CAIRO: First it was the hummus, kibbeh and tabouleh, but now Israel’s insidious endeavor to usurp Arab culture and traditions, just as it has been usurping Arab land for the past 60 years, has set its fangs on Islamic holy sites, single-handedly transforming the Arab-Israeli conflict into a religious feud.
Israel’s “ultranationalist and fascistic fantasies – to use the phrase by Rabbi and Professor Marc Gopin, director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, as quoted in religiondispateches.org – were behind the recent decision to include in a list of 150 Israeli National Heritage Sites, the Bilal Ibn Ribah Mosque outside Bethlehem (known to Jews as Rachel’s Tomb and has been off-limits to Muslims since Israel annexed parts of the West Bank in 1967) and Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi (known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron) and which is the fourth holiest site in Islam.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s provocative decision did not simply aim to appease ulta-right-wing members of his ruling coalition, but was seen as a clear attempt to lay permanent claim to parts of the Occupied Territories, which flies in the face of Israel’s vacuous claims that it is seeking a just peace with a “belligerent adversary.
Triggering a wave of violent protests in Jerusalem, with exploding confrontations between angry Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers, the move has only served to further delay international efforts to reignite the illusive peace process.
Ironically, the official Israeli reaction to the natural Palestinian objection to such a move has been the stuff of an absurd drama.
According to reports, a statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office on Tuesday said Mr Mahmoud Abbas and the PA were engaged in a “mendacious and hypocritical campaign. The State of Israel is committed to freedom of religion for worshippers of all faiths at the holy places and thus it acts in practice.
To make such a statement when the Bilal Mosque has already been inaccessible to Muslims for 40 years, is such a blatant falsification of reality that one is at a loss whether to laugh or cry.
Add to this Israel’s bloody history at Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi when in 1994, one of the 400 right-wing Jewish settlers in the area, Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the mosque with a machine gun and killed 29 Palestinians at prayer.
What is also astonishing is the scant international condemnation of the Israeli move. Even the voices of Israelis critical of Netanyahu have been more vocal in expressing consternation at this deliberate provocation.
One Israeli expert on religious sites in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Shmuel Bercovitz, said that “Netanyahu made tactical mistakes in his declaration and that he should have “said that these two places are also holy to Islam and that Israel has no intention of hurting them as well as made it clear that Israel “would not make the Ibrahimi Mosque exclusively Jewish as it did Rachel’s Tomb and that any renovations at that mosque would be in coordination with the Muslim Waqf, the Islamic charitable trust that administers Islamic sites and properties under its ownership.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, even contends that the Ibrahimi Mosque “is not a central heritage site to the Jewish people, as he was quoted as saying by religiondispatches.org.
How much more evidence of Israeli intransigence does the world need to take collective action, through internationally sanctioned legal means, against this conniving, racist, colonialist state?
Rania Al Malkyis the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.