Missiles and The Al-Aqsa Powder Keg

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Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the much-venerated spiritual leader of Shas, the third largest political party in Israel, let fly another outburst of his racist venom against Palestinians and Arabs during a Passover sermon in West Jerusalem on 5 April. “All Arabs must be annihilated. God will take deadly revenge against them, will wipe out their seed, will defeat them, persecute them and eliminate them from the face of earth,” Yosef said. “We must not have mercy on them. They should get missiles and more missiles. They should be annihilated, those cursed evil people,” he added. 

Seeking to extenuate Yosef’s words, some Israeli officials described them as “miserable and unfortunate.” But Shas political leader Eli Yeshai insisted that Yosef’s statement “reflects the state of thinking among most Israeli Jews.” 

In any case, the Israeli army was busy this week implementing Yosef’s plan. Acting upon direct orders from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli army carried out heavy shelling of Palestinian Authority (PA) targets in Gaza and the West on a daily basis. On Tuesday, it fired rockets at a naval installation in Gaza City and a military intelligence building in the town of Deir Al-Balah, killing a doctor and injuring 20 people. The Israeli army said its attack, using surface-to-surface missiles and tank shells, was justified after Palestinians fired two mortar shells at the Jewish settlement of Katif in the Gaza Strip, causing no injuries. Firing mortars at settlements is a tactic Palestinians had not previously used in the uprising. 

At the time the exchange in Gaza was taking place, Sharon was touring the Israeli communal farm of Nahal Oz on the edge of the Gaza Strip. He said he was determined to put an end to what he termed Palestinian violence. “I have a very clear program. That program will be implemented and security will return. However, a little staying power and a little patience is needed,” he told reporters. 

Raanan Gissin, a Sharon aide, said Palestinians have fired 50 mortar shells at Israeli settlements in recent days. Israel holds Palestinian security forces responsible for the mortar fire because they are not stopping the attacks, which are often carried out from Palestinian police compounds, Gissin said. “They [security officials] themselves become targets. Nobody has immunity,” he insisted. 

An incident on Monday, however, indicated that Palestinians are determined to confront Israeli attempts to re-occupy areas under Palestinian control. Palestinian policemen exchanged fire for more than two hours with the Israeli occupation army in the West Bank village of Betounia, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Palestinian officers refused to cease firing until the Israeli army evacuated a building it occupied at the entrance to the village and forced the Israelis to seek a truce after four Israeli soldiers were injured. The fighting erupted following the killing of a Palestinian, Taysir Al-Amuri, a 45-year-old Bedouin. 

It appears that Al-Amuri was brutally shot dead by Israeli machine-gun bullets simply for being in the wrong place. The Israeli army says that he was killed in an exchange of fire, but residents insist that there was no shooting when the killing took place. 

Meanwhile, the PA issued a clear warning on the possible consequences of Sharon’s request last week to allow Jewish groups to pray at the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound that includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Sharon’s insistence on entering Al-Haram Al-Sharif in late September, surrounded by thousands of Israeli troops, sparked the second Intifada. 

Claiming that Al-Haram Al-Sharif was a Jewish holy place, Sharon instructed Israeli security bodies to find ways and means to enable Jews to “visit” the exclusively Islamic sanctuary “whenever they feel like it.” The word “visit” is misleading here, since Jews, like tourists from around the world, have never been prevented from entering the compound, except when the holy place is closed to tourism for security considerations. 

In fact, what Sharon has in mind is not normal visiting at all, but rather “the right to pray and worship” at Islam’s third holiest site. In other words, Sharon wants to arrogate religious rights for Jews at Al-Haram, echoing persistent efforts by Jewish extremists to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to facilitate the building of a Jewish temple on its site. 

Islamic figures in Jerusalem warned that “the issue of Al-Haram Al-Sharif is a powder keg that would spark a huge uncontrollable fire all over the region.” 

“We warn Sharon to keep his hands off our holy places,” said a statement by the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, adding, “Muslims around the world will sacrifice their souls and blood to defend the first Qibla [the direction to which Muslims turn during prayer] and third of the holiest shrines.” 

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