Same criminals different mask: 54 years since the arson attack on Al-Aqsa

Dr Mohammad Makram Balawi

Since the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank in 1967, which is considered by many Zionists as the heartland of the Jewish world, the Israeli occupation authorities started concerted efforts to alter the character of Jerusalem, particularly its cherished Al-Aqsa Mosque. From the early days of the Occupation, the occupying army demolished the Moroccan neighbourhood and its surroundings to make room for what is nowadays known “the Wailing Wall”. Over the years, the Mosque has suffered extensive damage to its furniture, walls, ceiling, carpets, rare decorations as well as the loss of its Quran and other valuable possessions. The restoration process has taken years to complete.

When a fire broke out in the Al-Aqsa compound in 1969, it was the responsibility of the occupying forces to protect the Mosque and its surroundings. However, they cut off the water supply to the area and intentionally delayed the arrival of fire trucks from the occupying municipality in Jerusalem, thereby hindering efforts to extinguish the fire. Initially, it was claimed that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit. However, Arab engineers later provided evidence indicating that an individual deliberately started the fire. This individual was identified as Dennis Michael Rohan, a young Australian. It was promised that he would be brought to trial for his actions. However, he was subsequently declared mentally unstable and released.

Years proved that the actions carried out by this criminal are part of a deliberate and systematic process aimed at Judaising the area, which has unfolded through various significant stages. One such stage was the storming of the Mosque by former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, an event that not only ignited the second Palestinian Intifada but also emboldened an increased influx of intruders. As time went on, these stormings became more audacious, with the intruders openly engaging in Jewish religious practices.

Despite the signing of the “Wadi Araba” treaty in 1994, a peace agreement between Jordan and Israel that recognised Jordan’s right to oversee religious affairs in Jerusalem under the Hashemite guardianship, Israel has steadily eroded this guardianship through several means, such as the installation of surveillance cameras and electronic gates, the establishment of police checkpoints outside and within the Al-Aqsa compound and the use of brute force during raids on the Mosque are just a few examples. We witnessed such brutality during the attack on hundreds of worshippers in an unprecedented and savage manner during the last Ramadan, as well as the subsequent arrests that violated international norms and conventions. These actions have understandably provoked Palestinians and led to various acts of resistance.

Under the current Israeli far-right government, these attempts to alter the status quo have taken on a new dimension. The Israeli “Magistrate Court” issued a decision granting settlers the right to engage in “silent prayers” within the courtyards of Al-Aqsa, while simultaneously revoking deportation orders against settlers who publicly performed religious rituals during their storming of the Mosque in September 2021. These developments have resulted in an increase in the number of incursions into Al-Aqsa, with even Knesset deputies participating in provocative prostration rituals at its gates and attempting to make offerings.

Projects aimed at altering the identity of Occupied Jerusalem and transforming Al-Aqsa Mosque into a Jewish temple are neither hidden nor undisclosed. Israel openly declares its plans and projects in this context. When settlers took control of the current government in the Occupying State, there were two schools of thought. One represented by the Minister of Israeli National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque and sought to expedite the imposition of the status quo, and the other represented by the more cautious Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, who intends to invade Al-Aqsa Mosque and change the identity of Jerusalem based on traditional religious standards, which involve ethnic cleansing through the ritual purification with the “Red Heifer”, which is considered the main way to achieve purity from impurity, a precondition set by the official religious authorities to expand the incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and transform it into a Jewish synagogue.

The “Temple Institute” established a program to breed a herd of red heifers and employed biotechnology to fulfil the Torah prophecy by using frozen embryo implantation. The goal is to find a heifer that meets specific criteria, including being two years old without any deviation in its colour, not being milked or used for ploughing or pulling a cart, not giving birth and being completely free from any physical defects. It would then be slaughtered and burned with cedar wood and some branches of the hyssop plant. The ashes of this mixture would be mixed with water from a nearby source and then sprinkled on those who are impure to purify them. This is the fifth announcement regarding the existence of heifers that potentially meet the criteria. Over the course of 36 years, there have been four previous announcements but, in the end, the criteria were not met in 1997, 2002, 2014 and 2018. The current fifth announcement may end in failure or success.

The “Temple” groups are dealing with this announcement with greater confidence, especially since the current Israeli leadership is taking the issue of the Red Heifer very seriously and has devoted all efforts and resources to achieve it.

The dispute between the self-proclaimed moderate Zionist and the extremist Zionist is not about principles and ideas, but rather about the speed of implementing their agendas and plans. This is the real difference between them. Some seek to expedite the elimination of the two-state solution directly and rapidly, including the annexation of the West Bank, while others prefer a gradual approach.

The current escalation by extremist Zionism has been encouraged by the lack of genuine reactions on the international, Arab and Islamic levels. Prioritising regional interests of Arab and Islamic countries over central issues, such as the Palestinian cause, along with the complicit international stance towards the Zionist project, has played a role in this. It is no secret that Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who openly declared during his visit to the Occupation State, “I am a Zionist, and one does not have to be Jewish to be a Zionist.”

Fundamentally, Zionism is a racist movement and a form of racial discrimination as defined by the United Nations. As long as its ideology and efforts persist in the region, peace will remain elusive and Al-Aqsa Mosque will continue to be targeted.

(Source: MEMO)