Friday, July 20, 2018

Netanyahu lifts ban of Parliament members visiting Al-Aqsa resulting in immediate provocative visits


By Maria Correia - July 10, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [Settlers] [al-Aqsa] [Israeli government]

Last week, Netanyahu lifted the ban prohibiting Knesset members and Israeli government officials visiting Haram al-Sharif, the Al-Aqsa compound in the old city of Jerusalem. One of the conditions for lifting the ban included that visits from MK’s could only occur every three months.

In response to the ban-lift, Uri Ariel, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture, entered the Al-Aqsa courtyard with a group of Israeli settlers on Sunday. It marked the first entry of an Israeli Minister to the compound since 2015. According to eyewitness accounts, the visit was led under heavy security measures.

Uri Ariel had already in 2015 come out in support of the compound being open for Jewish prayer. Although visits to the compound are allowed by non-Muslims, only Muslims are allowed to pray there.

Members of the Knesset are required to submit a request 24 hours prior to the visit. The Israeli Channel 7 reported that Ariel had obtained approval for the visit in line with this rule.

Netanyahu issued the ban in 2015, in an attempt to lower the tensions in Jerusalem. The announcement came in light of stabbing attacks in Jerusalem that killed two Israelis and one Palestinian.

It was also an attempt to calm violence that was sparked as a result of repeated incursions by settlers to the compound. Muslim access to Al-Aqsa had been restricted while Jewish groups were let in with tours, making Haram-al-Sharif a hotbed for clashes.  

The Al-Aqsa compound has historically been a significant trigger for political developments in the region. In summer 2017, Israeli police closed the al-Aqsa Mosque and cancelled Friday noon prayers after a gun battle on the site.

Israel then imposed heightened supervision, and metal detectors were placed at the entry of the Al-Aqsa mosque, resulting in widespread condemnation of the move by both Palestinians and the international community.

In 2000, a provocative visit of the site by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon and over 1,000 Israeli police officers caused widespread protesting in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The event is considered one of the triggers that started the Second Intifada.

Over the weekend Ariel welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to lift the ban, but also stated more should be done: “The Temple Mount must be open for Jewish prayer throughout the year, including to public figures […] I call on the prime minister to open the Temple Mount to Jewish prayer without limitations for anyone who wants.”

The ban-lift comes after a series of challenges to the status quo of Haram al-Sharif. A decision ruled in April 2018by the Magistrate Court of Jerusalem allowed the chanting of patriotic slogans for Israel on the compound, as they are not prayers.

Similarly, on the first day of Ramadan in May 2018, a group of Israeli settlers stormed the compound under the protection of Israeli security forces. Middle East Monitor reported; “there have been calls for settlers to storm Al-Aqsa more regularly.”

The recent visit has already caused controversy, and has been condemned by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Mahmoud Abbas’ religious affairs advisor, has also denounced the tour. A Palestinian Authority spokesperson called Netanyahu’s decision to lift the ban a “blatant and serious provocation” and “encouraging harm to one of Islam’s holiest sites.”

On Monday 9 July 2018, three more Israeli MKs entered the Al-Aqsa compound. Amir Ohana, Yehuda Glick and Cheri Maalam are known for their anti-Arab positions, and are open supporters of establishing the third Jewish Temple in the place of Al-Aqsa mosque. The MKs were also accompanied by settlers.

Palestinians and liberal Israelis fear that lifting the ban might cause more tension in the region, as politically motivated legislations and moves regarding Al-Aqsa have done so in the past.

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