Israel has just emerged from its extended, three-week high holidays, a period that in recent years has been marked by extremist religious Jews making provocative visits to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.
Many go to pray, in violation of Israel’s international obligations. Most belong to groups that seek the mosque’s destruction and replacement with a Jewish temple – and now enjoy support from within the parliament, including from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s party.
A rash of such visits last autumn outraged Palestinians and triggered a wave of so-called “lone-wolf” attacks on Israelis. The attacks only recently abated.
Powerlessness, oppression, humiliation
Taking advantage of the renewed quiet, Israel allowed a record number of ultra-nationalists to visit the mosque, figures released last week show.
Parties of Israeli soldiers are also now entering the site.
The police, whose recently appointed commander is himself from the extremist settler community, has recommended too that restrictions be ended on visits by Jewish legislators who demand Israel’s sovereignty over the mosque.
Israel’s treatment of this supremely important Islamic holy site symbolises for Palestinians their powerlessness, oppression and routine humiliation. Conversely, a sense of impunity has left Israel greedy for even more control over Palestinians.
The gaping power imbalance was detailed last month at special hearing of the United Nations Security Council. Hagai El-Ad, head of B’tselem, which monitors the occupation, termed Israel’s abuses as “invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence” against Palestinians exercised from “cradle to grave”.
He appealed to the international community to end its five decades of inaction. “We need your help… The occupation must end. The UN Security Council must act. And the time is now,” he said.
Israeli politicians were incensed. El-Ad had broken one of Israel’s cardinal rules: you do not wash the country’s dirty linen abroad. Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as purely an internal matter, to be decided by them alone.