Aqsa show­down rare win for Pales­tini­ans

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Though it was well past mid­night, as news fil­tered through that Is­raeli po­lice were re­mov­ing the re­main­ing new se­cu­rity bar­ri­ers from the Al-Aqsa mosque com­pound hun­dreds of Pales­tini­ans flooded the streets. When one youth started to taunt Is­raeli po­lice war­ily watch­ing the gath­er­ing crowds early on Thurs­day, oth­ers an­grily re­mon­strated with him. This was a night for cel­e­brat­ing what the Pales­tini­ans saw as a rare vic­tory.

For Is­raelis, the sit­u­a­tion grew out of a hor­ri­ble at­tack on July 14 that killed two po­lice­men. But many of them also viewed Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s han­dling of the cri­sis as in­ad­e­quate. While Pales­tini­ans’ joy at the re­moval of the se­cu­rity mea­sures was some­what tar­nished by clashes in­side the mosque com­pound later Thurs­day, Pales­tini­ans that night chanted and hugged each other, as car horns sounded in­ces­santly.

A huge Pales­tinian flag was car­ried by young men onto one of the Old City’s walls - an ex­tremely rare act in a city that Is­rael con­sid­ers its un­di­vided cap­i­tal. “We feel joy­ous. I live quite far away but I walked here for Al-Aqsa,” said Nis­reen, a young woman in the crowd. “The Is­raelis think this is it. God will­ing this is just the be­gin­ning.”

The cel­e­bra­tions came nearly two weeks af­ter the at­tack near the Haram Al-Sharif com­pound, known to Jews as the Tem­ple Mount. Two Is­raeli po­lice were killed, while the three Arab Is­raeli at­tack­ers were shot dead. The site, which in­cludes the revered Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, serves as a key uni­fi­ca­tion point for Pales­tini­ans. It is lo­cated in east Jerusalem, seized by Is­rael in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later an­nexed in a move never rec­og­nized by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. It is the third-holi­est site in Is­lam and the most sa­cred for Jews as the site of the first and sec­ond an­cient tem­ples.

Is­rael re­sponded to the at­tack by in­stalling new se­cu­rity mea­sures, par­tic­u­larly metal de­tec­tors and cam­eras. They ar­gued such mea­sures were stan­dard at ma­jor re­li­gious sites but Pales­tini­ans saw it as Is­rael try­ing to take fur­ther con­trol of the com­pound. The Waqf, the Is­lamic en­dow­ments au­thor­ity that runs Al-Aqsa, re­fused to en­ter un­til the mea­sures were re­moved. Days of street protests fol­lowed, with thou­sands pray­ing out­side the com­pound as part of a boy­cott.

The sit­u­a­tion came to the boil around the main weekly prayers on July 21. Clashes be­tween Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces and Pales­tini­ans erupted in Jerusalem and the oc­cu­pied West Bank, leav­ing three Pales­tini­ans dead. Later that evening, a Pales­tinian broke into a home in a Jewish set­tle­ment in the West Bank and stabbed four Is­raelis, killing three of them. Warn­ings grew that the un­rest could spi­ral out of con­trol.

A top aide to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump flew in for cri­sis talks, while King Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan, the of­fi­cial cus­to­dian of Mus­lim holy sites in Jerusalem, urged Ne­tanyahu to re­move the se­cu­rity mea­sures. Early on Tues­day, the metal de­tec­tors were re­moved but bar­ri­ers and other new struc­tures re­mained in place. The boy­cott con­tin­ued. Two days later, po­lice re­turned around 1:00 am to re­move the rest, spark­ing the joy­ous scenes. A poll of Is­raeli Jews found 77 per­cent thought the move con­sti­tuted “ca­pit­u­la­tion”, while even the nor­mally proNe­tanyahu news­pa­per Is­rael Hayom at­tacked his han­dling of the cri­sis.

Ne­tanyahu, who heads what is seen as the most right-wing gov­ern­ment in Is­rael’s his­tory, has since called for the death penalty for the Pales­tinian who stabbed the Is­raelis in what some an­a­lysts saw as a move to please his right-wing base. “There is a strong sense of hu­mil­i­a­tion, es­pe­cially among the right wing,” Ofer Zalzberg from the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group think tank told AFP. “They are push­ing the gov­ern­ment to re­verse this hu­mil­i­a­tion by giv­ing them some­thing else.”

The Pales­tinian move­ment was called to the streets by the Waqf but quickly took on a life of its own. “This cut across all lines - re­li­gious, not so re­li­gious, Mus­lim, Chris­tian, rich or poor,” Diana Buttu, a for­mer Pales­tinian of­fi­cial turned an­a­lyst, said. Ac­cord­ing to Buttu and oth­ers, the Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship of all fac­tions, in­clud­ing the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized lead­er­ship of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity, had been mostly ir­rel­e­vant, with the move­ment led largely by pro­test­ers.

“Pales­tini­ans have been very en­cour­aged by what for them is one suc­cess within a sea of de­feats,” Zalzberg said. He put the vic­tory down to an “Is­raeli in­abil­ity to stop the move­ment be­cause of the sheer size and be­cause it was around Al-Aqsa”. Al-Aqsa is a rare uni­fy­ing sym­bol for all Pales­tini­ans and there is a risk they could fall back into po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing now that the im­me­di­ate threat has been de­feated, he added. But Zalzberg said the mostly young peo­ple who had taken part in the two weeks of protests will be keen to push their lead­ers. “The next time there is a ma­jor is­sue, will they not go back to the same re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and tell them: ‘You were suc­cess­ful with the metal de­tec­tors. Why don’t we do some­thing?’” — AFP

ISTANBUL: Pro­test­ers wave Turk­ish and Pales­tinian flags as they hold plac­ards read­ing ‘Our hearts beat for Jerusalem’ dur­ing a demon­stra­tion yes­ter­day. Thou­sands of sup­port­ers of a con­ser­va­tive Turk­ish party ral­lied to protest against mea­sures taken by Is­rael in Jerusalem and to show sol­i­dar­ity with the Pales­tini­ans. — AFP

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