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Bab Al Rahmah: an incendiary issue

Mar 19,2019 - Last updated at Mar 19,2019

The Bab Al Rahmah (Gate of Mercy) building is part of Al Haram Al Sharif’s 144-dunum complex in the occupied city of Jerusalem. Since 2003, Israel has kept that gate shut for Palestinians until a few weeks ago, when thousands of worshippers broke into the building and started to pray there again.

As expected, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, eager to secure the Jewish extremist elements’ vote, particularly at a very critical general election moment where the prime minister is fighting for his political life, closed Bab Al Rahmah again. The measure was supported by an Israeli Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court decision endorsing the closure.

The Israeli court’s decision, however, was immediately condemned by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, which issued a statement affirming that East Jerusalem, including Al Aqsa Mosque/Al Haram Al Sharif, is part of the Palestinian territories that were occupied in 1967 as stipulated by international law, and, therefore, is not under the jurisdiction of Israeli judiciary. Both the Jordanian Cabinet and Parliament held special sessions to also declare their strong rejection of the Israeli violations and to reaffirm the status of the city of Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. In fact, all Jordanians, King, government, Parliament and people, are united behind this unwavering position. This latest Israeli provocation has stirred heaps of piling Jordanian anger at Israel’s reckless intransigence and blatant disregard for appropriate international conduct and rule of law.

In accordance with the terms of the Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1994, Muslim holy places in the city of Jerusalem were placed under Jordanian Hashemite Custodianship. Israel did not, at any time, respect its treaty commitments.

Incursions into the Aqsa Mosque complex by Jewish extremists, with official Israeli government support and protection, have for years been daily practices by the occupier in full defiance of Muslim sentiments as well as full and flagrant violation of treaty obligations. No amount of Jordanian and Palestinian protests and objections has had any effect on such Israeli desecration measures. Much worse, and more dangerous, are the Israeli excavations underneath and around Al Haram Al Sharif as well as the other Israeli structural changes, ongoing for consecutive decades, which put the entire Muslim site under existential threat.

The Jordanian mandate over Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites was further consolidated when, on March 31, 2013, an elaborate agreement was signed between His Majesty King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reaffirming King Abdullah’s custodianship of all of Jerusalem’s holy sites, Muslim and Christian.

“His Majesty King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed in Amman today a historic agreement, in which President Abbas reaffirmed that His Majesty King Abdullah II is the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and has full right to exert all legal efforts to safeguard and preserve them, especially Al Masjid Al Aqsa, defined as the entire Al Haram Al Sharif [of 144 dunums],” the statement declaring the agreement that day said.

Article two of the agreement specifically stated that: ”2.1 His Majesty King Abdullah II, as the custodian of the Jerusalem holy sites, exerts all possible efforts to preserve the Jerusalem holy sites, especially Al Haram Al Sharif, which is defined in item (c) in the preamble to this agreement, and to represent their interests so as to: A. Assert the respect for the Jerusalem holy sites. B. Affirm that all Muslims, now and forever, may travel to and from the Islamic holy sites and worship there, in conformance with freedom of worship. C. To administer the Islamic holy sites and to maintain them so as to (i) respect and preserve their religious status and significance, (ii) reaffirm the proper identity and sacred character of the holy sites and (iii) respect and preserve their historical, cultural and artistic significance and their physical fabric. D. To represent the interests of the holy sites in relevant international forums and competent international organisations through feasible legal means. E. To oversee and manage the institution of waqf in Jerusalem and its properties in accordance with the laws of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. 2.2 The King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, will continue to endeavour to procure that the duties referred to in Article 2.1. here be fulfilled. 2.3 The Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian National Authority recognise the role of the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan set out in paragraphs (1) and (2) of this Article 2 and undertake to respect it.”

Since its creation, Israel has not been known for respecting any of its obligations. Israel’s massive illegal practices in the Arab and Palestinian territories are by no means limited to what is happening in Jerusalem. A systematic colonisation programme has been going on since the first days of the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza 52 years ago. All the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem are illegal under international law.

Currently, the illegal Jewish colonies built in the West Bank and Jerusalem, with the highways for Jewish use only, connecting them and the security zones surrounding them, amount to more than half of the occupied area. More than 650,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Illegal construction is steadily expanding with the number of settlers increasing rapidly too.

Since the occupation of those areas in June 1967, the situation has been systematically worsening, with Israel evading any and every possibility of reaching any meaningful settlement for the century-old conflict.

So far, Israel has suffered no consequences for its routine violation of international law. Neither has it faced any serious challenge from any side, including the victims of its ongoing aggression, to end the longest existing occupation in history.

In fact, Israeli leaders seem to believe that time is working in their favour. The US unilateral and, indeed, illegal decision last year to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a case in point. Earlier on, the status of the Jewish settlements, built illegally on occupied Arab lands, was gradually transforming from “illegal”, to an “obstacle to peace”, to a “final status negotiations issue”, to “resolvable by land swap”. Now, Israel seeks US approval of outright annexation of all of the occupied Palestinian and Arab land.

Add to that the claim of Israel’s leaders that many Arab states are opening up to them and are willing to normalise relations and establish varied degrees of cooperation, irrespective of Israel’s aggression, continued occupation, annexation, cruel oppressive treatment of the Palestinians, continued colonisation of occupied Arab lands and full denial of legitimate Palestinian rights.

For Israel, this might sound tempting, but the reality on the ground tells a totally different story.

Admittedly, the Palestinians are fragmented, powerless, isolated and almost leaderless, under massive pressure from many sides and under tight siege. Gaza is under direct Israeli siege. The West Bank is besieged by its own counterproductive agreements with its occupiers, Oslo obviously. And yet, Palestinians’ resolve to resist and fight for their rights is steadily on the rise. Although represented by single sporadic incidents of individual attacks on occupation forces and settlers, such incidents remind all sides that the 70-year old problem still exists and will not go away. Single isolated incidents maybe, but their impact on people’s lives is much deeper and pose a significant security challenge. Big wars start with single incidents. If so far all peace efforts have failed, why not demand an end to the occupation? Why should the concerned parties, the Palestinians and the Arab states, those whose lands are occupied, not head to the UN to demand implementation of dozens of dormant UN resolutions that, if implemented, would resolve the conflict? Why keep quiet while Israel continues to consolidate its illegal gains?

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