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Al-Aqsa vs. Israel: The Lurking Danger Beneath

aqsa_mahfouz_turk

While the danger of Al-Aqsa Mosque collapsing is very real, it is a representation of the mentality that rules Israel. (Photo: Mahfouz Abu Turk)
By Ramzy Baroud | Palestine Chronicle | March 12, 2014

Something sinister is brewing around and below al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, and it has the hallmark of a familiar Israeli campaign to strip the Mosque of its Muslim Arab identity. This time around, however, the stakes are much higher.

The status of al-Aqsa mosque is unparalleled within the context of Muslim heritage in Palestine itself. It is also the third holiest Muslim shrine anywhere. But equally as important, it is a symbol of faith, resistance and defiance. Its story of struggle and perseverance goes hand in hand with the very modern Palestinian struggle for rights, freedom and identity. Praying at al-Aqsa at times seems like an impossible feat. Many Palestinians lost life or limbs simply trying to gain access to the mosque.

In a statement released on March 7, the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs said Israeli forces carried out 30 attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque and other holy sites during the month of February alone. Most of the attacks targeted Al-Aqsa itself. While the recurring violations at Al-Aqsa were led by Jewish settlers, according to the statement, they have done so under the watchful eye, protection and support of the Israeli police and army.

Most alarming about these attacks is their political context, which indicates that a great degree of coordination is underway between politicians, security forces and Jewish settlers.

In anticipation of a Palestinian backlash, on March 04, an Israeli court sentenced Islamic leader Sheikh Rade Saleh to eight months in prison for ‘incitement’. The Sheikh is the most outspoken Palestinian leader regarding the danger facing Al-Aqsa. Why silence Sheik Saleh now when the attacks against al-Aqsa are at an all time high?

It was on February 25, 1994, that US-born Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein stormed into the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Palestinian city of al-Khalil (Hebron) and opened fire. The aim was to kill as many Arabs as he could.

At that moment, nearly 800 Muslim worshipers were kneeling down during the dawn prayer in the holiest month of the Muslim Calendar; Ramadan. He killed up to 30 people and wounded over 120. Exactly 20 years later, the Israeli army stormed al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest Muslim site, and opened fire. The timing was no accident.

Like the rest of the West Bank, Al-Khalil is facing the dual challenge of armed Jewish settlers and Israeli occupation soldiers; the latter enforcing the military occupation, while providing further protection to the settlers. The settlers, extremists from the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba, often attack Palestinian residents of the town with complete impunity. Interestingly, many of Kiryat Arba settlers are Americans, as was Baruch Goldstein.

It was not enough that Israeli soldiers within the vicinity of the Ibrahimi Mosque allowed Goldstein – armed with a Galil rifle and other weapons – access to the mosque, but they opened fire on worshipers as they tried to flee the scene. Israeli soldiers killed 24 more and injured others. Goldstein, now a hero in the eyes of many in Israel, is often blamed solely for the massacre in al-Khalil. But in fact, it was a mutual effort between Goldstein and the Israeli army.

This symbiotic relationship between the army and settlers, which dates back to the early days of the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, continues.

While Israeli bulldozers dig into Palestinian land during the day, leveling mounds of ground and destroying olive groves for settlement expansion, heavy machinery burrows beneath the Old City of al-Quds, Jerusalem, at night. The Israelis are looking for evidence of what they believe to be ancient Jewish temples, presumably destroyed in 586BC and AD70. To fulfil “prophecy”, Jewish extremists believe that a third temple must be built. But of course, there is the inconvenient fact that on that particular spot exists one of Islam’s holiest sites: The Noble Sanctuary, or al-Haram al-Sharif. It has been an exclusively Muslim prayer site for the last 1,300 years.

The Noble Sanctuary, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, is the home of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The site has been under constant threat, attacks, acts of arson and military violence for nearly five decades. The few Muslim clergy – belonging to the Islamic Trust which manages the area, along with the custodianship of Jordan – are mindful of the ever-lurking Israeli threat that oftentimes turns deadly. It was no surprise that late Israeli leader Ariel Sharon chose that exact place to carry out his proactive ‘tour’ of al-Aqsa compound in 2000. Many unarmed Palestinians, mostly worshipers, died on that day. Thousands more were lost in the following months and years as the entirety of the occupied territories and Palestinian towns inside Israel exploded with unprecedented fury. Sharon was later elected Prime Minister of Israel.

That same dangerous combination – rightwing politicians allied with religious zealots – is at work once more. They are eying Al-Aqsa for annexation, the same way the Israeli government is laboring to permanently annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank, to preclude any future settlement with the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli Knesset (Parliament) chose the 20th anniversary of the Goldstein massacre of Palestinians in al-Khalil to begin a debate concerning the status of Al-Aqsa compound. Right-wingers – which constitute the bulk in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – want the Israeli government to enforce its ‘sovereignty’ over the Muslim site, which is administered by Jordan per the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty of 1994. Israeli MP Moshe Feiglin, is the man behind the move, but he is not alone. Feiglin is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, and has strong backing within the party, the government and the Knesset.

A major backer of Feiglin’s initiative is Miri Regev, also a far-right Likud member. Regev is demanding that the government establish separate prayer times for both Jews and Muslims in Al-Aqsa Compound. The model she wishes to duplicate is no other than the Ibrahimi Mosque. “We will reach a situation where the Temple Mount will be like the Cave of the Patriarchs, days for Jews and days for Muslims,” she said.

Of course, Regev omitted the fact that 20 years ago to the day, a Jewish extremist and Israeli troops killed and wounded hundreds of Palestinians kneeling for prayer.

On the next day following the Israeli government debate, a thundering sound was heard around 3 AM in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood of Silwan, located south of the Old City of Jerusalem. Residents heard the “sounds of heavy duty machines digging under their houses throughout the night,” Ma’an reported. Then, a large wall suddenly collapsed, while a few houses sustained damage. The Israeli underground network of tunnels is growing, as some of these tunnels connect Wadi Hilweh to the Western Wall to Al-Aqsa.

While the danger of Al-Aqsa Mosque collapsing is very real, it is a representation of the mentality that rules Israel: one of annexation and military occupation, with no regard whatsoever to Palestine’s holiest site, also revered by over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After the flames, only determination remains in Burin and Madama

International Solidarity Movement | June 3, 2013

Burin and Madama, Occupied Palestine – On Monday 3rd June, around a dozen settlers from the illegal colony of Yizhar set fire to Palestinian’s fields in the villages of Burin and Madama, destroying at least 50 acres of arable land with olive trees. The settlers were joined by a jeep of border police when 40-50 Palestinians from the village of Burin came out to attempt to put out the fire, with some being stopped from doing so by the border police present.

As people from the two villages south of Nablus were hoping for an uneventful workday, the settlers from Yizhar, renowned for being one of the worst for settler violence, set fire to fields in the Khallat al-Injas neighbourhood of Madama. One young person there desribed how, “then I went there quickly with my friends and tried to extinguish it. During that time the settlers went to the eastern area which is between Madama and Bureen. They set fire into the hills there.”Before long, the enormous fires spread across the field and towards the olive tree groves of neighbouring Burin. Shortly after, Israeli border police turned up at the scene in Burin’s land, delaying the extinguishing of the fire.

Salman Valley was a major source of income for Burin (photo: ISM)

Salman Valley was a major source of income for Burin (photo: ISM)

Of the Palestinians that gathered, the Israeli border police only allowed uniformed firemen and those from the Palestinian Authority’s civil volunteer service to put out the raging fires. Those who approached to help were threatened with pepper spray. The fire was eventually slowed down when  the border police left and the community was able to help. Areas of the hills still burned when volunteers were leaving at around 6 o’clock in the evening. The Israeli fire service appeared in case the fire spread to settler-occupied land, but did nothing to help the Palestinians nearby.

This level of violence is far from unheard of in the villages of Madama and Burin, which like other villages in proximity to Yizhar, are both subject to regular crop burnings, harassment and serious violence from the illegal settlement, who, with the assistance of the Israeli occupation forces, show no signs of stopping their assault on the surrounding Palestinian land and its inhabitants. Residents of Burin also face harassment from the Israeli army, which includes the tear-gassing of a Burin home, with a months old baby inside, during this February’s ‘al-Manatir‘ demonstration. A protest for which the village has received several military reprisals since, including destruction of the local cultural centre.

Yizhar is at the forefront of settler violence and operates a strict “price tag” policy, where any action taken by the Israeli government on illegal settlements within the West Bank must be met by carrying out harsh and violent crimes on Palestinian communities. It’s has frequently produced anti-Palestinian propaganda, including literature justifying the killing of Palestinian children and material supporting the actions of mass murderer Baruch Goldstein.

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on After the flames, only determination remains in Burin and Madama

Stranded in Shuhada: Hebron’s Qurtuba school

By Salam Muharam – Ma’an  – 15/02/2013

HEBRON  — Children and teachers at Qurtuba school in Hebron say getting to class past Israeli soldiers and settlers is like navigating a minefield every day.

The school, for children aged 7 to 16, is adjacent to the illegal Jewish settlement of Beit Hadassah in the center of the West Bank city.

Israeli forces fenced off the school’s stairs with barbed wire in 2002. Now the only route to the school is a muddy path up a steep hill.

Some pupils live beside the school, but have to walk two kilometers around a circuit to reach the entrance, Najah Abu Munshar, a teacher in the school told Ma’an.

Across the street from the school, “Gas the Arabs” has been scrawled on a door. Next to the school gates, a mural of a girl holding a book, painted by a French activist, has been covered by racist graffiti. A gallery in a school corridor shows photos of Israeli soldiers and settlers assaulting students.

International volunteers escort children to and from school as a protective measure, but pupils and teachers are still frequently harassed and assaulted on their way to the school, which has been vandalized and set on fire.

“School students start their day by crossing the checkpoint of Shuhada street. I can only describe daily life at Qurtuba school as suffering and struggle,” school principal Noura Nasser told Ma’an.

Teachers must also pass an Israeli checkpoint and metal detectors to get to work, and Israeli soldiers decide whether to let them pass each day.

Pupil Yasmeen Ghareb, 12, says settlers have assaulted her and her siblings. “Sometimes they say bad words to me, and sometimes they throw fluids at me on my way to school.”

Yasmeen Ghareb stands in front of a checkpoint on her way to school
(MaanImages/Salam Muharam)

Other students told Ma’an that settlers have attacked them with stones, water and rotten vegetables.

Najah Abu Munshar has taught at Qurtaba school for 15 years. “The settlers used to let their dogs attack the students, and when settlers attack a student, I try my best to calm him or her down, and if he or she has any wounds, I provide first aid,” she told Ma’an.

The Ministry of Education hired a psychological counselor for the school, to work with children suffering psychological trauma which often manifests as bed wetting, Nasser, the school principal, told Ma’an. “The school focuses on the extracurricular activities and days of joy.”

Nasser said settler attacks were usually heightened during periods of political instability.

A grid of walls, fences and checkpoints divides Jewish settlers and Palestinians who live in close proximity to each other in Hebron, which was divided into two sections in the 1997 Hebron Agreement.

The Palestinian Authority controls the larger area, while Israeli forces control the city center, including the old market, the Ibrahimi Mosque and the historic Old City.

Qurtaba school lies on Shuhada street, a once-bustling thoroughfare and now a shuttered ghost town, with a military checkpoint restricting Palestinians’ access to this part of the city.

Israel started restricting access to Shuhada street after an Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein broke into the Ibrahimi Mosque and shot dead 29 Palestinians.

During the second intifada, Israel closed the street to traffic and many traders were not even able to collect their goods before their shops were welded shut.

Palestinian families who remained on Shuhada street must climb through side doors and across rooftops to get to their homes.

Waed Zeidan al-Sharabati, a 9-year-old pupil at Qurtuba school who lives on Shuhada street, recounted to Ma’an how settlers assaulted her and her cousin in 2011 when they were harvesting almonds nearby.

“They threw stones on us… The settler kidnapped my cousin, and I called the neighbor to come check the situation. My neighbor talked to the settlers, and after a long argument, my cousin was returned. One settler threw a stone on my leg. They tried to take me another time, but I escaped to my neighbor’s wife, and she hid my inside her home, and closed the door.”

“I got used to it, and at the beginning I used to be scared, but now I am not scared of them,” she told Ma’an.

Ward al-Sharabati, 9, lives on Shuhada street, a hub of settler violence in the West Bank
(MaanImages/Salam Muharam)

February 17, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Who Will The Israelis (Or Their Proxies) Attack During Purim?

By Keith Johnson | Revolt of the Plebs | February 15, 2012

Based on a fable from the Old Testament Book of Esther, the Jewish holiday of Purim celebrates the slaughter of 750,000 Persians and the hanging of Persian Prime Minister Hamam and his ten sons.

Purim is perhaps the only religious holiday that celebrates death, destruction, and pagan decadence. It is more akin to Halloween than Christmas–where rowdy party animals dress like Gene Simmons from Kiss, drink like Charles Bukowski, and wander through town looking for trouble like soccer hooligans whose team just won (or lost) an important match.

This year, Purim will be celebrated from sunset, March 7 until nightfall, March 8.

Over the last twenty years, some of the most egregious war crimes and massacres committed by—or on behalf of—the Israelis have occurred during this holiday. It begs to wonder what they’ll be up to this Purim? […]

Here is a short (but by no means exhaustive) list of some of the more notorious bloody events that transpired while Purim was being celebrated:

Bombing of Libya—March 19, 2011—US and British forces launch “Operation Odyssey Dawn,” firing more than 115 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Libyan targets near Benghazi. The seven-month military assault ultimately resulted in the almost complete annihilation of Libya, the brutal assassination of Muammar Gaddafi, and the deaths of as many as 30,000 people.

Iraq War—March 17, 2003—Then-President George W. Bush issues a 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and his sons to either leave Iraq or brace for invasion. An air strike on the Presidential Palace in Baghdad came two days later. The resulting attack led to a bloody eight-year war that “officially” ended last year—but is still going on—with no end in sight!

Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre—February 25, 1994—Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, a member of the far-right Israeli Kach, opened fire on unarmed Palestinian Muslims praying at the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron. In addition to the 29 killed and 125 injured at the scene, 19 more Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces following riots and protests that erupted throughout the West Bank.

The Highway of Death—February 28, 1991— Under a white flag of surrender, Iraqi troops were making their way back from Kuwait to Iraq when they came under attack by U.S. military ground and air units. Somewhere between 50,000 to 150,000 were slaughtered on what was later referred to as “The Highway of Death.” According to investigative journalist and author Sherman H. Skolnick, “U.S. Military bulldozers were ordered by Bush to bury these slaughtered surrendering Iraqi troops, some of them still alive, in mass, unmarked graves in the desert.”

February 15, 2012 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment