Israeli President’s visit to holy site draws fierce reaction

November 29, 2021 - 17:55

TEHRAN - The Israeli President’s intrusion of the Holy Islamic Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of al-Khalil (also known as Hebron city) has drawn angry reactions.

Isaac Herzog, entered the Mosque accompanied by a crowd of settlers. Prior to his arrival, Israeli forces expelled all Palestinian worshippers from the site, closed the gates of the Mosque and forcibly prevented anyone from praying or even standing nearby. Palestinian media reports say Israeli forces physically assaulted Palestinian activists who came to protest the arrival of Herzog (social media footage backed up the reports) shop owners were forced to shut down while the work of journalists and other press crew was hindered; again, Israeli forces assaulted a number of reporters and other media crew members. Israeli occupation forces expanded already strict restrictions on the movement of Palestinians living near the Ibrahimi Mosque and closed all outlets leading to the site.

The mosque’s director, Sheikh Hafthi Abu Sneineh, has said that the Israeli army only allowed Israeli settlers to visit the Mosque and its vicinity for a Jewish occasion, banning the entry of any Muslim worshippers to the Mosque or accessing its courtyards. In September, the Ibrahimi Mosque was closed by Israeli authorities during the Jewish New Year, a move that was strongly condemned by Palestinian officials, who said the measure was a blatant attack on the most basic human rights. In 2017, the Old City of al-Khalil, where the Ibrahimi Mosque is located, was deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Palestinian Authority condemned Herzog’s move. In a statement, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the visit was “provocative and rejected.”

The Foreign Ministry held the Israeli occupation fully responsible for the “attacks on the Ibrahimi Mosque” saying Israel bears the consequences for security in the region, considering that "the storming of the Ibrahimi Mosque and al-Luban al-Sharqiya is an official adoption of settler terrorism.” Activist group “Youths against Settlements” also denounced the visit, calling it a “clear violation of international law.”

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement warned of the consequences of Herzog's intrusion noting that "the Al-Aqsa Intifada came in response to the storming of [the Ibrahimi Mosque] by former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon." A spokesman for the movement in the West Bank, Tariq Ezzedine says, "the Israeli occupation's president's move is a continuation of the Judaization process [of al-Khalil].” He told news networks that the resistance faction will not allow the occupation to impose new facts on the ground and pointed out that "It is highly probable that popular demonstrations will take place in defense of the Ibrahimi Mosque.” Ezzedine noted that the uprising never ended and the Palestinian people will continue resisting by all means possible. Mohammad Hamadeh, the Hamas spokesman in occupied Jerusalem al-Quds told the media that “the Israeli president's step proves that everyone is leaning toward the right.” 

A member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Wasel Abu Yousef says "there is an aggressive policy of escalation against the Ibrahimi Mosque, the storming by the President of the Israeli occupation of the site reflects the aggressive and criminal policy of escalation."

Ayo Youssef stressed that "the occupation is trying to impose facts on the ground by storming the site and there is U.S. support for the Israeli occupation in eroding the rights of our people."

Meanwhile, the Arab League condemned the “desecrating entry” of the Israeli President to the Holy Mosque. In a statement, the Arab League said the move comes in light of the “continued and persistent Judaization of Islamic and Christian holy sites by the Israeli occupation. The pan-Arab organization added that the forced intrusion comes within the context of the Judaization of the Ibrahimi Mosque after its temporal and spatial division, following the massacre committed by an extremist Israeli settler in 1994, who killed 29 worshipers inside the Mosque itself (by shooting them to death while they were praying). The statement said what the city of al-Khalil is exposed to, especially the Ibrahimi Mosque, and the planned storming of the Israeli president confirms the occupation authorities' persistence to go on with their aggression and racism. This proves the continuation of Israel’s official and organized terrorism against the Palestinian people, their rights, and sanctities, in the same approach they practice in Judaizing Jerusalem al-Quds, and targeting Al-Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory” it added.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also condemned the move. In a statement, the OIC said this is a “provocation of sentiments of Muslims and a continuation of Israeli assaults on the rights of the Palestinian people, their land and holy sites.” The OIC called on the international community to "act urgently to protect the holy and historical sites [in Palestine] and to force the Israeli occupation authorities to respect the sanctity of the holy sites."

The city of al-Khalil is occupied by 400 Israeli settlers around the perimeter of the mosque compound. Monitoring groups say these settlers regularly use violence against Palestinians with the help of the Israeli occupation forces. On an International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, rights groups have called on the UN and humanitarian organizations to take a stand against the situation of forced entries into the sanctities by the Israeli occupiers.

Palestinian families living in al-Khalil are subject to perhaps some of the worst human rights violations and settler attacks in the occupied West Bank. Palestinians must cross through a maze of Israeli military checkpoints to move from one place to another. The city is home to roughly 200,000 Palestinians and hundreds of notoriously aggressive Israeli settlers who are heavily guarded by more than 2000 Israeli troops (some reports put that number higher). In 2019, Israel kicked out the only international observers protecting al-Khalil’s Palestinians from the hundreds of heavily armed settlers, one of whom committed the 1994 massacre that triggered their deployment. There is frequent violence between the sides with settlers frequently attacking the homes of Palestinians in a bid to expel them from the city entirely. However, many Palestinians say they are going nowhere, no matter what the cost.

As an occupying power, Israeli occupation forces have a duty under international law to protect the Palestinians living in al-Khalil, and the entire occupied Palestinian territories for that matter, from any act of aggression and provide them with security. Instead, the more than two thousand Israeli troops stationed in al-Khalil are accused of doing the exact opposite. At times, when the settlers, known for their brutality, attack Palestinians or their property, Israeli forces sit back and watch on. Worse still, many rights groups have accused the Israeli forces of joining the settlers who attack the Palestinians and their property or businesses. It’s a shameful silence from the international community that Israel is not sanctioned or punished for the crimes that are committed on an almost daily basis in al-Khalil. The odd statement of condemnation here from the European Union is about as much as the Palestinians will hear from the international organizations.

This is where the international community needs to question why Palestinians turn to resistance to defend their rights, their holy sites and their ancestral land from being stolen by settlers. All Israeli settlers squatting in the occupied West Bank are doing so illegally as all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, yet Israel has been given a green light to expand its settlement activity in al-Khalil, Jerusalem al-Quds and other parts of the occupied territories.

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