A Response to Tyranny on the Temple Mount [the Kenyon Observer, September 12, 2012]
By Taleen Shaheen
Mr. Wilkenfeld’s article “Tyranny on the Temple Mount,” published in the Sept. 12 issue of the Observer, voices the author’s discomfort during his visit to the Temple Mount. He expresses his disappointment that the Israeli police and the Islamic religious waqf have restricted the ability of Jews to access the Temple Mount and prohibited them from praying out loud there. The author claims that the restrictions were enforced for security reasons, as there have been instances of Muslim worshippers attacking Jewish worshippers on the Mount. He has every right to be outraged, as such restrictions deprive people of the basic right to worship and of free access to their religious sites.
Unfortunately, the author ignores the political context of occupation, which makes it seem as if the tensions stems from religious animosity rather than years of political instability. He fails to mention that Jerusalem was divided into two major parts in 1948 as a result of Al-Nakba, the “day of catastrophe” on which many Palestinians were dispossessed during the creation of the state of Israel. The western half was occupied by Israel and the eastern half was adjoined to Jordanian territories. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel and has been under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel considers East Jerusalem part of its sovereign territory and unilaterally controls the city in a move that violates several United Nations resolutions.
I was particularly concerned with the author’s disregard for the political context of the violence on the Temple Mount, which is also the site of Al-Aqsa mosque. The mosque is the holiest site for Muslims in Palestine and is the third holiest mosque for Muslims across the world. It is important to note that the mosque has suffered continuous attacks by Jewish extremists. A group of Jewish extremists set the mosque on fire in the late 1960s, which led to the collapse of the southwestern wing and the destruction of Salah Al-Din’s minbar, the pulpit of one of the region’s great Muslim leaders. In 1980, members of an Israeli political movement plotted to blow up the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Furthermore, Israel has been digging tunnels beneath the Al-Aqsa mosque, which threatens its structural integrity. They justify this digging under a claim that the Temple of Solomon is located under the mosque although no archaeological proof has yet been found to substantiate the claim. Israelis have stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque several times and attacked Palestinian worshipers inside their designated territory. Most of the violence that happens at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is, in fact, a reaction to the provocative presence and actions of Israeli soldiers or extremists, such as in 2000 when then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon entered the Al-Aqsa mosque with a group of soldiers in 2000. This act ignited the second Palestinian uprising commonly know as Intifada. On the other hand, accounts of Arabs and Muslims attacking Jews praying at the Western Wall are almost unheard of.
Attacks on the mosque are not the only incidents by which Palestinian religious identity has been threatened. Since the occupation of East Jerusalem, the Israeli government has slowly and gradually imposed restrictions on Palestinians both inside and outside the city. For example, if Palestinians outside of Jerusalem wish to enter the city to pray, work, go to school or even visit a doctor, they need a permit from the Israeli authorities. They must wait weeks to obtain a permit, and in many cases it is simply denied. Even with their permit in hand, Palestinians going to Jerusalem still have to go through security checkpoints from cities like Bethlehem and Ramallah—both less than 10 miles away—tedious and humiliating process that is usually intensified during the holy month of Ramadan. As a result, praying at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem has become little more than a fantasy. This is especially true for most males under age 50, who are usually banned from conducting Friday prayers and restrained from practicing their religion in the land where they have lived for centuries.
Policies such as this aim to ensure Israeli political control within the city and all of historical Palestine. The restrictions that the Palestinians have to endure in accessing their religious sites and in preserving their religious identity are absolutely appalling. Palestinians—Muslims and Christians alike—are denied access not only to their holy sites but to the city of Jerusalem as well. So while Jews from around the world can have automatic access to the city, many Palestinians are denied entrance.
I myself have experience with these restrictive policies. My mother is a Palestinian-Armenian from East Jerusalem and my father is from a Palestinian city called Tulkarem. I was born in Jerusalem, a city that I now cannot enter without a permit. The Israeli government refused to give my mother reunification status for the family, which would have allowed us to live in East Jerusalem. This has caused tremendous discomfort and division in the family. Since my mother is a Jerusalemite, she is allowed access to the city, but my father, my brothers and I must obtain a permit to enter. We have never been able to visit Jerusalem as a family, despite its importance to us as my mother’s city and my birthplace. I accompanied my mother, who is a Christian, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher when I was younger, because at the time children under 16 were allowed into the city without a permit. I gained an understanding of how humiliating the process of entering Jerusalem can be. This summer, for the first time in three years, I was lucky to be granted a permit lasting six days that allowed me to be in Jerusalem from morning until evening. I finally fulfilled my mother’s wish of visiting the church, her school and some of her relatives.
Although Palestinians and Israelis have suffered from this conflict, I do not see equality in their suffering. I see a power dynamic that is very clear. We should ask ourselves the following questions: Who has the power in this conflict? Who has the jets and planes? Who has the superiority? Who controls the borders, water resources and air space? Who has the most sophisticated and lethal weaponry? Who is the occupier according to international law? Who continuously defies U.N. resolutions?
The answer to all these questions is the Israeli government. From the Palestinian perspective, there is an element of “tyranny” to be found in nearly every aspect of Palestinian daily life. Palestinians are simply asking the Israeli government to respect U.N. resolutions that call for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem. A just end to the occupation must be sought as soon as possible. Such a resolution must guarantee peace and an environment where human rights and religious freedoms are respected.