Palestinian fury continues over Israeli decision on holy sites

Unrest continued for a third day in Hebron over the Israeli government decision to declare the important Ibrahimi (Abraham) mosque an Israeli heritage site, as schoolgirls in headscarves and green and white striped dresses over their jeans confronted Israeli troops who shot tear gas at them, while the situation was discussed at an Arab League meeting in Cairo today.

Yesterday (Tuesday), YNet reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in Belgium that “the Israeli decision to add the two sites, located in Hebron and Bethlehem, to the list of national heritage sites was ‘a serious provocation which may lead to a religious war’ “, while “The Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, presented an even firmer stand. He called on the Palestinians to launch a new intifada in protest of the decision to add the two places to the heritage sites list. ‘This requires the release of all Palestinians prisoners in the PA’s jails, halting the negotiations and achieving a Palestinian reconciliation agreement’, he said”. This report is published here.

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu repeated a statement first made by a member of his office yesterday. YNet reported today that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reiterated Israel’s commitment to the freedom of ritual of members of all religions in all holy sites. According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu said that ‘this policy is implemented in the Cave of the Patriarchs as well, where the State is working constantly to guarantee appropriate prayer conditions for Jews and Muslims’. According to Netanyahu, ‘Proof can be found in the renovation work being completed these days in the entrance plaza and on the path leading to the Muslims’ prayer hall on the site’. The prime minister stressed that ‘any other claim is an artificial attempt to distort reality and evoke a dispute’.” This can be read in full here.

Israel’s State President Shimon Peres met UN envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry on Wednesday. and said that “Israel plans to invest significant amounts in infrastructure that will increase the accessibility of holy sites to all worshipers. By doing so it aims to honor and allow freedom of worship to all, irrespective of their faith, and protect the holy sites. There is no violation of Muslim or Christian religious rights in any holy place.” According to a statement issued by his office, Peres “requested that this clear message be delivered to the U.N. Secretary-General so as to stop those parties which wish to incite unnecessary conflict”, and UN Special Coordinator Serry “thanked the President for clarifying the issue”, while adding that “following a series of meetings with leaders of the Palestinian Authority he believes the most serious obstacle to peace remains the lack of trust between both sides — that neither side believes the other will remain flexible and make significant advances in negotiations. Nevertheless, he also stated that with the proper steps there exists an opportunity to resume proximity talks.

The Jerusalem Post reported after the Peres-Serry meeting that “Peres stressed that Israel wasn’t interested in ‘monopolizing’ the sites and that it did not need ‘artificial conflicts’ sparked by a ‘misunderstanding’. He said that Israel respects ‘every holy place’, emphasizing that while it wanted to educate Jews that the sites are holy to them, this certainly did not mean they would be off limits to Muslims. ‘We are going to tell our children that it is a holy place for the Jewish people’, he said. ‘It doesn’t mean Muslims can’t pray there’.” This article is posted here.

In actual fact, Muslim worshippers have been excluded from the Ibrahimi mosque during the last two years on important Muslim holidays when they coincided with important Jewish holidays. The Muslims prayed in the streets in front of armed Israeli armed soldiers.

The Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied city of Hebron is the fourth holiest site to Muslims [after (1) the Kaaba in Mecca, (2) Medina, and (3) al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock Mosques in the Old City of East Jerusalem! It is so important that the Jordanian government tried to negotiated a share in controlling the Ibrahimi mosque in its 1994 peace treaty with Israel — but Israel refused.

The Tomb(s) of the Patriarchs, located within the Ibrahimi Mosque, may be the second holiest site for the Jewish people. The most important site is what Jews call the Temple Mount (while Muslims call it the Haram Ash-Sharif, where Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are located) in the Old City of East Jerusalem where the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temples were located. The Western (“Wailing”) Wall is believed to have been the retaining wall outside the Temple area.

In a press conference at the Mishkenot Shaananim center in West Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon, Major-General (Res.) Giora Eiland, Israel’s former National Security Adviser and now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said he thought that Netanyahu’s statements were “not that important … symbolic … but at the end of the day not too smart”. He noted that Rachel’s tomb, in Bethlahem, was “on the Israeli side of the Clinton maps”, meaning that it was considered an area that would be assigned to the State of Israel in a final peace settlement [which must be why it is now surrounded by The Wall in its 8-meter-high concrete block manifestation, and accessible only to Israelis who enter in guarded and escorted buses which pass through a huge gliding metal gate that opens for their arrival]. But, Eiland noted, “I cannot say the same about the Hebron mosque” …

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