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20 July 2017

Jerusalem’s orphans revolt

By: Daoud Kuttab
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In the fall of 1967, shortly after Israel had annexed East Jerusalem, it attempted to impose the Israeli educational curriculum on all schools in the city.
 
Palestinian families looking for the future and considering the higher education and careers of their children in the Arab world wanted them to be enrolled in schools that participate in the Jordanian Tawjihi system and not the Israeli bigot system.
 
They pulled their sons and daughters out of the Jerusalem schools that were imposing the Israeli curriculum. Within a month, huge public schools that used to teach thousands of Palestinians were suddenly almost empty.
 
For months, these schools were sparsely populated, until finally, the Israelis surrendered and allowed the Jordanian Tawjihi curriculum back. With that, students returned.
 
Palestinians in Jerusalem vividly remember this story, and are reminding each other of it as they fight the unilateral Israeli attempts to impose new restrictions on the entry of Islam’s third holiest mosque.
 
What is of high concern to Palestinians is not only that the new electronic gates will gravely impede movement and entry into the mosque for prayers, but that it will undermine the Jordanian custodianship of the mosque.
 
If a person needs to pass an Israeli-controlled metal detector system, what is the remaining role of the 200 Jordanian paid waqf guards?

Ironically, back in 1967, Al Aqsa Mosque was similarly empty for many days, and the Israeli officials were begging Palestinians to pray in their holy site.
 
At the time, Jerusalem Mufti Sheikh Saaed Eddine Al Alami reportedly told the Israeli officials what they needed to do. “Get your soldiers out of our mosque and then we will pray in it.”
 
Once the Israeli soldiers left the mosque area, Muslims flocked back to their mosque.
 
Today, a similar standoff is taking place, and the Israelis are similarly begging Palestinian Muslims to enter the mosque, albeit by way of their own imposed restrictions.
 
To Israel, the issue of the metal detectors is not important; what is important is the political signal it sends.
 
Right-wing Israelis have for years been attacking the government for lacking sovereignty or control over what the world calls Al Haram Al Sharif/Al Aqsa Mosque and what Israel and Jews call Temple Mount.
 
As part of the understanding between the Jordanian waqf and the Israeli authorities, each of the gates leading to the mosque’s 144 dunum compound is manned by an Israeli officer and a member of the waqf authority.
 
While the Israeli forces have overall control and have the last word, the Islamic waqf guards paid by the Jordanian government are present to ensure that worshippers and visitors abide by the rules of conduct while at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
 
Visitors and tourists are allowed to enter the mosque at agreed-on times using a specific gate (Bab Al Majles) and after obtaining a ticket from the waqf authorities, provided they are dressed modestly.
 
The issue of regulating visitations was dealt a blow when Israel began allowing visitors through the only gate that is not guarded mutually by waqf and Israeli personnel.
 
After the violence that occurred in the fall of 2000 with the provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to the mosque compound, Bab Al Magharbeh, which is connected by a bridge to the Western Wall, has become the gate of entry of many based on unilateral Israeli decisions.
 
The visits to the compound by radical Jewish groups again caused tensions at the mosque that climaxed in violence and counterviolence in November 2014.
 
Israel restricted visits to the mosque based on gender and age, and at the height of the tensions, closed down Al Aqsa Mosque for a number of hours.
 
Jordan, which is responsible for the custodianship of the mosque, intervened and succeeded in reaching an understanding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the help of then US Secretary of State John Kerry.
 
The Amman understanding stipulates unfettered entry to all Muslims to pray in the mosque and regulated visits to the mosque by all others.
 
However, this understanding slowly eroded, as the right-wing Israeli government and the so-called Temple Mount lobby pressured the government to “regain sovereignty over the Temple Mount”.
 
According to the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst on Israel/Palestine, Ofer Zalzburg, the current tensions have been building up for some time, and were highlighted on June 29, when the head of the Jerusalem forces led a group of 150 Jewish activists to the mosque and agreed to be photographed and given a Jewish blessing while on the steps of Al Aqsa.
 
Palestinian worshippers’ nonviolent decision not to pray in Al Aqsa presents Israel with a dilemma similar to the one that faced the Israeli ministry of education in the fall of 1967.
 
The current Israeli government and political landscape, however, are much more right wing and pro-settlers than what existed in 1967.
 
The question remains whether Palestinian resistance of the new Israeli restrictions will continue, and whether Israeli insistence prevails, even if it causes further deterioration in relations with Jordan.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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