The grand mufti of Jerusalem, the Sunni cleric who is in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, expressed his belief on Sunday that “escalating attacks” by Israel and Jewish settlers on Muslim holy sites threaten to “drag the region into a religious war.”
The statement by Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, who’s served as grand mufti since his appointment by the Palestinian Authority in 2006, came in the wake of a tumultuous weekend in Hebron that saw an unspecified number of Jews attack IDF military personnel and provoke clashes with local Palestinians.
Hussein highlighted that the windows of the Bab al-Zawiya and al-Sadiq mosques in Hebron were shattered over the weekend, a result of vandalism by “extremist militias of Jewish settlers,” according to the grand mufti. He alleged that the Israeli army was fully aware of the attacks and did nothing to stop them.
Hussein said the vandalism at the two mosques “violated both divine and civilian law as well as international norms, which have enshrined the freedoms of religion and of worship.”
The Israel Police said that “upon receipt of the complaint [about the shattered windows] an investigation was opened with the aim of tracking down those suspected of being involved in the act.”
Over the weekend, police arrested 6 Israelis for alleged acts of violence against the military and Palestinian civilians in Hebron. The six were released on Sunday, and it was not clear whether they remained suspects.
An Israeli soldier filed a complaint after being attacked by an Israeli man while on duty in the city. The soldier, who lives in Hebron, told investigators the assailant grabbed her head and headbutted her, before beating her with a stick and then fleeing. The soldier has described the man’s appearance to police, but he has not yet been caught.
Footage from the weekend — including one video of a man dressed in Jewish religious garb striking at a Palestinian — as well as reports of harassment against IDF soldiers provoked outrage in Israel.
עם טלית וסידור תפילה: המתנחל מתעלל בילד פלסטיני, החיילים מגיעים לגבות אותו.
תיעוד חדש, הבוקר בחברון, אזהרה צפייה – לא לבעלי לב חלש: pic.twitter.com/0Zuof5dxMT
— ישראל פריי (@freyisrael1) November 19, 2022
Giora Eiland, a retired general and former national security adviser to the government, compared the Israelis’ attacks on Palestinians, their property, and IDF troops to Kristallnacht, the Nazi-led pogroms against Jews in Germany in 1938.
“Dozens initiated attacks on Palestinian shops, causing damage, and rioted without any provocation, also hurting Palestinians,” Eiland told Channel 12. “These are terrible scenes that can return us to November 10, 1938, to Kristallnacht, except that of course that we were on the other side,” he added.
Eiland lamented what he called a widening “double standard,” apparently referring to a situation whereby attacks by Palestinians and Arab Israelis on Israeli Jews are denounced and dealt with, while Jewish attacks on Arabs are not.
Hussein, for his part, also condemned what he called “the Jewish seizure of al-Ibrahimi Mosque,” using the Muslim name for the holy site that Jews know as the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Both Jews and Muslims believe that the biblical matriarchs and patriarchs are buried at that location in Hebron (save for Rachel, whose tomb is outside Bethlehem).
A flashpoint for Jewish-Muslim conflict and a place of worship for both faiths, the site is subject to special arrangements designed to quell tensions, which includes the division of the complex into Jewish- and Muslim-only spaces.
As part of those arrangements, the Jewish and Muslim communities can each choose 10 particularly important holy days in the year during which they enjoy exclusive usage rights over the complex and thus are able to enter areas normally reserved for members of the other religion.
This past weekend the Jewish community had exclusive rights at the complex, to celebrate the reading of the Chayei Sarah Torah portion, which recounts the story of Abraham’s acquisition of the site and his wife Sarah’s burial in it.
Last month, when the Jewish community had full access to the religious site for the High Holy Days, videos of Jews dancing in parts of the complex normally reserved for Muslims incensed many Palestinians, as evidenced by a flurry of social media posts.
On that occasion, Hussein condemned Israel for closing the site to Muslim worshippers.
Hussein gave his blessings in 2006 to the use of suicide bombing as a “resistance” tactic and denied in 2015 that the biblical temples ever stood atop the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque Complex.
Yishai Fleisher, the spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron, attributed the turmoil in Hebron last week to a few bad actors and said it was “absurd” for Hussein to claim that a religious war could break out, especially if events in Hebron last week form the basis of that prediction.
“The vast majority of the Sabbath went off without incident,” Fleisher said. “There were some four Jews who were arrested for disorderly behavior among 40,000 visitors and they were drunk. It was bad, inappropriate criminal behavior. None of them were from Hebron, nor even settlers.”
Fleisher said that most people celebrated the Sabbath in Hebron over the weekend in a spirit of co-existence and respect for their fellow monotheists.
“At the end of the Torah portion we hear about how Isaac and Ishmael together buried their shared father, Abraham. That’s what this Sabbath is about: a culture of the Abrahamic path that Muslims, Jews and Christians share.”