By Daoud Kuttab
1 May 2014
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ repeated call on Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem is finally paying off.
A conference held in Amman, courageously tackled this issue and produced a surprising number of supporters, including many among Islam’s most respected scholars.
Although Jerusalem has been under occupation since 1967, citizens of Jordan and Egypt, as well as many Islamic countries are able to visit the holy city.
For the most part, they refrained from doing so for a variety of reasons, most notably fear of being accused of legitimizing Israel’s occupation and normalizing relations with the occupiers.
Arabs and Muslims Vow
Many Arabs and Muslims vowed not to normalize relations with Israel until it withdraws from all areas occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. Islam’s third holiest mosque, Al Aqusa, is located in East Jerusalem’s old city, which Israel has unilaterally annexed and subjected to Israeli law.
The Haram al-Sharif, or the noble sanctuary, the area that includes al-Aqusa Mosque and the gold-covered Dome of the Rock, continues to be under Arab/Islamic special status.
Unarmed guards employed by the Jordanian Ministry of Awquaaf guard all gates leading to the holy mosque except for one. Israel retains exclusive security control over the Moghrabi Gate which, through the controversial Moghrabi Bridge, connects the Jewish Western Wall area to the mosque.
Since 1967, Israel’s two top rabbis have continuously declared that the area of the mosque, which they call the Temple Mount, is so holy for Jews that devout Jews should not step foot on it because below it might be remnants of the Jewish temple.
While this position has technically not been rescinded, in actuality, rightwing Israelis and zealot Jews have been visiting the mosque daily and attempting to pray in it, infuriating Muslims who believe that these actions are a prelude to an attempt to destroy the mosque and build a Jewish temple instead.
Palestinians Are Worried
Palestinians are worried that Israelis want to initially divide the mosque area physically and time wise, as they have done in Hebron with the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Palestinian leaders, most prominently Abbas, have been recently raising their voices by calling on Arabs and Muslims to visit the city of Jerusalem to show solidarity with it and its people.
The situation became much more intense after Israel erected the wall and prevented most Palestinians from entering Jerusalem. A Jordanian or a Malaysian Muslim has a much better chance today to visit Jerusalem than a Palestinian from Hebron or Ramallah.
While the idea of solidarity visits to the city makes perfect sense, the issue has become politicized as political groups have criticized anyone going to Jerusalem, for legitimizing Israel’s occupation and normalizing relations with the occupiers.
The issue took a religious dimension when Egyptian-born Islamic ideologue Youssef al-Qaradawi, who resides in Qatar and speaks often on Al-Jazeera, issued a religious fatwa against anyone who visits Jerusalem.
The Palestinian president argued that a visit to a prisoner is a victory for him and does not legitimize his imprisonment.
The mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Hussein, has also argued that visiting Jerusalem in order to show solidarity with its people should not be considered normalization.
The tide in favour of visits to Jerusalem seems to be finally turning, possibly due, in part, to the anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment, as well as to the real dangers facing Jerusalem.
The “Road to Jerusalem” conference, held under the patronage of King Abdullah, has finally provided a well-researched religious response to Fatwas like Qaradawi’s.
Leading Egyptian scholars have now joined Palestinian and Jordanian scholars to articulate the counterargument.
Jordanian firebrand Member of Parliament Yahya Soud addressed the conference held in Amman Tuesday by relating his own experience with Jerusalem.
Despite holding a diplomatic passport, the Jordanian MP, who heads the Palestine committee in Parliament, said he was held by Israelis for five hours at the King Hussein Bridge.
Nevertheless, he called on delegates representing Arab parliaments and Islamic scholars to visit Jerusalem and show solidarity with its people.
Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, the adviser to King Abdullah or religious affairs, also made a plea regarding the need to support Jerusalem.
The Hashemite pledge to protect Jerusalem and its holy places is guaranteed in Article 9 of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty and the March 2013 Palestinian-Jordanian agreement.
However, Prince Ghazi and others are concerned that without a comprehensive and serious effort on the part of Arabs and Muslims to support Jerusalem, this Hashemite responsibility will become impossible to uphold.
A visit to Jerusalem by everyone and anyone that can is a small first step in the direction of showing solidarity with the city and its Palestinian Arab heroes.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street.