MK Odeh: Israel Seeks to Drag Region into Religious War

“Israel seeks, through what is happening at the al-Aqsa Mosque, to drag the region into a religious war,” warned the leader of the Joint List in the Knesset, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash). Odeh told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency: “What is happening at the al-Aqsa Mosque today and in previous Israeli operations during the past three months is an extremely serious development that has never reached this level since 1967.”

Israeli policemen outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday, September 14

Israeli policemen outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday, September 14 (Photo: Ma’an News Agency)

“We are now witnessing terrifying images from inside the al-Aqsa Mosque compound into which Israel’s Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel, is leading incursions while his government supports this dangerous trend, as well as the launching of stun grenades and tear gas inside the compound, and the proposal of partitioning schemes,” Odeh said. He stressed that this tension at al-Aqsa and the desecration of other Islamic and Christian holy places “will drag us into very serious waves of violence.” He added: “Therefore we have approached the Israeli government several times demanding a stop to this madness on the ground.” Odeh explained that the solution to the problem is to free East Jerusalem from Israeli occupation, and to cease all such manifestations of this occupation.

Clashes erupted on Sunday, September 13, after a number of Israeli policemen entered the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds and arrested what they termed Palestinian “stone throwers.” Israeli forces and Palestinians clashed for the second consecutive day in the compound on Monday, with the resulting injury of several journalists when Israeli forces opened fire with stun grenades and tear gas canisters in the holy site.

Ayman Abu Rumouz, a cameraman for the Lebanon-based satellite channel al-Mayadeen, was assaulted inside a shop as he took shelter during the clashes, while another cameraman, Mustafa al-Kharouf, sustained a head injury and was detained. Layali Ubeid, a reporter with Shabakat al-Quds (Jerusalem Network) was handed a summons for questioning, and Christine Rinawi from Palestine TV was hit by shrapnel from a stun grenade.

Israeli police claimed they entered the compound, which overlooks the Western Wall, to ensure that Palestinian youths did not harass Jews or tourists during the morning visiting hours, Monday being the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShana. “As the police entered the compound, masked youths fled to inside the mosque and hurled stones at the force,” an Israeli police statement said. Police said that five protesters were arrested in the compound, and visits went ahead as scheduled. Another four Palestinian youths were arrested in skirmishes between security forces and protesters in the surrounding alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City. Police fired stun grenades while hitting and kicking demonstrators and journalists as they sought to push back crowds. An AFP journalist outside the gate saw a Jewish visitor leaving the compound scuffle with Muslims.

According to Ma’an News Agency, Palestinian protesters fear that Israel is seeking to change the status quo arrangements governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access to the compound and even efforts by fringe organizations to erect the Third Jewish Temple. “Some of the young [Palestinian] men have been sleeping inside the compound for two or three days to defend it,” 50 year old Umm Mohammed, among dozens of women protesting outside the gates of the al-Aqsa compound, told AFP. “We are defending al-Aqsa. We are not terrorists.”

Non-Muslim visits to the site regularly increase during Jewish holidays. According to police, some 650 non-Muslims visited the compound on Sunday during the 7:30 am to 11:00 am visiting hours when the compound is open to the public, while another 500 visited on Monday. Far-right Israeli Minister Ariel was among Jewish activists who visited on Sunday, Israeli media reported. In clashes on Sunday, Muslim witnesses claim police actually entered the mosque and caused damage. Police contend that they merely closed the doors of the mosque to keep inside rioters throwing stones, fireworks and other objects. In the past Israeli security forces have used the same tactic to restore calm, including briefly entering the mosque.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Sunday’s raid by Israeli police into the compound, saying that incursions into holy sites like al-Aqsa constitute a “red line,” adding that “we will not allow attacks against our holy places.” Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, it has maintained an agreement with the Islamic waqf (trust) which controls the al-Aqsa compound not to allow non-Muslim prayer in the area. Jewish prayer is allowed at the adjoining Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple.

In a separate incident, a 64 year old Israeli man, Alexander Levlovitch, was critically injured after his car was pelted with stones by suspected Palestinian assailants late Sunday in Jerusalem. Levlovitch died on Monday. Another passenger was slightly injured after the vehicle swerved off the road and hit an electric pole, local media outlets reported.