Tens of thousands of Palestinian Muslim worshippers, including many from the West Bank, gathered at the Al-Aqsa compound atop the Temple Mount, said their midday prayers, and headed quietly back home again on Friday in the early afternoon.
They did so despite the palpably high tension in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, where only a few hours earlier crowds of mainly young, Jerusalem-area Palestinians had hurled rocks and clashed with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa, more than 150 people were reported injured, and close to 500 of the suspected Palestinian rioters were detained.
The difference, it should not need saying, is that the midday worshippers had genuinely gathered to say their prayers on the second Friday of Ramadan, and that’s what they did. The young Palestinians who rioted hours earlier, by contrast, had come to fight.
They had assembled piles of rocks and stones and barricaded themselves inside Al-Aqsa Mosque in preparation for the violence. Some had Hamas flags with them — incited by and affiliating themselves with the Islamist terror group that, with similar cynicism and indifference to true faith, has used Gaza’s mosques to store rockets when engaged in conflict with a Jewish state it openly seeks to destroy.
And as with Hamas in Gaza, while ostensibly guarding their religion and its third-holiest shrine, the rioters were actually dishonoring it.
You only had to look at their feet: The stone-throwers who clashed with Israeli security forces in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque had their shoes on — in breach of the respectful Islamic tradition to remove impure footwear when entering the house of prayer.
شخص يحمل علم حماس واخر يلبس حذاء داحل المسجد الأقصى قرب أكوام من الحجارة وأشخاص يلعبون كرة القدم داخله .لم نجد للامر تفسير لحد الان هل فعلا هان المسجد على هؤلاء بدعوى المقاومة ام ان هناك أشخاص تم دسهم لتشويه صورة المقدسيين الذين يرابطون لحماية المسجد الاقصى#المسجد_الأقصى pic.twitter.com/vlgB9e4z8o
— Dr.fahmi (@FahmiLwa) April 16, 2022
They weren’t acting in a vacuum. The incendiary extremism of several “return to the Temple Mount” Jewish groups talking up plans to carry out Passover sacrifices atop the mount — the holiest place in Judaism as the site of the biblical Temples, and a location that most Orthodox Jews consider too sacred to visit for fear of inadvertently treading where the Holy of Holies stood — had plainly exacerbated Old City frictions.
One of these groups was offering financial rewards to anyone who got arrested trying to carry out such a sacrifice.
The rabbi of the Western Wall had reiterated a longstanding Rabbinate ruling that such sacrifices are forbidden. The police, who made several arrests of would-be goat-sacrificers, stressed that they would prevent any such activity, and, unlike in some years past, took pains to inform the Muslim Waqf that administers the Al-Aqsa compound that no such sacrifices would be permitted.
"נכנעו לאיומי הטרור"; המשטרה עצרה יהודים שתכננו להקריב פסח
שוטרים פשטו הבוקר (ה') ואמש על בתיהם של פעילים בתנועת חוזרים להר ועצרו אותם. מאחד הבתים הוחרם גדי. זאת לאחר איומי חמאס נגד ניסיונות להקרבת קרבן פסחAdvertisement
— הקול היהודי (@hakolhayehudi) April 14, 2022
Nonetheless, given the widespread Palestinian political rejection of any Jewish legitimacy atop the Mount, and the acute Muslim sensitivity to any notion of a revived Jewish Temple, the talk of Passover sacrifice provided a pretext delightedly seized upon by Hamas and other extremists to whip up hostility on social media and call on impressionable Palestinian youths to rush to the defense of the mosque.
In the aftermath of Friday’s violence, the United States has expressed deep concern about the Jerusalem violence, there were protests in Jordan, and condemnations have poured in from around the Arab world, including from Israel’s new Abraham Accords allies Bahrain. Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Mazen Ghnaim, a Knesset member from the Islamist Ra’am party — a crucial component in Israel’s teetering coalition government — has castigated the Israel Police’s behavior, and threatened to bolt the government if there is a recurrence.
The police tactics can legitimately be questioned, including the question of whether the cops needed to enter the mosque itself.
Notably, though, the cops, while concerned that the stone-throwers presented a danger to Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below, waited until the dawn prayer service at Al-Aqsa had been completed before entering and tackling the rioters. That timing meant that there were several hours for tempers to cool before the far larger number of Muslims gathered for the midday prayers.
Nobody looking at what unfolded on Friday can reasonably doubt that, in contrast to the tens of thousands who prayed at the same contested spot later in the day, the Palestinians who had gathered at Al-Aqsa on Friday morning were bent on confrontation.
For 27 years I have known Muslims and Islam. I have never seen a Muslim with shoes inside a mosque …. I never knew that a mosque that is a place of prayer and peace is used as a place to throw stones .. Shame! pic.twitter.com/orTZv2nGcoAdvertisement
— LTC Res Eyal Dror (@LTCEyalDror) April 16, 2022
Far from showing what President Isaac Herzog, hosting an annual festive Iftar meal for Israeli Muslims barely 36 hours earlier, had called the “beautiful face of the Islamic spirit,” they were desecrating their place of worship.
And those who truly seek to defend the values of authentic faith have no place with them.
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