The Muslims who risk their lives to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque have an important role to play in keeping the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation on the national rather than the religious level. When tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered Sunday at al-Aqsa’s mosques and the plaza outside them – despite the brainwashed, hate-filled policemen carrying vast amounts of weaponry that they were itching to use – they weren’t just defending their holy places. They were also defending their existence as a people in their own land.
No matter what devotees of the red heifer and their ilk say, in all their various forms of sweet talk about God and the Temple, religion in their hands and mouths is just another weapon with which to achieve a fascist, nationalist and very territorial goal – kicking masses of Palestinians outside the borders of their land.
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The promo for this horror film is being screened before our very eyes at any given moment in Hebron’s Old City. Jewish nationalist religious zealots have managed to gradually empty it of its Palestinian residents, with active assistance from the Israeli army, wealthy American Jews and secular politicians (from Yitzhak Rabin to Benjamin Netanyahu).
The opposite is also true: Israeli governments have used the religious zealots to strike another very territorial blow at the Palestinians, as part of the process of fragmenting and dismantling their remaining expanse.
In 1994, a Jewish-American-Israeli doctor massacred Muslim worshippers at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque. In response, secular Israel punished the Palestinians, and continues to punish them to this day. It has imposed curfews, closed streets and let the murderer’s friends and admirers abuse thousands of Palestinian residents every day, to the point that many were forced to go pack their belongings, leaving ghost neighborhoods behind them.
The pious doctor murdered them not because they were Muslims, but because he knew that at a site sacred to believers, his bloody provocation would have a better chance of achieving the territorial goal that members of his settler community seek.
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Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich feel comfortable at a ceremony honoring Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh – who lauded and praised the murderous doctor, Baruch Goldstein – because for 25 years, Israeli society has normalized and accepted the results of the massacre.
The people’s army has issued more and more orders evicting Palestinians from their city, and more and more soldiers who are offered sweets from the settlers have carried out these orders, and are still carrying them out. Judges have approved them, and politicians – including the beloved President Reuven Rivlin – have visited and praised this Jewish settlement, which expels and dispossesses others.
Consequently, given this situation of Israeli military superiority and creeping or galloping expulsion, the spatial and temporal division between Jews and Muslims at the Ibrahimi Mosque / Tomb of the Patriarchs isn’t a sanctification of the principle of equality between two religions and their believers. Rather, this division is another technique for domination and humiliation.
And therefore, all the talk about “Jewish worshippers’ human rights and right to equality” on the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa is hypocrisy which conceals a goal that isn’t religious at all – unless religion is a war of destruction.
Hosts of radio news shows were shocked on Sunday by the refusal of Palestinian Muslim citizens of Israel to recognize Jewish religious ties to the site. But their shock ignores the completely unequal balance of power, in which the secular goal of Judaizing the territory and erasing the Palestinians’ connection to it uses religion however it pleases. The refusal to grant recognition is the most legitimate weapon of the oppressed.
The Palestinian fear of a Hebronization of Jerusalem’s Old City in general and Al-Aqsa in particular rests on solid grounds: the same religious zealotry and real estate appetite, the same step-by-step methodology and the same armed secular-nationalist Jewish support, which is only growing. But here of all places, the Palestinians have a way to demonstrate their strength – namely, their ability to unite and show up en masse to pray, and thereby send a message to Israel, the world and their own people: We are here.