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Israeli Knesset members take to Al-Aqsa after Netanyahu lifts ban

Aug. 29, 2017 12:17 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 29, 2017 9:47 P.M.)
Far-right MK Yehuda Glick gestures toward the camera during a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Aug. 29
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- A number of right-wing members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, took to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound under heavy military protection on Tuesday, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lifted a ban on MK visits to the holy site imposed in October 2015, which aimed to ease tensions amid a deadly wave of political unrest that erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel.

Netanyahu had decided to temporarily lift the ban -- which also affected Palestinians and Muslims MKs -- from accessing the compound for a five-day period in late July, but canceled the order in the wake of a deadly shooting attack that led to a 13-day long civil disobedience campaign to denounce new Israeli security measures installed at the site, which were later removed.

Israeli forces are now expected to assess whether to permanently allow lawmakers to visit the compound.

Israeli police and special unit officers were deployed in large numbers at the holy site as far-right settler groups and Knesset members flooded through the Moroccan Gate as part of a one-day trial for such visits.

Among them was Likud MK Yehuda Glick, one of the leading advocates for Jewish visitation to the Al-Aqsa compound, and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, an MK from the Jewish Home party.

Members of the Knesset’s Joint List coalition, which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel, reportedly announced they would not visit the compound.

Israeli news daily The Jerusalem Post quoted Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi as saying Palestinian lawmakers would not go to the mosque “in the framework of a provocation and under the conditions set by Netanyahu and the police.”

“Arab MKs will enter whenever they want and not when Netanyahu wants. That is how it was in the past, and how it will be in the future,” Tibi stated. “Arab MKs enter their mosque, but the right-wing extremist MKs break into the mosque under the sponsorship of the Israeli government and police, and they are the ones who are seeking to change the status quo and be allowed to pray in the area of the mosque. The world sees who is inciting.”

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound's director Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani reacted to Netanyahu's decision to lift the ban, saying that the Israeli prime minister "is trying to show that he controls Al-Aqsa Mosque." However, imposing facts on the ground "through the barrel of a gun and through occupation does not give them the right to control Al-Aqsa," he said.

He added that Al-Aqsa Mosque "belongs to Arab Palestinians and Muslims" and reiterated that the site is under Jordanian custody. "These incursions are provocative to all Muslims, and are viewed as an Israeli escalation to disturb Muslims on the eve of Eid al-Adha," he said, referring to the Muslim holiday that begins on Thursday.

Firas al-Dibs, the spokesperson for the Islamic Endowment (Waqf) that administers the holy site, said the decision to allow members of the Israeli Knesset to access the mosque "is unacceptable," and showed that "extremist right-wing entities are in control of the Israeli occupation's government."

Waqf official Sheikh Raed Dana said that the only way to thwart all Israeli plans for Al-Aqsa is "to have worshipers travelling to the mosque and spending as much time as they can to keep it populated."

Prominent Fatah leader in Jerusalem district Hatim Abd al-Qadir said that both Israeli settlers and Knesset members were "not welcome" to visit Al-Aqsa. "Visits by both groups have the same goal, but allowing Knesset members to storm Al-Aqsa during these times of tension will have dangerous repercussions."

According to the decision, local sources told Ma’an that Jewish MKs must submit an application to visit the compound 24 hours beforehand. The application must be approved by the Knesset's security commander and Israel’s chief of Jerusalem police. If the application is approved, Jewish MKs can enter the compound via the Moroccan gate.

Meanwhile, Palestinian MKs will be allowed to enter the compound via the Lions' Gate, 30 minutes after the Jewish MKs complete their visit. Political speeches are not allowed during the visits.

A group of left-wing Israeli peace activists gathered at Moroccan Gate entrance in protest against the MKs' visit, holding signs saying “Lunatics, get off the mountain,” according to Israeli media.

Metez MK Laura Wharton was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying that, “Even if he (Glick) is saying that he wants to go up (to the site) and pray for his own personal reasons, as a public figure, he has the responsibility for the repercussion of what he does.”

“He is endangering the general public in what he’s doing,” she added.

Prior to being instated in the Knesset, Glick had commonly taken to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound with ultra-nationalist Israelis to perform rituals and prayers at the site, a practice Palestinians say is an attempt to challenge long-standing international agreements regarding the holy site.

While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site and carry out religious worship -- often under armed guard.

Many Palestinians and rights groups fear that right-wing groups calling for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to make way for a third Jewish temple are gaining growing influence in Netanyahu’s right-wing government.
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