It is unfathomable that the recurrent unrest in and around the Aqsa Mosque Compound are individual spats of violence unrelated to any larger picture. Anyone even slightly versed in this entangled conflict knows better, knows that every statement, every move in Jerusalem is laced with political overtones and is a tiny piece of a much larger canvas.
So, yesterday’s events in Jerusalem’s Old City can only be viewed as one more link in Israel’s master plan for the city and for the Aqsa Mosque Compound in particular. For the second time in the past month, extremist Jewish groups announced their intent to enter the mosque and for the second time, Palestinian Muslims in Jerusalem staved them off. Following a morning call from the mosques’ muezzin to the people of the Old City to "come and protect Al Aqsa", clashes ensued between Israeli riot police and soldiers, many who had taken up position the night before in anticipation of confrontations.
And confrontations they certainly were. Angry Palestinians set fire to tires and trash cans after Israeli police shut the doors to the mosque’s compound, trapping dozens inside. Stun grenades, rubber –”coated metal bullets and tear gas filled the streets and the two sides clashed violently for hours. By the time things quieted down, at least 30 Palestinians had been injured and three Israeli police.
As disturbing as the incident itself is, what’s worse is its dangerous implications. Israel has had its eye on this area of the Old City since it captured the eastern sector in the 1967 War. Not only is it in the heart of Jerusalem, which Israel has yet to relinquish even partial claim over, it is said to be the place where the first and second Jewish temples were built and subsequently destroyed. The Third Temple is, Jews say, to be built on this exact spot.
What follows is speculation, but speculation that is based in hard truths and realities that cannot be ignored lest we drop the ball on this extremely significant and delicate subject. Israel has always retained an overall policy of sending up "test balloons" to gauge reactions –” both locally and internationally –” then absorbing any backlash, until finally implementing its plans when the dust finally settles. This happened with the construction of the separation wall, with the Qalandiya checkpoint and the Lebanon War. Israel would throw the idea out into the open and wait until it could give a convincing enough justification before putting plan into action. Today, much of the world falls for the line that the Separation Wall was built to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers and protect innocent Israeli civilians. Never mind that the wall swallows up approximately 40 percent of the West Bank, cutting off people and land, and that an eerily similar plan was devised just after the 1967 occupation dubbed the Allon Plan which basically drew the same borders.
As for the Qalandiya checkpoint, the same strategy was undertaken. At first, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for the 100 day plan in January, 2001, supposedly as a means to quell the Aqsa Intifada of 2000. Part of the plan, which included a severe military crackdown on Palestinian protesters, was setting up a "makeshift" checkpoint near the Qalandiya airstrip. Soon however, the dirt barricades turned into cement blocks, which then turned into vehicle and pedestrian lanes with corrugated iron roofs, which finally turned into a full blown terminal, which effectively severs the West Bank from Jerusalem.
Today, we are faced with a similar strategy for Al Aqsa. Israel has always called it the "Temple Mount", in reference to the supposed location of the first and second temples and the Holy of Holies. The reference to the Aqsa Mosque Compound as the "Temple Mount" has been mainstreamed even in Western discourse, thus, offering legitimacy to the Jewish alternative to Islam’s third holiest site. Again, never mind the fact that the actual site of the Holy of Holies and even the first and second temples are disputed much less the location of where the third temple should be built. Anyway, even if the Jewish temples were built on or around the area that now houses the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, this should in no way contradict with what exists there today. If every group of people made claims to ancient ruins, would the world not be in archeological chaos by now?
It seems however, that Israel is looking further than even its own religion. Like all things to do with the conflict, this is about politics. After the repeated upsets at the compound and the increasing number of extremist Israeli Jews who insist that they will enter the compound for prayer, Israeli government officials began releasing their infamous test balloons.
It is difficult to surmise what came first, the proverbial chicken (the Israeli government’s plan) or the egg (the push by extremist Jews). The end result, however, is that both compliment each other with a common goal of marginalizing Palestinian and Muslim presence in the city. On October 1, the Islamic-Christian Society in Support of Jerusalem announced that Israel plans to allow Jews exclusive access to the Aqsa Compound on 50 Jewish holidays to perform prayers. The announcement came after a day of clashes at the compound.
While there have been no reports of such a move since then, the prospect of such a decision could have catastrophic ramifications. And given Israel’s history with throwing out outrageous ideas before actually implementing them on the ground, this does not seem as outrageous as one would imagine.
Besides, Israel already has a prototype for this kind of arrangement –” the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. As early as 1975, Israeli authorities divided the mosque between Jewish settlers and Palestinian Muslim worshipers, with the entire mosque falling under Israeli control. After the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshipers by Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, the iron door between the two sides was shut permanently, thus banning Palestinians from a large portion of the mosque they had prayed and worshiped in for years.
This is why the prospect of Israel attempting to pull off something of the sort at Al Aqsa is not so far-fetched. Israel seems to have a policy of, "If we can do it, then we will." There is no doubt that Israel, being the occupying power backed by the world’s only superpower, "can do it." However, if it does decide to inch towards this eventual goal, it should know by now that the backlash will be severe. The burning tires, stones and flying chairs are just a hint of what will happen should Israel try to take full control over Al Aqsa. Palestinians are sure not to go down easily, if they go down at all.