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'Al-Aqsa doesn't belong just to the Palestinians'

Bahrainis tour Temple Mount, hide IDs for fear Muslim authorities would bar them

Delegation head, a member of ruling royal family, says the Waqf would have prevented their visit; Manama’s industry minister set to lead economic trip to Israel on Tuesday

Muslims gather for Friday prayer, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Nov. 6, 2020 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Muslims gather for Friday prayer, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Nov. 6, 2020 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

A member of the Bahraini royal family said Sunday that his delegation visited Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on Friday without revealing their country of origin to the Islamic religious authority that administers the flashpoint holy site.

“If we had told them where we were from, they would have prevented us from going up [to the site],” Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa told Army Radio.

Al Khalifa, who was leading an official visit to Israel, did not elaborate but was presumably referring to organizing a formal delegation to the site, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in coordination with the administrative Waqf authorities.

The visit to Israel by a group from the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence came in the wake of Israel and Bahrain establishing diplomatic ties in September.

They were led by Al Khalifa, who in addition to being president of the center’s board of directors is also a member of the Bahraini royal family.

“Al-Aqsa doesn’t belong just to the Palestinians, it belongs to the whole Muslim world. It can’t be that you tell people who normalized [relations] with Israel that they can’t pray in Jerusalem,” Al Khalifa said.

The Waqf, a Jordanian-appointed council, oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It claims exclusive authority over the Temple Mount compound — the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest for Muslims — and says it is not subject to Israeli jurisdiction.

Palestinians have repeatedly expressed outrage over the normalization deals between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan. Last month, as a delegation from the UAE visited Israel and toured the Temple Mount, some Palestinians called out insults at the Emiratis in widely circulated social media footage.

President Reuven Rivlin, right, meets with a delegation from the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence, led by Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 26, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

“Trash, trash!” one could be heard yelling from behind the camera at the receding Emiratis. In another video, a Palestinian told the Gulf delegation to “leave, go on, get out.”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the visit of the Emiratis, calling it “saddening.” He said: “One ought to enter the gates of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque by way of its owners, rather than through the gates of the occupation.”

When asked about intolerance in Israeli society, Al Khalifa said in his Sunday interview that it was no different from anywhere else and that extremism can be found in all faiths.

“There is extremism everywhere, even in Israeli society. In Arab society it has a variety of expressions. For example, mental terrorism, where you force your opinion on others. Extremism is in every religion — Judaism and also Islam,” he said.

“In the past, we thought that Israel is for Jews only. We came here and found it to be the opposite. There definitely is coexistence, there is acceptance of the other. After all, the Muslims or the Bahais, if they felt oppression or prevention of their religious worship, they would leave Israel,” Al Khalifa said.

A day before the Temple Mount visit, the delegation met with President Reuven Rivlin.

“Both Israel and Bahrain value freedom of religion and tolerance, and see the different communities that make up their societies as a source of strength,” Rivlin told the delegation at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

The delegation’s trip to Israel followed the first-ever visit by a Bahraini foreign minister to the Jewish state earlier this month. Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani was in the country along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

From left to right: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

At Bahrain’s request, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly postponed a planned groundbreaking trip to the Gulf kingdom that was set to take place this week. The visit, which would be the first-ever officially announced visit to a Gulf Arab country by an Israeli prime minister, will reportedly take place in late December instead.

However, according to Hebrew-language media reports, a delegation from Bahrain will arrive in Israel on Tuesday for a series of meetings with ministers and Netanyahu, and will be headed by Bahraini Industry Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani.

The delegation will be made up of around 40 economic leaders, including company and bank executives, and will reportedly focus on increasing trade and tourism ties between the two countries.

Since establishing diplomatic ties, Israel and Bahrain have reached an agreement to open reciprocal embassies.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed the so-called Abraham Accords and a “Declaration of Peace” with Israel at a September 15 ceremony at the White House.

On October 25, al-Zayani signed eight bilateral agreements, including a “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations” with Israel during a ceremony in Manama.

Since the historic Abraham Accords agreement, Sudan has followed suit and agreed to forge ties with Israel.

Saudi Arabia has so far refrained from formalizing ties with Israel, but last week, Netanyahu reportedly flew to the kingdom for a three-way meeting with the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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