Jerusalem, which holds a common heritage for all of humanity, should be open to all, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Monday, slamming Israeli restrictions on West Bank and Gaza Arabs from entering the city. He also said Jerusalem has been suffering under occupation since 1949, the year the War of Independence ended and Israel signed armistice agreements with its immediate neighbors.
Giving the opening address at a UN-backed conference in Ankara on the question of Jerusalem, Davutoğlu said that “protection of Jerusalem is not only a political responsibility… [It] is a duty to mankind’s conscience and history.
“The cultural heritage in Jerusalem is too deep-rooted to degrade it to only one religion and ethnicity. It is our obligation to protect this culture,” he added.
Jerusalem, he said, “should be transformed into a common area of peace rather than an area of conflict… not only Muslims but also all mankind should morally oppose the approach aimed at closing Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Israel, which controls access to the Temple Mount, on which the Al-Aqsa Mosque sits, sometimes bars male Muslims aged 18-40 from accessing the site during times of political unrest.
Davutoğlu said that “no one can take unilateral decisions on Jerusalem and implement them,” for that would be like “dynamite” blowing up the chance for peace.
“Jerusalem is an occupied territory according to the international law,” he said. “People living in Jerusalem suffer all the consequences of this occupation. We have all been witnessing the sufferings since 1949.”
According to a report in the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, in his speech Davutoğlu criticized Israeli control of Jerusalem and restrictions on West Bank and Gaza Arabs from entering the city. “Preventing Muslims in Ramallah and Gaza from going to Jerusalem is just putting a wall between human history and humans,” he said.
The foreign minister said that “some want to turn Jerusalem into the center of one religion… [but] no one can act to destroy Jerusalem’s Islamic identity.”
Davutoğlu was speaking at the “International Meeting on the Question of Jerusalem,” an Ankara conference hosting by the Turkish government, the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The area now known as west Jerusalem was captured by the nascent state of Israel during the 1948-1949 War of Independence. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel captured east Jerusalem (and the West Bank) from Jordan. In 1980 Israel officially annexed a greatly enlarged east Jerusalem, a move not recognized by the international community.
Israel and Turkey once enjoyed close cooperation, but relations have been at a nadir since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, which saw eight Turkish nationals killed by the IDF during an altercation aboard a flotilla attempting to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Following a direct intervention by US President Obama in 2013 relations have improved, and there have been persistent reports recently of an imminent deal regarding Israeli compensation to the families of those killed aboard the Mavi Marmara, paving the way for reconciliation.