Unity is best response to provocations to Al-Aqsa Mosque
Jordan's King Abdullah was correct in calling what was happening in Jerusalem this week a provocation. After all, the Israelis had made clear promises to His Majesty to ensure the continuation of the status quo at Al Aqsa Mosque, which led to the return of Jordan’s ambassador to Tel Aviv.
Two of the understandings reached in this regard were clearly violated during the Jewish new year, which led to the escalation of the violence by the Palestinians.
The Israelis had promised to keep the groups of Jews “visiting” the mosque area to a small number, of around five. Jordanian-paid waqf officials tolerated a small increase of up to 15 members of a group, but not more. This week, the groups that were protected by the Israeli security reached 30 at a time.
More important was the makeup of the visiting groups. As it allows tourists to visit the mosque, Palestinians and Jordanians have no problem with Jews visiting the mosque as “tourists”. However, when the visiting group includes right-wing members of Knesset or Cabinet ministers, the visit takes a political/religious meaning.
Individuals like Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel are no curious tourists. They are religious/political ideologues on a mission to prove that the location being visited is not a Muslim religious shrine but that it has “Jewish” ownership.
Such a goal changes the entire status quo, which existed for centuries, of Islam’s third holiest site, Al Aqsa Mosque.
To counter this attempt at forcing a religious war on top of the political conflict and the decades-old occupation, there is need of a strong reaction.
In addition to the statement coming from Ramallah, Jordan, the Arab League, the UN and the White House, it is important that the pressure in Jerusalem be maintained.
Such pressure need not, and should not, be the exclusive domain of radical Islamists. A people’s response must reflect the opposition of all people of faith and goodwill who can easily see the sliding slope the process is taking Palestine, Israel and the region if not checked.
Specifically, the single category of people that must be supported and encouraged are the residents of Jerusalem.
While protests, including light violent protests, erupt every time Israelis attempted to change the status quo in the Haram Al Sharif compound, much more effort inside and outside the mosque is required.
But a local leadership that could organise such efforts is missing. East Jerusalem suffers more than any other Palestinian city from a lack of leadership.
By isolating Jerusalem from its natural Palestinian environment, through the wall and other administrative decisions, the Israelis left the city’s 350,000 Palestinian residents political orphans.
They are not allowed to develop their own leadership, nor are they allowed to engage with fellow Palestinian leaders in Ramallah.
This isolation has partially backfired. Unlike the rest of the West Bank cities that are kept quiet by the Palestinian security forces, the leaderless Jerusalem is erupting in unchecked violent protests that are put down violently, and thus the cycle of violence only intensifies.
A long-term approach must be people based and must include a mechanism that can help unite the residents of Jerusalem.
This requires a much more robust attempt by the Jordanian government, by the Palestinian leadership and by local leaders.
If the people of East Jerusalem can be united and can access their potential power, they can do a lot more to stem Jewish extremism and ensure that East Jerusalem’s character and identity are preserved.
At present, the chaos in East Jerusalem is threatening its very social fibre.
Thugs and gangs have the upper hand and the population is extremely disillusioned.
While the attention is correctly pointing to Al Aqsa Mosque, a more holistic approach that takes into consideration the socio-economic needs of Palestinians in Jerusalem would yield impressive results.
Imagine if non-violent protests throughout the city can be organised to oppose the attempts against Al Aqsa Mosque. Imagine if East Jerusalemites decide to begin a gradual civil disobedience campaign. Imagine if the churches (whose lands are being confiscated in Beit Jala) would agree to close the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for a single day to the thousands of tourists.
Palestinians of Jerusalem, from different backgrounds and of different religious persuasions, can do a lot more if they are united and working together.
This requires a strategic decision at the highest level of Palestinian and Jordanian leadership. The sooner such decision is made the better for all.
The status of Al Aqsa and other holy sites should not be left to religious extremists to fight it out. This should be a unified national effort in which all take part.