Issue No. 912
Israel continues to burrow beneath the foundations of the Aqsa Mosque in the heart of East Jerusalem, reports Khaled Amayreh
A network of tunnels beneath the Aqsa Mosque, dubbed by the Israeli media as “tourist sites”, has already caused conspicuous cracks in superstructure of the Haram Al-Sharif esplanade which houses many historical sites, including the Dome of the Rock.
“I have no doubt the Israeli government has the will and desire to destroy the Aqsa Mosque. They only want to do it in a way that would make the demolition look as if it was a result of natural causes,” said Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, head of the Supreme Muslim Council which oversees the Jerusalem Sanctuary, considered the third holiest place in Islam. “Everything they do here shows they are hell-bent on destroying this Islamic shrine. It is time that Muslim peoples, Muslim governments and Muslim organisations across the world move to stop this blasphemy. Maybe tomorrow it will be too late.”
Palestinian and Muslim officials, including the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), have issued numerous warnings about Israeli excavations in the vicinity of and beneath the mosque, but to no avail.
Last week Jordan, the legal custodian of the Jerusalem sanctuary, asked Israel to stop sabotaging the foundations of the Aqsa Mosque, warning that, “this sensitive issue could set the whole region on fire.”
Israel ignored the Jordanian warning, opting to appease religious Jewish groups advocating the demolition of Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem. Israel is also refusing to allow Muslim experts from the OIC and from UNESCO to inspect excavations beneath the mosque on the grounds that such a step would cast doubts on “Israeli sovereignty” over the occupied Arab city.
The international community, including Israel’s closest ally the United States, does not recognise Israel’s annexation of Eastern Jerusalem which followed the occupation of the city in 1967. Not that this has prevented successive Israeli governments from building huge Jewish settlements in and around the occupied Arab town, reducing East Jerusalem to a virtual ghetto and effectively cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank. The isolation of East Jerusalem has been completed with the construction of the gigantic “separation wall”.
Muslims and Christians from the West Bank are routinely prevented from accessing their holy places in East Jerusalem except for those in possession of special permits from the Israeli domestic intelligence service Shin Beth.
In addition to opening tunnels beneath the Haram Al-Sharif, the Israeli government has also allowed a fanatical Jewish sect, the Chabad movement, to build a synagogue next to the Western section of the Islamic compound. Chabad openly calls for the expulsion or extermination of Palestinians as well as the destruction of Islamic and Christian holy places in Palestine.
Muslim Waqf officials have described the synagogue as “a perpetual source of tension, provocation and harassment” as well as “a foothold” that signals Israel’s ill-intentions towards Islamic holy places.
“The decision to build a synagogue in this particular spot shows that Israel is interested in stoking the fire of religious tension,” said Adnan Al-Husseini, a high-ranking Muslim official in East Jerusalem.
“Clearly Israel is interested in neither peace nor co-existence.”
Israel is not only antagonising and defying the world’s estimated 1.4 billion Muslims but is also suppressing efforts by the Arab minority in Israel to publicise what is happening to Islamic shrines in East Jerusalem.
On 24 August, paramilitary Israeli police stormed and shut down the offices of the Al-Aqsa Foundation in the town of Um Al-Fahm in Israel proper. Documents, including maps and other records pertaining to the Aqsa Mosque, especially the Israeli excavations underneath the Islamic shrine, were confiscated.
The Israeli government claims that the Al-Aqsa Foundation had links with Hamas.
“They are targeting us because of our faith,” said Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic movement in Israel. He added that the foundation was operating legally and that it was licensed by the Israeli authorities. He denied Israeli claims that the foundation was “coordinating with Hamas commanders in East Jerusalem,” describing the accusations as baseless.
Salah has been constantly harassed by Shin Beth for his activities in defence of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem. Several years ago, during a demonstration in Um Al-Fahm, a Shin Beth agent was caught trying to plant hashish in Salah’s pocket.
Palestinian leaders on both sides of the Green Line condemn the “growing persecution by the Israeli state of its Arab citizens”. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority rights in Israel has urged Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who issued the decision to shut down the offices of the Al-Aqsa Foundation, to revoke the decision. It says the measure “seriously infringes the freedom of speech and freedom of religion of the entire Arab minority in Israel”.
The organisation also accused the Israeli government of callousness by shutting down the charity on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, during which the Islamic movement steps up charity activities.
Israel routinely invokes Hamas connections when it seeks to shut down Islamic charitable institutions both in Israel and in the occupied territories. Earlier this year the Israeli army ransacked Islamic-run charities, businesses, clinics, orphanages and schools across the West Bank, claiming that they were linked to Hamas.