Grand Mufti: Arrest of al-Aqsa guards ‘unacceptable’

Israeli police arrest Palestinian guards after they try to stop archaeologist from removing ancient stone from compound.

An Israeli official is accused of trying to take a stone from a pillar in an underground section of the al-Qibli mosque [Reuters]

Jerusalem – The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem says Israel’s detention of Palestinian security guards working at the al-Aqsa compound is “unacceptable” and Israeli police are trying to change the status quo at the holy site.

Israeli police detained several guards working at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem earlier this week after they prevented an Israeli archeologist from trying to remove a stone from the religious compound.

“I believe the Israeli police are trying to impose a new reality and are trying to intimidate the al-Aqsa guards and to stop them from carrying out their duty,” Mufti Muhammad Hussein told Al Jazeera.

“That is unacceptable.”

The initial confrontation happened on Monday morning after the guards at al-Aqsa intervened when Yuval Baruch, employed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and escorted by Israeli police, entered the compound and tried to take a stone from a pillar in an underground section of the al-Qibli mosque.

A heated argument ensued when one of the guards allegedly noticed Baruch remove a small piece of stone from the pillar and place it in his pocket. Baruch has denied trying to remove it.

The antiquities employee was removed from the area by police, but later tried to re-enter the underground Marwani prayer hall. Al-Aqsa guards quickly refused him entry.

Israeli police returned to the compound and arrested three guards, according to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a religious trust tasked with managing the al-Aqsa compound.

The police later raided the homes of four other guards and arrested them, before detaining another guard on Tuesday.

Six guards remained in Israeli police custody as of Tuesday night.

Qasem Kamal, Khalil Terhoni, Arafat Najeeb, Osama Siam, Samer Qabbani and Emad Abdeen were expected to appear before a judge in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the Waqf said.

Israeli police told Al Jazeera in a brief statement only five people had been detained for “attacking police officers” and the incident was under investigation.

READ MORE: Palestinians in East Jerusalem battle for their homes

Mufti Hussein demanded that Israel respect the status quo that has prevailed since before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.

While Jews and non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Jordan and Israel shortly after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.

The agreement put Islamic Waqf in charge of the compound’s administration.

The Mufti added that maintenance and renovation work at the compound are matters dealt with only by the Waqf and Israel has no right to intervene.

Tensions at al-Aqsa Mosque were a significant contributor to the wave of unrest that began in October 2015, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the compound during the Jewish high holidays.

The al-Aqsa compound, also known as the Noble Sanctuary, is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews, who refer to the area as Temple Mount, also see it as a venerated holy site and believe it sits where the First and Second Temples once stood.

Sheikh Omar Keswani, a senior Waqf official, told Al Jazeera the Israeli authority had “no business” in the al-Aqsa compound, but that it frequently “breaks in with a police force”.

Israeli police routinely escort Jewish visitors around the compound, and they often facilitate the visits of right-wing Israeli politicians who have been charged with attempting to “change the status quo” at the holy site.

Right-wing activist and member of parliament Yehuda Glick petitioned Israel’s High Court on Tuesday to repeal a ban barring members of Israel’s parliament – or Knesset – into the compound.

Glick was shot and wounded in October 2014 in an assassination attempt.

He is a member of the Temple Mount Faithful, a group that calls for “liberating the Temple Mount from Arab occupation”.

The group advocates rebuilding a Jewish temple at the religiously important site, including the area containing the mosque.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday the prohibition on Knesset members and ministers visiting the al-Aqsa compound – in place since tensions erupted in December 2015 – would gradually be phased out over the course of three months, if security conditions permit it.

Source: Al Jazeera News


AIPAC watches US-Israeli ties reshaping under Trump

Vice President Mike Pence pulled back on President Trump’s promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

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Israel’s most committed activists in the US, the members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, have flexed their lobbying might once again at its annual Washington meeting.

After the 18,000 who gathered for this year’s conference heard the speeches and the usual talking points, they spread across Capitol Hill to remind their senators and representatives why AIPAC is considered one of the most effective pressure groups in Washington.

But the past year has been wrenching for AIPAC.

The ascension of Donald Trump forced a group whose power lay in carefully refusing to choose sides between Democrats and Republicans to recalibrate.

When Trump as a presidential candidate told last year’s meeting that Barack Obama “may be the worst thing that ever happened to Israel,” winning cheers from the crowd, he violated that bipartisan understanding and forced a tearful apology by AIPAC’s president.

AIPAC had its differences with Obama – standing awkwardly aside over his feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and fighting against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

But while AIPAC’s leadership has been mockingly described as the American chapter of Netanyahu’s Likud party (and Likud the Israeli wing of the US Republican party), it is also aware that Obama drew overwhelming support from Jewish voters.

And last year Hillary Clinton won 71 percent of the Jewish vote against Trump, slightly more than the 69 percent who voted for Obama in 2012.

‘Exceptionally warm’

Speaking to the conference this year from Jerusalem, Netanyahu described his meeting with Trump in March as “exceptionally warm,” in unspoken contrast to his relations with Obama.

He expressed appreciation for Trump’s increased funding request for military aid in keeping with the 10-year, $38bn commitment Obama signed with Israel last year, the single largest pledge of military assistance in US history.

But the claim by Israeli ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer that “for the first time in many years, perhaps in many decades, there is no daylight between our two governments” may be a bit premature.

Trump may have heartened those in Israel who oppose a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by straying from that long-standing US position and declaring he would be happy with whatever deal he could broker between them.

But in a interview last month, the president said that Jewish settlements in occupied territory “don’t help the process” and did not think that “going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace”.

READ MORE: US-Israel relations – Is Trump backing down?

And after Trump promised AIPAC last year to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, his Vice President Mike Pence pulled back.

He told this year’s assembly that Trump was only “giving serious consideration” to a move that would damage US relations with Jordan and other Arab states now currying favour with the new administration.

That followed the reaction to Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, his former bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, an outspoken opponent of a Palestinian state who is a financial backer of a Jewish settlement.

Even after Friedman fell back to the two-state solution and apologised for having once called liberal Jews worse than collaborators with the Nazis, his nomination was opposed by Reform Jewish congregations, the largest denomination in America.

But amid unconfirmed reports that the president may meet soon in Washington with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, there’s no assurance that Trump has been only paying lip service to reviving the negotiation process, as he’s promised.

As for Iran, AIPAC and Trump still oppose the nuclear deal rhetorically but seem to have settled on ratcheting up sanctions to assure its enforcement rather than its undoing.

There is no indication that AIPAC has lost its clout in Washington.

But it may have tougher challenges maintaining a precarious political balance under Trump’s volatile reign.

Source: Al Jazeera News


Richard Falk: People must shame UN for quashing ‘apartheid Israel’ report

The former UN Special rapporteur for Palestine was speaking at an event hosted by MEMO in London

Professor Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur for Palestine, was hosted in London by the Middle East Monitor yesterday as part of his book launch tour. He introduced his book “Palestine’s Horizon Toward a Just Peace” eloquently to a packed hall. He had earlier been met with a barrage of hate by a Zionist mob at the London School of Economics. Thankfully, this particular session was not interrupted by the yobs.

However, the real interest of the audience seemed to be in a more recent publication which he co-authored with Virginia Tilley for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The report entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was launched on 15 March concluded that

Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.

Rather than prompting a debate in the UN and the Security Council, its publication and conclusion was met with outrage by Israel and its ally the United States. Pressure was exerted on the recently appointed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to quash the report. This he did by directing ESCWA to withdraw the report because it did not have his approval. The demand was rejected. ESCWA’s Executive Secretary, Dr Rima Khalaf, eventually resigned from her role and the report was taken down form ESCWA’s website. A spokesman for the UN Chief confirmed “that Guterres had ordered that the report to be taken down but sought to make clear that the request was ‘not about content’ but about ‘process’.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman likened the report to Der Sturmer – a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic. Both US and Israel envoys to the UN welcomed the secretary-general’s action with Danny Dannon claiming “anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN. It is time to put an end to the practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.”

Palestinians who had initially welcomed the report condemned Guterres’ actions. Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement:

Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible.

She explained, according to WAFA, that the report constitutes

[a] step in the right direction and highlights the true reality on the ground, which is one of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and military occupation.

She called on Guterres to do what is right, reinstate the ESCWA report and “undertake serious and concrete measures to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law and human rights.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would be bestowing Palestine’s Medal of the Highest Honour in recognition of Khalaf’s “courage and support” for Palestinians.

The rigorous report, authored by two highly respected academic experts said it had established on the “basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.” But also stated that “only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative.”

Speaking in London, Falk suggested the key addition the report makes to the discussion about the impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians is that it looks at the impact on a people as a whole. The report said the “strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people” was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through “distinct laws, policies and practices”. It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.

This somewhat contradicts Guterres’ claim that due process was not followed. In reality though, the secretary-general must have been expecting the knocks on the door and the endless phone calls from US and Israeli representatives and decided he had ultimate say about what report is produced in the UN’s name regardless of its rigour and scholarly review. It is no secret to say that the new Trump Administration signalled – even before taking office – that what it judged to be unfair treatment of Israel by UN bodies would end, regardless of Israel’s flagrant breaches of countless UN Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law.

When asked how to make the report more effective within the UN system following its removal, Falk said the best strategy would be “to raise the visibility of this issue at this time and shame the UN into taking seriously its own study”.

I am confident enough that if the study is examined by intellectual sources around the world, they will, even if they don’t agree with its conclusions they will regard it as a serious objective undertaking.

Falk went on to reveal that after submitting the report, ESCWA anonymously sent it for evaluation to three of the most distinguished international jurists around the world and that “each of them acting separately submitted very positive reports”. Only one submitted suggested changes which the authors duly made.

Reflecting on the way the UN had dealt with the ESCWA report, Falk likened its treatment to what happened to the Goldstone report on Israel’s 2008/9 war on Gaza which Goldstone later regretted. Falk assured his audience “I am not Goldstone fortunately” referring to the request that he and Tilley repudiate their own report, which he confirmed “was of course a little bit unrealistic”.

When asked what advice he has for the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, Falk recognised the difficult position the Palestinian leadership is in admitting they are “between a rock and a hard place”. He acknowledged that “it is easy to criticise them but hard to be them”. However, he suggested the Palestinian leadership has an opportunity here “to take this path of emphasising the moral and legal high ground, which they have started to do.” He suggested this would be building on the 2012 upgrade in Palestine’s UN status to a non- member observer state which he described as a “ghost state”, and initiating proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to the 2014 attack on Gaza and the illegal settlements. He acknowledged that the ICC itself is under tremendous political pressure and it is not clear “whether anything tangible would emerge out of this”.

Falk suggested that

[for the Palestinians] taking this report seriously would be another way of advancing their campaign to say international law is on our side. Israel’s administration of the Palestinian people is an international crime and generates the collective responsibility of international society.

The challenge for them, he argued, would be “either you refute the finding of apartheid or you act upon it. If you act upon it you have a responsibility to do whatever is possible to end the commission of that crime or be complicit in its effects.”

t is now up to supporters of justice to shame the UN and for the Palestinian leadership to seize the opportunity the report presents to garner further support for their cause but more importantly action against Apartheid Israel.

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