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The problem of Israel and the threat to al-Haram al-Sharif


In October, Crescent International (South Africa) issued a booklet called The Struggle for Al-Quds to mark Yaum al-Quds 1426AH. Here we publish an adaptation of the first part of this booklet. The second part, focusing on the development and future of the Palestinian struggle, will be published in the next issue for Crescent International.

The state of Israel, proclaimed by zionist leaders on May 15, 1948, emerged from a combination of international politics and military conquest in the aftermath of the Second World War. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly — dominated by the imperial powers that won the war — voted to partition Palestine, which had been ruled by the British since the defeat of the Uthmaniyya khilafah in the First World War, into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. At this time, about 1.3 million Arabs and 600,000 Jews lived in Palestine, with most of the Jews being recent immigrants from Europe (in 1900 there were fewer than 30,000 Jews in Palestine). Jews owned only about 6-8 percent of the total land of Palestine. Nonetheless, the UN partition plan gave Jews 56 percent of Palestinian territory, as well as keeping the area of Jerusalem and Bethlehem as an international zone.

This was clearly unacceptable to the Palestinians and other Arabs, who regarded the UN General Assembly vote as an imperialist irrelevance. As protests broke out in Jerusalem and other areas of Palestine, zionist leaders were already planning how to expand the territory allotted to them. Their strategy was characterised by the terrorisation of Arab communities and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns and villages (see box, p. 32). The armies of neighbouring Arab countries, which intervened to support the Palestinians, proved woefully inadequate compared to the well-armed and well-trained European Jewish settlers. When armistice agreements were signed between Israel and the Arab states in 1949, 77 percent of Palestine was in Israeli control, with Jordan controlling East Jerusalem and the hill country of Central Palestine, which area has come to be known as the West Bank, and Egypt in control of the coastal area around the city of Ghazzah, which area has come to be known as the Ghazzah strip.

Israel’s history since its aggressive and bloody genesis reflects its origins as a European racist-nationalist movement of the same sort as those that wrought such chaos in European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Zionism emerged in central Europe at a time when the continent was dominated by nationalist movements proclaiming their racial superiority over other peoples and demanding political domination over as much territory as possible. (Ironically perhaps, another equally appalling consequence of the same historical trend was the Nazi movement in Germany.)

This was also a time when European states, including new nation-states such as Germany and Italy, were joining the imperial contest for control over lands in the non-European world, and European settlers were routinely moving to take control over areas of Asia and Africa. As secular European Jews came to see themselves as a nation without a territorial base, and indeed a nation increasingly unwelcome in a Europe defined by other nationalisms, the colonial imperialist model offered itself as an alternative. Although zionists initially suggested that Jews settle in Africa or South America, the Jews’ traditional remembrance of their ancient historical roots led to their nationalist-colonialist impulses focusing on lands that had subsequently been populated by Arabs and ruled by Muslims for hundreds of years. This was despite the fact that orthodox and religious Jews, including Jews already living peaceably in Palestine under Muslim rule, initially opposed political zionism, as a tiny minority continue to do to this day.

In Europe, the Jews fell victim to appalling atrocities, culminating in genocide, perpetrated by nationalists who regarded themselves as inherently superior to their victims. This is a mindset characteristic of modern European nationalisms, as has been seen in numerous nationalist conflicts, notably in the former Yugoslavia barely a decade ago. That the zionists themselves shared similar attitudes towards other peoples is clear from their slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land”, which implicitly dismissed the indigenous population of Palestine. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that their treatment of Arabs in Palestine should be no better than the treatment they themselves suffered in Europe. It has become a part of zionistpropaganda and mythology that the Jews came to Palestine willing to live with and indeed improve the lives of the Palestinians if only the Palestinians had been willing to live alongside the Jews. The reality is very different, as numerous Israeli sources themselves testify.

In 1948-49, the zionists in Palestine drove over 700,000 Palestinians out of the lands they seized. Similar impulses have driven Israeli expansionism and the settler movements in Ghazzah and the West Bank since then. The fact that Israeli settlements have recently been withdrawn from Ghazzah (August 2005) should not obscure the fact that settlements are continuing to be expanded in the West Bank. In September 2005, when leaving Israel for the UN summit in New York, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon told reporters that “Building is continuing there [the West Bank]. We will build as much as we need.” Defence minister Shaul Mofaz had said the day before that “We have to make every effort to direct resources to the development of the settlement blocs.” And in every area that the Israelis have taken under their control, the Palestinian people have been subjected to the brutal and inhuman treatment that has been a characteristic of ultranationalist and fascistic movements throughout modern history.

Their treatment of the Palestinians apart, the Israeli presence in the Middle East has also been a major disruptive factor in terms of regional geopolitics, with a long record of aggression against neighbouring countries. In 1956, Israel co-operated with the British and French in their attempted invasion ofEgypt after Gamal Abdul Nasser’s regime nationalised the Suez Canal. Israeli troops invaded Ghazzah and the Sinai peninsula but were forced to evacuate them under international pressure at the end of the war. The war of 1967 was provoked by months of Israeli sabre-rattling against Syria in particular, which prompted Syria to fear it was about to be invaded, a suspicion bolstered by Soviet intelligence reports that Israeli troops were massing near the Syrian border. Egypt moved troops into Sinai to support Syria, and as the diplomatic temperature rose, the Israelis launched what they called “pre-emptive strikes” against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In the resulting war, which Israel stubbornly maintains was one of self-defence, Israel captured theWest Bank from Jordan, the Ghazzah Strip and the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. In 1978 Israel invaded Lebanon for the first time, supporting its favoured Christian militias in the country’s civil war. In 1982 they invaded again, occupying the whole of the south of the country, massacring Palestinian refugees and besieging Beirut, causing massive casualties and devastating the country. This was when the Hizbullah emerged as the major Islamic movement in Lebanon, forcing the Israelis to withdraw from much of the south of the country in 1985, and eventually from the rest of the country, except the Shabaa area. Major wars apart, Israel has also been involved in political interference in other countries, terrorism and other disruptive activities, all the while maintaining stubbornly that it was itself under attack and claiming that it was acting only in self-defence.

From the very beginning of their existence, the zionist movement and the state of Israel have enjoyed the support of major western powers and so have been able to get away with appalling crimes. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, by which Britain committed itself to support the establishment of a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine, despite the fact that Jews then constituted only a tiny minority of the area’s population, was only the beginning. Throughout the period of British rule, Jews were allowed to move to Palestine despite the wishes of the local population. In 1947, the UN General Assembly granted the Jews by far the larger and more important part of Palestinian territory, despite the fact that the zionists were already engaged in terrorist activities against both the British authorities and the Arab population in Palestine. This was specifically on the understanding that more Jews would move to Palestine in due course. Subsequently, Israel has always enjoyed Western support for its actions, however illegal and aggressive .

This Western support is often explained as a consequence of Western guilt over Europe’s long history of anti-semitism, particularly the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis, but that is only a partial explanation. A number of other considerations may be more significant. Initially, it was certainly true that many in the West, with its traditional anti-semitism, were glad to see the Jews moving out and settling someplace else. It was also a factor that the Jews were seen as a civilised, European people that Westerners could identify with, while the Arabs were simply natives like the ones that had been causing all imperial powers so much trouble for so many years. Western powers themselves assumed the right to rule India and Algeria, for example, so it appeared perfectly reasonable to them that Jewish European settlers should want and be entitled to establish themselves in Palestine. Another factor was that the Jews had come to be seen, in some circles, as allies of the Christian Europeans against their traditional enemies, the Muslims of the Middle East. Increasingly too, as the balance of power among Western imperial powers changed, and the US became more important after the Second World War, Israel came to be seen as an important ally in the region, both against the Soviet Union in the context of the Cold War, and in terms of the US’s increasing interest in maintaining long-term control over the region’s oil resources, particularly as Islamic movements have presented serious challenges to Western neo-colonial hegemony over the region.

The zionists, for their part, have proved remarkably adept at exploiting all these considerations to ensure that official western support for them does not wane, even as many ordinary people in Western countries have become increasingly aware of Israel’s true nature and the criminal reality behind their carefully cultivated propaganda facade. Exploiting the memory of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, in the name of ensuring that nothing like that can ever happen again, is a major part of this process; something that sits ill with Israel’s own treatment of the Palestinian people, and its history of allying with the apartheid regime in South Africa, Hindu nationalists in India and fascist groups and regimes in Latin America and other places. Perhaps more significant, however, is the role of wealthy and politically-influential Jewish communities and interests in all Western countries, but the US in particular. The fact that the Israeli interest has come to be seen as inseparable from the national interest in the US, for example, is now recognised as problematic by a significant minority of the American people, but is something that they are powerless to do anything about, given the Jewish-Israeli influence over the political institutions and processes in the country.

From its very genesis, therefore, the zionist movement has been inseparably linked with both European ultra-nationalism, a phenomenon that has come to be seen as anachronistic and unacceptable in Europe itself, and Western colonial imperialism. At a time when fascism has become a dirty word, when the Serbian example has discredited extreme nationalism, zionism today is perhaps the last ultranationalist movement whose crimes are tolerated and justified. Colonial imperialism, for its part, was on the wane even as Israel was created in the heart of the Muslim world after the Second World War; it was replaced by economic and political neo-imperialism. (America’s increasingly direct intervention in foreign countries, notably Afghanistan and Iraq, in recent years is better seen as an evolution of neo-imperialism rather than a return to colonialism.)

Challenging Israel’s right to exist is one of the great taboos of modern Western discourse, automatically equated with anti-semitism. The reality, however, is that zionism and the zionist state are bound to go the way of other fascist ideologies and colonial settler states. Objectively speaking — setting aside Jewish religious claims, which many orthodox Jews reject and non-Jews can hardly be expected to accept — the zionists have no more right to dominate Palestine, at the expense of the indigenous population, than the British had to rule India or the French to rule Algeria. Of course, the processes of decolonisation in both India and Algeria were traumatic and bloody; but in hindsight no one doubts that they were necessary and inevitable. In both cases, much of the trauma was caused by the colonialists’ refusal to accept the inevitable. It is similarly inevitable that the zionist state will in due course be abolished and replaced by a state reflecting the faith, values and aspirations of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian population. What remains to be seen is the process and timescale through which this inevitability unfolds; it is unlikely to be soon, considering the support that the zionists enjoy from the world’s leading imperial power at this time, and it is unlikely to be smooth, given the zionists’ determination to fight the inevitable, and their proven and oft-demonstrated political cunning and military ruthlessness.

In the meantime, Palestinians concerned with their homeland, and Muslims around the world concerned with both justice for their brethren in Palestine and the fate of al-Quds, a city central to the history of Islam, must do everything possible to limit the damage that the zionists are doing in Palestine and to end the Western imperialist domination of the world, of which the zionist state of Israel is a central part. It is only as part of this broader historical process that the zionist occupation of Palestine will be ended, and al-Quds will be restored to the administration of the only rulers under whom all those who regard it as sacred have been able to enjoy its blessing in peace, prosperity and freedom.

The threat to Al-Quds

One result of the zionist occupation of al-Quds in 1967 was that the Haram al-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam, came under the rule of the zionists after Jordanian troops, who were supposed to protect it, fled in disarray on June 7. The result was that no juma prayers were held there on June 9, the first time they were missed since the Haram’s restoration by Salah ul-Din. But the threat was far greater than that; Theodor Herzl, the founder of zionism, said at the first zionist conference in 1897: “If I ever control Jerusalem, I will definitely remove all the holy places except the Jewish ones.” This zionistaspiration was emphasised in 1948, when Israeli aircraft bombed the Haram in an attempt to destroy it. The two mosques were hit by a total of 65 bombs, doing considerable damage. Fortunately the bombs available to Israeli forces at the time were relatively small.

Al-Haram al-Sharif is one of the three holiest sites of Islam, along with the Ka’aba in Makkah and the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah. It was the first qibla of Islam, until the Qur’anic revelation after the hijra, by which the qibla was transferred to the Ka’aba. It was also the site of the Prophet’s ascension to the Heavens after his Night Journey from Makkah to Jerusalem (al-Isra’a and al-Mi’raj).

Al-Haram al-Sharif is a rectangular area located in the south-east of the old city of Jerusalem. It is enclosed by a wall with eleven gates, of which seven are open and four closed. It is also connected to other parts of the city by traditional paths. Within the Haram there are 25 drinking-water wells and numerous fountains. The Haram has four minarets and several domes and porches. There are also two sundials. The two buildings within the Haram are the Dome of the Rock in the centre of the Haram and the Masjid al-Aqsa. (The name al-Aqsa is also used to refer to the Haram as a whole.) Both were built by the Umayyad king Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan, the Dome in 68-72AH (688-691CE) and the Masjid al-Aqsa in 692-705CE. This should not be confused with the mosque built earlier by Omar ibn Al-Khattab, the second rightly-guided khalifah, which was on the east side of the Haram.

The Jews claim the site is ‘Temple Mount’, saying it was the site of a temple built by ‘King David’ (the Prophet Dawud (as) which was the centre of the Jewish faith. The site had a long and chequered history before the coming of Islam, being repeatedly demolished and restored under Persian and Roman rule. The zionists claim that the al-Buraq wall, the south-western part of al-Haram Al-Sharif, being 47 metres long, is part of the external wall of the temple. It is this which is known as the ‘wailing wall’. The zionist dream is to demolish al-Haram al-Sharif and build a new temple in its place.

Even before the creation of the zionist state, the zionists had started moving against the Haram. The most important episode was in 1929, when Jews tried to take over the wall again on August 15 (there had been numerous previous attempts, notably in September 1928) and were again resisted by Muslims. The following day was a Friday, and demonstrations spread through the country, lasting until the end of the month. The British authorities carried out a thorough investigation and ruled that the wall was part of the Haram and should be controlled by the Muslims.

After the zionists captured the city in 1967, control of the wall passed to them. Since then, the issue has been about control of the rest of the Haram. Although it is officially administered by Muslim authorities, it is effectively under Jewish control, for no Muslim may enter without passing through their security and getting their permission. But their longer-term ambition remains to take it over totally, and ultimately to demolish it and build a Jewish temple in its place. This ambition has been compared to the Hindu campaign to replace mosques in India with Hindu temples, and in many cases the strategies followed have been similar. Of course, the significance and implications of the Jewish plots against the Haram are even more serious than those of the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya and other Indian mosques.

These plots began immediately the city was captured. Israeli major-general Uzi Narkis, commander of the Israeli troops in the area when the city was captured, later revealed that the army’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, had suggested using the fighting as a cover for destroying the Dome of the Rock. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted Narkis as saying that Goren had said to him: “Uzi, this to the time to get 100kg of explosives inside the Dome of Rock and it will go for once and forever”. As in 1948, the idea was to use war as the cover for destroying the mosques. Narkis claimed to have been shocked by the suggestion and to have refused it outright. A likelier explanation is that pragmatic and political minds in Tel Aviv vetoed it for fear of the international outrage it would cause.

In August 1969, two years after the Israeli capture of Jerusalem, the Haram al-Sharif suffered its most serious attack. Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian Jew, entered the building posing as a tourist. He doused the historic Nur al-Din Zinki Minbar in a flammable liquid and set fire to it. Some 1,500 cubic metres of the south-eastern part of the Mosque were destroyed, about a third of the mosque’s total area. The minbar had been built by Salah ul-Din al-Ayoubi during his restoration of the Haram in 583AH (1197CE), after he had liberated it from the Crusaders. It was later partially restored.

The attack has gone down in official history as the work of a ‘lone zealot’. However, the circumstances indicate that this was not the case. It came just three days after a group of zionists had broken into the mosque to pray using their horns, and reciting hymns and carols, as part of a continuing effort to occupy the site. Muslims’ efforts to fight the blaze were also hampered. Israeli authorities responded to the attack by cutting water supplies to the area, and fire engines were delayed in attending the scene.

Since then zionist efforts against the Haram have continued. Three major strategies have emerged: attempts to destroy the Sanctuary; attempts to occupy it; and attempts to undermine it physically by excavating tunnels underneath it. Attempts to destroy the mosque have been continued by fundamentalist zionist groups such as the Gush Emunim, which Goren helped to found. There were also several plots discovered around the time of the millennium. A former Israeli police officer, Assaf Hefets, said in August 1999 that extremist Jews affiliated to Gush Emunim and other similar groups were planning to destroy the two mosques and take over the Haram. At about the same time, in a development which may have been linked, police claimed to have foiled a plan by Jewish extremists to rent an apartment overlooking the Haram and fire missiles into the compound during a congregational prayer during Ramadan. Again, the perpetrators’ object was to facilitate the destruction of the mosques, as well as of the ‘peace process’.

Other plots to destroy the Haram that have come to light include the discovery of a stash of explosives belonging to the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane in May 1980, and the arrest of 49 Jews carrying explosives into the Haram on March 10, 1983. All were released the following day. Following the Israeli capture of al-Haram al-Sharif, and having failed to persuade the army to destroy the Haram, Golen and his followers prayed there to establish the principle that it was Jewish ground ‘occupied’ by the Muslims. Attempts to enter the Muslim parts of the mosque and perform Jewish rites there have continued ever since.

The Haram has also been the scene of numerous Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, often when Palestinians have protested against Israeli plots against the mosques. Over 60 Palestinians were killed or wounded on April 11, 1982, when an Israeli soldier opened fire on worshippers. In May 1988 about 100 were killed or wounded when troops opened fire on a Palestinian demonstration inside the Haram. And in 1990 Israeli troops killed 22 Palestinians and injured over 200 when Muslims protested against Jews trying to lay a symbolic foundation stone for their temple inside the Haram.

The other major Israeli strategy against the Haram has been to undermine it by opening tunnels running below it in the name of archaeology and science. This strategy was implemented immediately after the Israeli conquest of the old city in 1967, when archaeologists financed by the Hebraic University and led by a university professor excavated under the south wall and the women’s mosque. There have been nine major stages since then, all ostensibly for academic reasons or to make facilities easier for Jews visiting the ‘wailing wall’, but all having the effect of weakening the structures of the Haram. There are now serious concerns about the Haram’s structural integrity. The tunnels could also be used in the future for the planting of bombs or mines which would totally destroy the Haram, and which the zionist state could blame on individual zealots, even though they had made all the preparations themselves.

In September 2000, the current Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon — then leader of the opposition — invaded the Haram al-Sharif with a retinue of over a thousand bodyguards. His stated object was to reassert zionist sovereignty over the site. It was widely taken by zionists as a commitment to their hopes of demolishing the Haram and replacing it with a Jewish temple. The visit prompted the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, originally known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, among a Palestinian population that had become disillusioned with both the Israelis’ duplicity and dishonesty in their dealings with the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords, and the weakness of the Palestinian leadership.

Although the intifada succeeded in derailing Israel’s plans for the ‘peace process’, Israel’s massive military advantage and the support it receives from the international community, have enabled it to regroup and try to find another way to achieve its long-term objective of securing permanent control over al-Quds and al-Haram al-Sharif.

As this booklet is published, in the autumn of 2005, they have been forced by the intense resistance embodied in the intifada into a withdrawal from Ghazzah which they are using as cover for a renewed drive of settlements in the West Bank, particularly around Jerusalem, with a view to the city’s future annexation. Since abandoning 21 settlements in Ghazzah, occupying 19 square miles of land, Sharon is known to have appropriated 23 square miles more in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Since evacuating 8,000 settlers from Ghazzah, he has sent 14,000 more into the West Bank. The Guardian newspaper, London, reported on October 21 that Sharon had told the Likud Party conference that “it is of the greatest importance for us to expand settlements in the West Bank without drawing the world’s attention. There is no need to talk much, but every need to build more settlements discreetly.”

Palestinians and other Muslims cannot afford to be unaware of the continuing threat to the city of al-Quds and to the Haram itself. The political situation may have moved on from the height of the al-Aqsa Intifada, but al-Quds remains a key front of the West’s war on Islam. Muslims cannot afford to forget this as our gazes are drawn elsewhere, to Ghazzah, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places of greater media profile at this time.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 10

Shawwal 28, 14262005-12-01

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