Above Photo: A view of Al-Aqsa Mosque – The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine on December 29, 2022. Beata Zawrzel. (urPhoto via AP.
‘New Sheriff in Town.’
The Jordanian Ambassador to the State of Israel was recently denied entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – the third-holiest site in Islam. This is an incident that is so severe and so dangerous that not only the Jordanian government but the entire Arab and Muslim world – as well as the West – should have reprimanded Israel severely. The governments of Israel and Jordan decided to downplay this incident, but there must be no mistake; it marks a dangerous new development for the Holy Sanctuary, or Haram Al-Sharif, where the mosque sits. With this “incident,” Israel – and particularly the new czar of national security – the racist thug turned minister – Itamar Ben-Gvir is telling the Arab and Muslim world, “there’s a new sheriff in town.”
Preventing the Jordanian Ambassador from entering the Al-Aqsa compound was unacceptable on several levels. As a Muslim, he has the right to go and pray at the mosque at any time he pleases; as an ambassador and representative of another country, he should be afforded courtesy and respect; and as the ambassador of the state which is the custodian of the entire compound, the entire Holy Sanctuary, he is entitled to visit at any time and needs no permission from any other authority.
A Sacred Site Like No Other
Known in English as the Holy Sanctuary, Haram al-Sharif takes up about one-sixth of the Old City of Jerusalem or about one-half square mile. In 2022, I interviewed Dr. Yousef Natshe, one of the leading authorities on Islamic art and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The compound is composed of three levels of topography and over one hundred architectural structures, representing some of the finest examples of Islamic art and architecture. There are fifteen gates leading to the compound, four of which are currently blocked. As Dr. Natshe describes it, “it is a narrative within a narrative.”
The Haram Al-Sharif has been constantly cared for and developed by the most notable figures in Islam going back to Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, who entered Jerusalem in the seventh century, CE. “Wherever you look you see the fingerprints of an amir or a king,” all of whom added something, Dr. Natsche says.
He also added what many Palestinians – young and old – have expressed over and over again: Al-Aqsa is the last resort, the final refuge. As Palestinians lose land and rights and the ability to survive, not to mention lose their children to Israeli bullets, they look to Al-Aqsa as a place of refuge and the place they will protect with everything they’ve got. “Each Palestinian sees him or herself as the protector of Al-Aqsa,” he explained. We have seen this in recent years as settlers and soldiers storm the site and Palestinians from all walks of life stand to protect it.
The Israeli government knows this, and the current administration is challenging Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims by desecrating the Holy Sanctuary, demanding it for themselves. And while this was done slowly and gradually in the past, the current government is marching forward with no regard for the consequences. What we saw take place with the Jordanian Ambassador was the first shot in a war they are declaring on Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims everywhere.
Unacceptable On Several Levels
While Israel tried to describe the incident with the Jordanian Ambassador as little more than a misunderstanding, it was nothing of the sort. Militarized and heavily armed Jerusalem police patrol the Al-Aqsa compound regularly in order to intimidate and show who is in charge. The only way to describe these police officers is “goons”; they are large, brutish, usually unshaven, easily provoked and with a dangerous propensity for violence. I have personally seen them many times, including when they are on the attack.
Based on tradition that goes back more than fifteen hundred years, and on diplomatic and legal agreements that have been signed and reaffirmed over and over in the last century, custodianship of the Holy Sanctuary today belongs to the Kingdom of Jordan. That means, in simple language, that they have the authority in the compound. The Waqf, or religious trust that governs the Holy Sanctuary, which includes Al-Aqsa mosque and all that exists within the compound, is a Jordanian institution, governed by the Kingdom of Jordan. One could perhaps compare it to an embassy, and the authority and sovereignty within the embassy belongs to the state it represents.
In the summer of 2022 I visited the Waqf, which is where I interviewed Dr. Yousef Natshe. I had to walk into the offices of the Waqf, the Islamic religious trust, and it was like entering an office within Jordan. For reasons beyond understanding, I had to negotiate with Israeli police about the right to enter the office, which for all legal purposes is under the sovereignty of the Jordanian government and not the Israeli police.
If there is anyone watching the developments surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa compound who is not gravely concerned, then they need to wake up. Claims made by Zionists to Al-Aqsa would be equivalent to someone demanding the Vatican – which was built much later than Al-Aqsa – be removed because before it was built there was a temple for some other deity and they have the right to build their own temple again. If someone was mad enough to make such claims, they would be laughed at, and rightly so.
It is probably not possible for someone who is not a Muslim or at least close enough to Islam to comprehend the importance, the significance and the awe surrounding Al-Aqsa. It is equally not possible therefore to comprehend the danger in what Israel is doing. Israel and its current zealot-led government are fully aware that they are placing not only Jerusalem, not only Palestine, not even only the entire Middle East but the entire world on the edge of an unpredictable catastrophe.
It is time for the international community to step in. It is time for Americans to prepare for the possibility that the Sixth Fleet – which controls the Mediterranean region – be mobilized to rescue Palestinians. The longer the world waits, the more Palestinians die and the closer we get to what will surely be an unimaginable loss.