothed by Jewish love. How their repulsion of our sibling and ancestor faith, in one of mankinds holiest places, an aversion so deep their sibling brethren are utterly unknown to them and through their unseeing eyes, they remain unknown to themselves. How detached these Muslims from the knowledge that Judaism is Islams predecessor, the Torah among our Divine Books, Judaisms tablets, then texts, our Informer, its laws our commandments, its covenants, templates of our foundation, its laws our precedents, its followers, like us ViceRegents of our Maker, no less than our sacred flesh. While I have been circumnavigating the globe deep in the Jewish Diaspora, at the epicenter of Jewish spirit, at the center of Abrahamic faith, the forces between Muslims and Jews repel both peoples magnetically asunder.
As I watch the reports of upheaval at al-Aqsa, the new Jewish year has commenced with turbulence. The discovery of explosives inside the third holiest site of Islam, the IDFs confiscation of these items to ensure the peace, the incendiary retaliation these measures triggered, sufficient to trigger an EU call for calm and firebrand Iran to demand an OIC Summit, bring me both despair and desolation, my memories of my own visits to these places newly vivid.
My first visit to al-Aqsa, and to the Dome, and to the Kotel was in the month of May just two years ago. Because I am privileged in the eyes of Israel as a Muslim, I could visit, and worship at all three, while I could not offer the same opportunity to a Jew. Accompanied by my Israeli guide, a Jerusalem born Muslim, Ibrahim Ghazzawi, I still feel the sharp rejection of the bearded brotherhood sentry at the Dome of the Rock, my humiliation as the sentry challenged and rankly tested evidence of my Islamic identity while Ibrahim tried hard to shield me from such ignominy.
The experience tainted my entire visit to the Dome of the Rock. Even deep inside the cave within the Rock, as I prayed the harassment continued. As Ibrahim stood respectfully to one side to avoid observing my prayer (as is customary for a Muslim man) he was ceaselessly heckled by boorish Muslim women chastising him for not praying.
Later approaching the Kotel with my handwritten page-long prayer, I was struck by the contrast, the quiet acceptance among Jewish women I was afforded at the Kotel. Women who asked not whom I worshiped, nor how I prayed, but merely understood through my gestures my desire. For them it was enough that I wished to stand among them as we prayed to our Maker.
As the columns of women parted, I walked between mothers and grandmothers, daughters, young charges, often sons watched by their young sisters. I invited no harassment, no scrutiny, no challenge, no rancor. Each instead engaged in her religious study, whether ritual prayer or wordless contemplation, the youngest cradled in their mothers arms, dozing in the innocence of their wordless reverie.
Covering my hair, I chose to emulate some of the other women, and pay homage to my Islam, which requires women to cover their hair in worship. Around me others continued bareheaded. No woman judged another. No woman questioned anothers legitimacy. No woman doubted anothers sincerity. Deep into the phalanx of Jewish womanhood, I was simply gently enfolded their Judaism, my Islam, a perfect fit. Quietly they moved back and forth, to the side and to behind, as they made room for Muslim hands to shyly touch the Holy Kotel, for a Muslim woman to deposit her private prayer to the God of Abraham and Moses and Mohammed deep into a crevice, to allow her space to supplicate in the rudimentary Arabic that was her language of prayer, and for brief moments, even to pause for a photograph which now hangs here in my home. Moving away, my eye drawn upwards by thoughts celestial rustling through the whispering of the breeze, high in the ancient wall I spied another mother, a dove, nestling, as though peace had come to partake of the view.
In contrast, the territorial and ruthless domination of the public space, of public worship, of external religiosity, is a hallmark of Islamism. The policing of belief, and that of believers, is an archetypal feature of Islamism. Forbidding worshippers from entering holy sites in Islam, including non-conforming or pluralist Muslims who reject both the ideology and accouterments of Islamism is an impassioned pastime of fervent Islamists who foolishly believe only they are the keepers of our Maker, only they are the arbiters of faith only they the guardians to our Creator.
The rise of the female Sentinel now identified as an outlawed group in Israel but embodied by angry orthodox veiled women abusing, intimidating, spitting upon and harassing Jews visiting the Temple Mount is a desecration of my Muslim faith. Unfortunately, I too have collided with Sentinels, which I more accurately describe as Religious Police. I have experienced them first hand not only in Saudi Arabia but in the holiest sites of Islam- inside Mecca and Medina itself.
Listening to my Jewish friends who are Israeli speak of their tours of the Temple Mount and the harassment others in the group faced by such Sentinels at al-Aqsa, I am catapulted to my own harassments at the hands of similar Muslims. On most occasions, in my experience it was Muslim women who harassed me, whether in Mecca and the Al-Aqsa, but also Medina.
My offenses to their Sentinel eyes were countless. My veil: improperly secured. My visible ears: an affront to my maker. My trousers: an abomination. My nail polish: haram, sufficient to bar me entry to Medina after a 700 km drive to the Mosque. Wisps of my hair peeking from my forehead: an affront to another womans worship as we retracted the steps of Hagar in the Holy Mosque in Mecca. Even my knowledge of Islam was suspect after I recited the Surah Fatiha to the sentry guarding entry to the Dome of the Rock. Each of these Muslims, whether Palestinian, Saudi or other nationals was appointing themselves arbiter of my faith, intermediary between myself and my Maker and obstructing my efforts to worship my Creator the ultimate desecration of Islamic belief, which like Judaism, demands no obstacle between believer and Maker.
The intimidation my Israel Jewish friend witnessed transpiring on a male Jew in his tour group affronted me even more than it did either man. Such intimidation is not the work of a Guardian of Islam but the work of Blasphemy, where the believer appoints himself to the Majesty and Authority only our Maker can have. Only our Maker can know if prayers are accepted or rejected if worship is legitimate or debased. al-Aqsa, under Muslim Jordanian jurisdiction has been made, by the actions of Islamists a symbol, not of Islam but of Islamism, not of worship, but of war, not of limitless vistas in which to remember God, but a hollow symbol cheapened by the feeble efforts to copyright , and co-opt God for territorial mandate. Nothing could be less worthy of Islam, let alone of the third holiest site of Islam, triptych to Mecca and Medina.
That women choose to go forth as Sentinels is additionally horrifying because I like them, am a Muslim woman. Paramount to the conduct of Muslim women, like Jewish women, is dignity. There can be no dignity in protesting, harassing and intimidating fellow believers. No dignity in spewing expletives, in ugly gesturing, in bullying and domination. No doubt puppeteers for these women calculate the difficulties Jewish men and Jewish soldiers will have confronting an impassioned woman and in this way these faith illiterate women in their efforts to Objectify AlAqsa are themselves objectified further.
My despair deepens further when I think of neighboring Qatar, which, at the behest of a thoughtful Christian, demonstrated an Islamic ideal pluralism- in a decision to share the public space with the Christians who make their home in Qatar- a decision made by a Wahhabi cleric no less. September 13th, 1988 marked the first time Catholic Holy Mass and Christian Service was publically observed in Qatar. Since then the Catholic Church in Doha has continued to offer services to Qatars Christian population. Other denominations soon followed suit, and Christian service has since become an integral part to Qatars theocratic Wahhabism, the official state religion. Where once the State police harassed attacked and even arrested Christians in worship, they now protect Christians and guide traffic on days of Christian observation. Qatars arrival at this moment, an aberration in comparison to the surrounding Gulf Arab States, is the outcome of a Christians literacy in both his own Christianity and his host nations Islam.
The Authors of Persecuted by Paul Marshall, Nina Shea, and Lela Gilbert record the events well in an arresting section amid their compelling narrative of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Egyptian Born Christian Ambassador Joseph Ghougassian, appointed US Ambassador to Qatar, began dialoguing with the Qatar head of the Sharia Court, the authority which controlling all aspects of religious expression in Qatar. That he could dialogue in Arabic and with deep insight of Islam- a function of his pluralistic upbringing in Muslim Egypt- ensured the Sheikh of Qatars Sharia Court was clear on the implications of preventing Christian worship in Qatar.
Ambassador Ghougassian recorded the delicate dialogue, spanning months, in his book The Knight and the Falcon which challenged the Saudi principle of banning Churches in the Kingdom and the claim that infidel Christians and Jews while recognized as People of the Book in the Quran, are excluded from the Saudi Islamic Kingdom even though such borders never existed in the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. At first the Qatari Sheikh contended that Christians were banned from worship in Qatar for the same reasons- that Christians not defile the Islamic State of Qatar. Appealing to the religious sheikhs sensibilities would however require reframing, something the Ambassador because of his understanding of Islam, was more than capable of doing. Quoting the Ambassador at length is appropriate here:
Well, Allah forbid, if you were to die tomorrow, said the Ambassador to the Sheikh, and you appeared in front of Allah, do you think Allah would be pleased with you? Do you think Allah might complain by telling you My son, what have you done to those hundreds of thousands of Christian Souls who lived and worked in Qatar when you were the head of the Shariah Court? Look in the Jahannam. There they are. Because you prohibited them from openly professing their faith and performing their religious duties before me, they forgot me, stopped worshipping me, and went astray on the wrong path.
Struck for the first time by his sense of responsibility to his Maker not only for Muslims but for all believers, the Sheikh agreed, and Christian Worship with State sanction was established in Qatar. I would ask the same question of those Muslims prohibiting Jewish worshipers from their silent heartfelt prayers, from their return to their spiritual origins in the ruins of the second Temple. We must as Muslims ensure they have the same freedom to profess their beliefs as God demands of them. If we obstruct their communion with the Maker, we are no different than the worst authoritarian theocracies far too numerous in the Muslim Majority world. Islam is too powerful to need guardians, too expansive to compete for territory, too everlasting to benefit from the futile snarl and bite of a self-appointed Sentinel. True, eternal honor of Islam comes when we, followers of Islam, honor those alongside us, whatever their path to our Maker.
This is my prayer in these Days of Awe. This is my appeal, as I reflect and account for my actions. That for each and every Jewish person at these times of holy worship, reflection and redemption, we as Muslims might welcome them as gently and wholeheartedly at the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa on Mount Moriah as I was once welcomed at the Kotel.
Only then can we honor the spirit of our Creation as a reflection of our joint Maker and as blood-siblings in faith, recognizing the holiest site of Judaism predated the birth of Islam by centuries. Anything other is mere objectification of a site which has been held holy for centuries before, and since, Islam, and to make justification of such objectification is not the work of Islam, but the mark of Islamism, an Islamism which seeks not only to eject the believing Jew from his holy worship but the believing Muslim too. Make no mistake, this is not Islam, This is Islamism. And of Islamism and its insatiable quest for cultural domination, there can be no more Sentinel sign than this.