18 February 2019
On September 28, 2000, then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit to Masjid al-Aqsa flanked by a large number of security personnel. The visit sparked angry responses from the breadth of Palestinian society and morphed into the al-Aqsa Intifada, which eventually saw the killing by Israel of thousands of Palestinians and physical reoccupation of their cities.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Sharon knew full well the potential repercussions of his visit, but proceeded nonetheless, viewing the visit (and perhaps its repercussions) as the staging post for his campaign for Israel’s highest office.
“Sharon visited [al-Aqsa] on the advice of his strategic adviser at the time, David Spector, in order to boost his effort to remain Likud leader ahead of an expected challenge from then-former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Highlighting the Jerusalem issue, which was a matter of consensus, helped Sharon unify the Right behind him and prove his leadership.”
“The visit was the turning point in his fledgling career,” spokesperson Ra’anan Gissin told the Post. “He was considered a caretaker party leader in the Likud at the time. He looked for something to posture him as a real leader, and Jerusalem was close to his heart.”
Sharon invaded al-Aqsa with his son Gilad and MKs Moshe Arens, Reuven Rivlin (current Israeli Preisdent), and Yehoshua Matza. Sharon, who owned an apartment in the heart of al-Quds’ Muslim quarter, later used Israeli control of al-Quds as a key issue in his campaign against then-prime minister Ehud Barak.
“It was the definitive move to capture the premiership,” Gissin said. “It emphasized his attachment to Jerusalem and helped him position himself as the leading candidate for prime minister. He also wanted to show that we have a right to be there, because Jews were afraid to go up there and police were saying that it wasn’t safe.”
Fast forward to 19 years later, and Zionist visits to al-Aqsa are no longer such a rarity as were in the days of Sharon. Notably since 2003, the Temple Movement has been mobilising and the number of Jewish visitors to al-Aqsa has steadily increased year on year, with a cordial relationship and overt co-ordination developing between the movement and Israeli police as the years progressed. Last year alone, 30 000 settlers made provocative visits to al-Aqsa.
2019 is election year in Israel. Israelis head to the polls in April, amidst a climate of the extreme right wing in ascendancy. Feeling buoyed by the actions of Donald Trump in the White House, Jerusalem has emerged as a major electoral issue, coloured by religious sentiments, with louder calls to consolidate Israeli control of Jerusalem and now allow Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa.
In the footsteps of Sharon, but now with the focus on al-Aqsa and Jerusalem becoming mainstream, many more politicians have been using al-Aqsa of visits to al-Aqsa as the staging post for their electoral campaigns.
More than any other previous election in the history of the State of Israel, Masjid al-Aqsa is now right up there on the shortlist of hot-button political issues.
The following recent press cuttings highlight how al-Aqsa has featured thus far in Israeli electioneering:
New right wing party slates Netanyahu for not being decisive on al-Aqsa protests
A far-right Israeli group has thrown its hat into the ever-expanding election ring, using its Saturday night campaign launch event to skewer the Likud party and the New Right — a faction recently established by Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett — as representing the “fake right.”
“For all those who tell you that Likud and Jewish Home are right-wing parties, ask (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and (Education Minister Naftali) Bennett about their folding to the Waqf in which they agreed to remove the metal detectors from the Temple Mount[Masjid al-Aqsa],” said party chairman Michael Ben Ari at the launch event in Bat Yam, referring to a July 2017 government decision on the flashpoint site that was criticized by some on the right.
The former National Union lawmaker went on to point out other examples in which he argued that the right-wing parties of the government were not true to their ideology.
(Times of Israel, 06 January 2019)
MK Yehudah Glick says quest for Temple should feature prominently in Likud electoral campaign
As for the election campaign, Glick says, “We must ensure that the Likud list of the Knesset will be with attractive people, not people who disgrace the Knesset, that people will be elected who are connected to the struggle over the Temple Mount, Jerusalem and everything the Likud symbolizes, people connected to people, without hate and haughtiness. I think that the more attractive the Likud is, the more we can return to forty-eight or fifty seats.”
(Israel National News, 27 December 2018)
Israeli minister boasts of inroads made for Jews at al-Aqsa
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan congratulated the hundreds of people who gathered at the Temple Mount [al-Aqsa] on Tuesday to celebrate the publication of the book “Temple Mount according to Jewish law” written by Rabbi Elisha Wolfson.
“One of my greatest achievements as public security minister is restoring the peace and quiet to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount,” Erdan said. “Today, anyone who wishes to come to the Temple Mount knows that it is open for longer as more Rabbis, Jews and tourists come and visit it.”
(Jerusalem Post, 22 January 2019)
Zionist police chief in Jerusalem makes provocative visit to Aqsa, enters Dome of Rock
Islamic religious bodies in the eastern city of Jerusalem condemned on Thursday the Israeli police’s raid on Al-Aqsa Mosque.
This came in a joint statement, which Anadolu Agency received a copy of, commenting on the Israeli police chief in Jerusalem Yoram Halifi’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque with a group of veterans who occupied it and the city of East Jerusalem in 1967.
The Ministry of Awqaf signed the statement, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places, the Islamic Supreme Committee, the Palestinian Fatwa Department, the Endowments and Islamic Affairs Department and the acting judge.
The statement said that “the militarisation of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and programmed Jewish intrusions came in the context of electoral propaganda for the extreme right and what comes in the next period, and we should be very cautious of its hidden effects.”
The bodies condemned the Jerusalem police chief, Halifi, and the delegation accompanying him following their raid on “all the prayer halls and the squares of Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
They pointed out that the intrusion occurred “despite the Ministry of Awqaf, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places objection and by force, which has serious implications and dimensions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The Jerusalem authorities reiterated that Al-Aqsa Mosque is a holy place for Muslims only and “is not up for concession, negotiation or division.”
They added that “what these people are doing will not underestimate the Islamic holiness of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and that millions of the Muslim world will not stand idly by in front of this barbarism.”
(Middle East Monitor, 25 January 2019)
Israeli MK tours Old City of al-Quds for election campaign
Miri Regev, the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport of Israel, toured the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, as dozens of Israeli settlers stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday.
A Ma’an reporter said that Regev toured the streets of the Old City along with a camera crew, in order to shoot her political campaign, for the upcoming Israeli legislative elections in April.
(Ma’an, 27 January 2019)
New Habayit Hayehudi leader denied importance of al-Aqsa to Muslims
Rabbi Rafi Peretz, a former Israel Air Force helicopter pilot and former chief military rabbi, was appointed chairman of Habayit Hayehudi on Monday by the party’s central committees, ahead of Israel’s April 9 general election.
Peretz replaces Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who broke away from Habayit Hayehudi to form a new party, Hayamin Hehadash, with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
The new chairman is considered much more conservative than Bennett, who stressed that Habayit Hayehudi was not only for the Orthodox. Peretz has been defined by one member of the Habayit Hayehudi Central Committee as “clearly nationalist ultra-Orthodox.”
In a lecture to the Atzmona pre-military academy in southern Israel in 2014, he told students that “90 percent of the Arabs don’t know what’s written in the Koran”, and said that except for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, “the rest of the Temple Mount has no religious significance” for Muslims.
(Ha’aretz, 04 February 2019)
Israeli election candidate negotiates with Women of the Wall to support his quest to pray at/near al-Aqsa
Another party using hi-tech techniques to advance its cause is Zehut (or, “Identity”) headed by Moshe Feiglin, who served as a Knesset member in the Likud party from 2013-2015.
The party held a primary Tuesday and Wednesday to determine its list for the Knesset election. A primary itself is not unusual in Israeli politics, but Zehut has added a wrinkle by opening the vote to all Israelis, whereas other parties permit party member voting only.
Feiglin is enshrined in the top position and 15 other candidates are listed to fill the second to 16th spot on the list. The voters determine what the order of those 15 slots should be.
The process is carried out online using a system that is secure, Feiglin says.
Like Yashar, Zehut is trying to spread a message of transparency and more direct contact between the politicians and the people.
Though Feiglin has been most identified with the right-wing segment of Israeli politics, which opposed the process of forming the Palestinian Authority in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and is against the establishment of a Palestinian state in those territories, he has tried to spread his wings to gain more popularity.
In one such effort, the Orthodox religious Feiglin says that he tried to reach a pact with the Women of the Wall movement which has fought a battle for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
Feiglin says that he told the group that he would support their right to conduct non-Orthodox prayers at the Wall, which is opposed by the rabbinate, if they backed his right to pray at the nearby Temple Mount, which is prohibited by the Islamic Trust which runs the site.
Feiglin says that the women’s group refused to reach such an agreement.
(World Israel News, 30 January 2019)
SOURCE: Palestine Information Network (PIN)