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One of the most outrageous Israeli actions against the Palestinians of East Jerusalem during the past week has been the repeated Israeli assaults on worshipers in the al-Aqsa Mosque complex, which is sacred to 1.8 billion Muslims, a fourth of humankind.
This would be as though Israeli commandos had invaded the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome during Easter services, shooting rubber bullets and throwing stun grenades and flash bombs.
The world’s Roman Catholics would be both surprised and, one can only imagine, rather angry. We would hear their anger. We do not hear Muslim anger over the Israeli actions because our news is still white nationalist news. In fact, even justified Muslim anger is disallowed or merely confirms white prejudices. Israelis, Washington keeps repeating like a mantra, has a “right to defend itself.” From what was it defending itself inside the al-Aqsa Mosque in Ramadan? But Palestinians, alas, have no right to defend themselves.
The context here is that the Israeli plan to evict 169 Palestinians, including 46 children, from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood made this Ramadan particularly tense and fomented protests. When the peaceful protesters were attacked by Israeli security forces, they went to the area of the al-Aqsa Mosque, perhaps expecting that it would be treated as a sanctuary by the Israelis. It wasn’t.
These invasions of one of the world’s holiest structures were barely reported by the US press or on US television news, which is largely wedded to the racist narrative that the Palestinians are dangerous or terrorists and it is they who pose a threat to Israeli Jews. And yet somehow 10 times as many Palestinians are killed as Jews, and somehow no Jewish homes are demolished or Jewish families made homeless or Jewish real estate stolen by the Palestinians. It is the Palestinians who are kept stateless and virtually without basic human rights by the Israelis, not the other way around. This narrative of the dangerous minority is mirrored in the US against African-Americans, who are only 12 percent of the population but who are viewed as menacing by the white majority and who therefore suffer from police violence. The stupid war crimes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, who fire rockets at Israel, feed into this rhetoric. But 99% of those little rockets land uselessly in the desert and we should resist Israeli propaganda about poor, ramshackle little Hamas being ten feet tall.
On several occasions during the past week, the Israeli commandos threw stun grenades inside the mosque with worshipers there! They fired rubber bullets (which are just, like, metal bullets but coated with rubber) into crowds. They 37 children.
Undeterred, on Saturday night some 90,000 Palestinian worshipers braved intense Israeli security measures to reach the mosque and its vicinity for special nighttime prayers during the Night of Power, commemorating the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad. Another 90 were wounded by the Israelis. They Israelis actually had contemplated cancelling the prayers on the Night of Power, but thought better of it in light of the likely reaction.
The Israeli commandos did this during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. They did it before and after the Night of Power, also a particularly sacred day. Al-Aqsa is one of three holiest sites in the Muslim religion, with 1.8 billion adherents– a fourth of humankind. Last night one of the flash bombs set a tree afire outside the al-Aqsa Mosque, to the delight of Israeli counter-protesters:
Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad himself spiritually visited the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque, in his “Night Journey,” after which he ascended into heaven and glimpsed the angel Gabriel. I suggested in my book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, that he actually visited Jerusalem on a trading journey.
You can only conclude that the Israeli intent was to humiliate not only Palestinians but Muslims in general. Americans’ inattention to this violation of sacred space is a security risk. Usama Bin Laden said that Israeli actions in Jerusalem were one of three reasons he launched the September 11 attacks against New York and Washington, D.c. On Monday, the Biden administration blocked any UN Security Council condemnation of the Israeli assaults.
Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment. He is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan He is author of, among many other books, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Follow him on Twitter at @jricole or the Informed Comment Facebook Page