Museumizing Al Aqsa Mosque

By Mahmoud Zidan

On 25 March 1974, Pope Paul VI expressed his dismay at the declining number of Christians in Jerusalem. Because of that decline, he then warned – a warning that resonated with the 1919 King-Crane Commission Council’s recommendations – that “the Holy Places of Jerusalem would become museums.” What he presciently meant was that worshippers, Muslims and Christians, won’t be able to practice their religions as long as Israel is occupying Jerusalem.

Israel is on its way of making the Pope’s prediction a reality. What it’s been doing recently in Al Aqsa Mosque is nothing but an attempt at making it inaccessible to Muslims. This attempt constitutes a crucial part of Israel’s declaring Jerusalem both de facto and de jure—mind you, de jure refers to Israel’s law only—a “unified” and “eternal” capital of Israel.

That settlers and Israeli soldiers (despite the controversy over whether they are allowed to enter Al Aqsa mosque compound or not, according to rabbinical law) consecrated Al Aqsa Mosque by raiding it repeatedly for over a week is only one step in that plan. Therefore, what they did is not aberrant, as it is consistent with Israel’s policies since the establishment of the Israeli state.

Since 1948, Israel has implemented a systematic plan for the annexation of Jerusalem—of course prior to that, the Zionists were always excavating in Jerusalem to prove their bogus claims (as the American Colony archives prove), excavations that continue till this day. That plan started with expelling close to a hundred thousand Palestinians from West Jerusalem. This is not to forget the massacres and continued attacks that preceded and followed that expulsion and the Nakba more generally.

In June of 1967, that annexation became all the more obvious on what Israelis call Jerusalem Day (the “reunification” of Jerusalem). As soon as they colonized the city, they made the inhabitants of Haret Al-Maghariba refugees so that the Western part of Jerusalem could become an exclusively Jewish place, an act that flies in the face of United Nations resolutions and the past multi-cultural scene of Jerusalem. Israel continued to normalize such settler-colonial designs, and evidence for that normalization lies in the fact that the Knesset is now based in Jerusalem.

Currently, Israel is persecuting all Jerusalemites, particularly those who resist the bitter realities of the occupation/colonization. Even in Ramadan, Israel imposes many restrictions on mosque-goers; last Ramadan is a case in point. Now it is in the process of criminalizing the resisting worshippers in Jerusalem (Al Murabiteen). Even that small gesture of resistance to the continuing Israeli settler-colonial policies is rejected and deemed an act of terrorism. The point is to further humiliate Palestinians and maintain more control over Jerusalem.

That policy is no secret: Benjamin Netanyahu reassured his far right-wing constituency that Jerusalem would continue to be under Israeli control. But that should not make us narrow down that problem to the Likud. Israel is an inherently colonial state; all previous governments, Likud or Labor, imposed restrictions on Jerusalemites through numerous reprehensible policies: destroying their houses, making it almost impossible for them not only to own houses but also to renovate their houses, abetting settlers in their constant attacks on them, detaining them, imposing restrictions on their prayers, facilitating and protecting Zionist provocative colonizers intent on invading Al Aqsa Mosque, constructing a museum of coexistence on a Muslim cemetery, and so on. (see the OCHA fact-sheet on East Jerusalem [what Israel calls E1] for a more detailed inventory of Israel’s crimes against humanity).

Nor should we understand that those acts only apply to Jerusalem. Analysts agree that what happens in Jerusalem is only a microcosm of what happens to Palestine and Palestinians at large.

All of this is to show that what Israel is doing is part and parcel of longstanding policies, rather than exceptional behavior. Those policies cannot be counteracted without us realizing the indissoluble connection between the state and its inherent policies.

While Jordan, especially the King, has strongly threatened to cut ties with Israel, it remains to be seen whether Israel’s biggest ally, the U.S., will do something to counteract Israel’s crimes or not, particularly when it comes to Jerusalem. Based on the past, there is nothing promising. For although Jerusalem is considered corpus separatum according to the UN, American practices there show that the U.S. sides with the Israeli narrative. Even the physical location of the American embassy is problematic; it was relocated to Jerusalem in 1999 and was built, as Walid Khalidi showed, on land that once belonged to Palestinian refugees.

More disastrously, the U.S. continues to send American tax-payer money to Israel, money that is used in all acts of aggression against Palestinians. To put it simply, this is not in America’s best interests. Such practices only alienate minorities and poor Americans who could have used that money to build their own lives and America at large. Moreover, those practices will continue to increase antipathy on the part of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims towards the U.S. Peace is what ensures America security, not war, and that is why it should heed the calls of Palestinians to boycott Israel in the same way the U.S., albeit belatedly, boycotted South Africa. In a nutshell, it should stop being complicit with Israel’s crimes against humanity.

The U.S. Supreme Court alienated itself from that complicity when it struck down the law that would have allowed Israelis to write Israel as their place of birth in American passports if they were born in Jerusalem. The American government should take a cue from the Supreme Court and extend the Court’s ruling to everything that has to do with Jerusalem in particular and everything that has to do with Palestine in general. Further, it only stands to reason that the US talk some sense into its ally. Unless that happens, Al Aqsa Mosque might be on the way of becoming a museum. But Palestinians will never accept that, for it’ll be a museum built on their sacrifices till the last one of them, and perhaps that will be the end of the world.

– Mahmoud Zidan is a professor of English literature at the University of Jordan. He contributed this article to


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