By Daud Abdullah
Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, scored a spectacular own goal with his recent article in the Guardian. In doing so, he caused considerable damage to the credibility of the newspaper and its editorial policy. It is astonishing that an item so factually incorrect and willfully misleading could have been passed by the editors of a reputable British publication.
Under the headline “The terror in Jerusalem is based on a lie”, Erdan told the most scandalous and unconvincing canard that “Israel is not seeking to change the status of the Temple Mount.” This 36-acre site at the heart of the conflict is known to Muslims the world over as Al-Aqsa Mosque, or Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Erdan played the blameless card: “I can state in no uncertain terms and on behalf of the government of Israel that my country is not seeking to change the status quo regarding the Temple Mount.” His use of the Jewish term for the Noble Sanctuary is itself evidence of his intention to mislead the world about the status of the site.
Moreover, all of the facts on the ground contradict his claim. Just as it has done with the Ibrahimi Mosque in occupied Hebron, Israel is indeed trying to change the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque to allow Jews to perform religious rituals therein.
The Israeli occupation, as a matter of policy, prevents Palestinians living in the West Bank from obtaining permits to enter Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Even Jerusalemites face an array of restrictions to enter the sanctuary, including the withholding of their identity cards until they leave the mosque.
Only last month, the Israeli media reported that Erdan himself sent a letter to Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon urging him to outlaw a group of male and female Muslim worshipers who protest against the presence of illegal Jewish settlers in Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quite rightly, condemned Erdan’s action.
If Israel has no intention of changing the status of occupied Jerusalem, let alone Al-Aqsa Mosque, then why does it refer to the city as its “undivided eternal capital”? This has been Israel’s claim since it annexed – illegally, according to international law – occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Even Israel’s closest friends and allies reject this annexation.
In January this year a landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court underscored the bogus nature of the “undivided capital” assertion. The court overturned a controversial law that would have allowed Americans born in Jerusalem to list their birthplace as “Israel” on their US passports. Congress, noted the court, had overstepped its limits when it approved the law in 2002. As such, the official US policy remains non-recognition of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Tellingly, the Times of Israel published an item on 1 September under the title “Netanyahu agrees things must change on Temple Mount”. The report followed a one-to-one meeting between Likud activist Yehudah Glick and the Israeli prime minister to discuss the situation on “Temple Mount”. Glick revealed that Netanyahu was not only “warm and understanding” but also politically supportive of his cause. What might that be?
Glick heads an outfit called the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation which advocates for the right of Jews to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque. His views are documented in a guidebook, “Arise and Ascend”, which is geared to encourage visits by Jews to the Noble Sanctuary. In it he rejects the status quo established in 1967 by the then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan that recognizes the site as a place of worship for Muslims and a tourist site for all others, but bans Jewish prayer therein.
Furthermore, Glick is full of praise for Erdan, who recently ordered the removal of female Muslim worshipers from Al-Haram Al-Sharif: “I feel there is a new guiding spirit in the police. Minister Erdan is completely different than [former] minister [Yitzhak] Aharonovitch… The only thing that can bring about change is an increased Jewish presence on the Mount. [We need] more pressure from crowds going up and from tourists witnessing the situation.”
Clearly, these remarks do not reflect a desire to preserve the status quo even though, in November 2014, Netanyahu gave an undertaking to US Secretary of State John Kerry and King Abdullah of Jordan to respect the status of Jerusalem. At the time, the King was infuriated by Israel’s repeated closure of the sanctuary to Muslims. He saw it as a direct breach of his country’s 1994 Wadi Araba Treaty with Israel which acknowledges his custodianship of the Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.
Given such differences between his words and actions, it is perhaps no wonder that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded Netanyahu a compulsive “liar”. The Guardian article has now confirmed that the Israeli prime minister is not alone amongst his coalition colleagues in his predilection for falsehood; those who keep his company are affected likewise. Erdan’s deceitful narrative of Palestinian “terrorism” will continue to ring hollow as long as Palestinian youths are burned alive by trigger-happy soldiers and fanatical Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
No amount of bogus claims made in the foreign media will give Israel the legitimacy and sovereignty over Jerusalem that it craves. Neither will brute force change the international consensus upheld by the UN Security Council that all legislative and administrative actions taken by Israel to change the status of Jerusalem are totally invalid, illegal, null and void. The world stands up for the resolution of issues by the force of law, not the law of force. If the editors of the Guardian newspaper do not recognise this, they can be sure that the enlightened British public does.
– Dr. Daud Abdullah is the director of the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) in London. (This article was first published in Middle East Monitor.)