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The Israelis set for new Jewish temple on Al-Aqsa site

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With imported sacrificial cows, ancient hymns and growing support, some nationalist Jews hope to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem’s Old City, at a site at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

In a suburb of Tel Aviv, a group of choristers were getting ready for the moment they will rejoice at the reconstruction of the Jewish temple some 2,000 years after its destruction, which they believe will accelerate the arrival of the messiah.

But for others, realising their goal would massively inflame tensions around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Chorister Shmuel Kam said Jews have been “waiting” two millennia for the revival of the temple.

Members of the Orthodox Jewish group claim to be descendants of the biblical Tribe of Levi, which performed hymns and music at the holy site.

“When the temple will be built, we will ask the Levites to come sing and they won’t know. They have to learn,” said Menahem Rozenthal, director of the men-only choir created a few months ago by the Temple Institute.

Founded in 1987, the institute aims to rebuild the temple, training choirs and clerics and making objects for use in religious rites.

While apprentice choristers come from across Israel to delve into the collection of ancient hymns, the Temple Institute has made all of the objects deemed necessary for Jewish rites according to rabbinical instructions.

These include priestly robes, baking moulds for bread, incense burners and musical instruments.

– ‘Matter of time’ –

The faithful have their sights set on the large, tree-dotted compound in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Known as Temple Mount to Jews and revered as their holiest site, the compound has for centuries housed Al-Aqsa mosque, the third most sacred place in Islam.

Those seeking to rebuild the temple recall the former place of worship, destroyed around 70 AD during the Roman period.

According to Jewish tradition, their first temple was demolished in 586 BC by then ruler Nebuchadnezzar II at the same location.

For Haim Berkovits, a 50-year-old third temple advocate, “you can say whatever you want (about the Muslim presence), this was the place for Jews”.

Jewish worship at the future temple is “only a matter of time”, he said.

Berkovits is part of Boneh Israel (“Building Israel”), an organisation which according to its website works at “bringing the redemption closer”.

In order to hasten their sought-after redemption, Boneh Israel imported five red heifers from the United States last year.

The plan is to sacrifice them and blend the ashes with water, a mixture that will be used to brush anyone deemed impure — for example those who have had contact with a corpse — before their ascent to the third temple.

The rare cows are crucial, because the inability to perform this ritual is part of Israeli rabbinical authorities’ opposition to Jewish visits to Temple Mount.

The animals’ “return is a messianic sign”, affirmed Berkovits at a farm in northern Israel where they are inspected by vets and rabbis to ensure that every single hair is red.

“We pamper them, we’re keeping them for the opportune moment,” he added.

– Spreading ideology –

Berkovits said Boneh Israel had already acquired land on the Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem, so the animals can be burned facing Temple Mount.

For Yizhar Beer, director of the Keshev Centre for the Protection of Democracy in Israel, these “third temple lovers” are in no way marginal.

From a few dozen adherents two decades ago, their ideology has “spread to the centre of the political level — to the parliament, to the government”, Beer said.

Since December, Benjamin Netanyahu has led a government alongside extreme-right ministers who advocate imposing Israeli sovereignty on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The compound is administered by the Waqf Islamic affairs council of Jordan, whose forces were routed from east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Defying the ban by top rabbis, some 50,000 Jews “ascended to Temple Mount” last year, according to a nationalist Israeli organisation that carries the site’s Hebrew name, Har Habait.

The Jewish visitors include firebrand politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has also visited twice this year since becoming Israel’s national security minister.

The United Nations, the United States and the European Union have all pressed in recent months for the status quo to be respected at Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Tours by Jews of the holy compound, where only Muslims are permitted to pray, are denounced by Palestinians as a “threat” and an attempt to “Judaise” the site.

– Political ‘atomic bomb’ –


The compound is a point of perennial tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and any Jewish visit has the potential to become “an atomic bomb”, warned Beer.

“A combination of religion and politics… this is a nuclear reactor, so an explosion there blows up everything,” he said.

The international community has never recognised Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem, and considers it occupied Palestinian territory.

For Yitzchak Reuven, the Temple Institute’s head of communications, “the controversy is stirred up by the Palestinians who use it for nationalistic reasons”.

“It’s not really a Muslim issue,” he said.

Reuven did not specify what would become of Al-Aqsa mosque, a notable anomaly in otherwise detailed plans by organisations focused on the third temple.

However, such groups do assert that it would be impossible to construct the holy Jewish site anywhere but the mosque compound.

“That’s the place God chose,” said Reuven. “It’s a dream, but Jews returning to Israel was a dream — and then it became a reality.”

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Article source: AFP / | 5.6.23

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Israel far-right minister visits Al-Aqsa compound

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Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound Sunday, a controversial move by the extreme-right politician amid heightened tensions in annexed east Jerusalem.

The move came three days after Ben-Gvir and tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists marched through the Old City and just over a week into a fragile Gaza ceasefire.

“Jerusalem is our soul,” Ben-Gvir wrote on Telegram, alongside a photo of himself at the site in the heart of the Old City.

“The threats of Hamas will not deter us, I went up to the Temple Mount!” he wrote, using the Jewish name for the site.

Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and is administered by Jordan. Non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site, but not pray there.

The compound is also the most sacred site for Jews, who pray below it at the Western Wall.

Hamas, the militant group that rules the blockaded Gaza Strip, denounced Ben-Gvir’s last visit to the site in January and again slammed his action on Sunday.

Israel will “bear responsibility for the barbaric incursions of its ministers and herds of settlers”, the group wrote on Telegram.

The move “confirms the depths of danger looming over Al-Aqsa, under this Zionist fascist government and the arrogance of its ministers from the extreme right”, said Hamas.

– Old City cabinet meeting –

Israeli police confirmed Ben-Gvir’s visit in a statement, adding that it passed without incident.

Later on Sunday, Israel’s top politicians held a rare cabinet meeting in the tunnels beneath the Western Wall.

Palestinians fear their use as a vast museum threatens the foundations of Al-Aqsa mosque.

“Time and again, my friends and I have been forced to repel international pressure on the part of those who would divide Jerusalem again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting.

Some Israeli leaders “were prepared to give in to those pressures”, he argued, but “we have acted differently,” according to a transcript from his office, celebrating the expansion of Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem which are deemed illegal under international law.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its capital, but the Palestinians want the eastern sector, which includes the Old City, as the capital of their future state.

The Jordanian Waqf Islamic affairs council, which administers the mosque compound, described Ben-Gvir’s visit as a “blatant storming and desecration of the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque”.

“No less dangerous is the call by the occupation (Israeli) government to hold its meeting this morning in the Western Wall area,” a Waqf statement said.

Jordan decried Ben-Gvir’s actions as a “provocative step” and a “dangerous and unacceptable escalation”.

It “represents a flagrant and unacceptable violation of international law, and of the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and its holy sites”, said foreign ministry spokesman Sinan Majali.

– ‘Playing with fire’ –

Tours of the site by Jewish nationalists have long been criticised by Palestinians and Arab nations, while Ben-Gvir’s visits have taken on added weight since he took office in December.

The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said “harming Al-Aqsa Mosque is playing with fire”.

“(It) will push the region into a religious war with unimaginable consequences that will affect everyone,” said Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, in a statement published by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The timing of Sunday’s visit also holds significance, coming days after extremists marched through the Old City to celebrate east Jerusalem’s capture by Israeli forces in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Thursday’s event was marred by incidents of violence against Palestinians and journalists, while the United States condemned “the hateful chants such as ‘Death to Arabs'” during the rally.

Ben-Gvir’s visit also follows a Cairo-brokered truce reached on May 13 between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza, ending five days of cross-border fighting.

Egypt’s foreign ministry on Sunday pressed Israel to “immediately stop the escalatory practices which inflame the pre-existing state of tension in the occupied (Palestinian) territories”.

The Gaza violence killed 33 people in the coastal territory and two in Israel, a citizen and a Gazan labourer.

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Article source: AFP / |May 22, 2023

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Al-Aqsa Goes Beyond Religion. For Palestinians, it’s a Symbol of Freedom and Resistance 

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From their political fragmentation and weakness, the importance of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque to Palestinians becomes more evident 

Haaretz | Amira Hass | Apr 9, 2023

“The Maronites have France, the Shi’ites Iran, the Sunnis [have] Saudi Arabia and who is left for the communists? Only Allah,” said a leftist in Ramallah recently, quoting the Lebanese musician Ziad Rahbani (the son of the singer Fairuz), to illustrate the helplessness felt by Palestinians like himself. But what was a barbed political jab for Rahbani and an expression of frustration for the secular man who quoted him is a daily reality for the Palestinians. 

This is not the place to discuss the role of faith in Allah in shaping and maintaining Palestinians’ resilience in the face of the Israeli rule imposed on them. But on a more prosaic level, the more the balance of international political powers is to their detriment, and the more that Israel advances unceasingly its plans to take over their vacant lands and profits from their political fragmentation and weakness, the national, political, social and emotional importance of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque – and not only the self-evident religious importance – becomes more clear. 

This religious compound, which Muslims call Haram al-Sharif and Jews the Temple Mount, is also the only open space available to residents of the crowded Old City. Every Jerusalemite emphasizes this fact – and says that sometimes this is the only place where Palestinians do not encounter police officers and soldiers and where they feel almost free, if only for a few hours. As the number of provocative visits to the complex by Jews who intend to pray and also to build the Third Temple increases, it loses this quality of an almost-free zone. 

The Al-Aqsa compound, which is important and well-known to around 1.5 billion Muslims, is the permanent and natural, even intimate, view from the windows of about 200 homes in the Old City, as a Jerusalem resident told Haaretz. That is, it is both a world site and a neighborhood site, both sacred and a social and family gathering place. The compound and its mosques bring together physically – not only symbolically and emotionally – tens of thousands of Palestinians who are usually scattered and divided and separated: urban and rural, West Bank residents and Israeli citizens, women and men, rich and poor, individuals and families, supporters of Fatah and Hamas and the al-Tahrir party and unaffiliated persons, devout and traditional and even secular Muslims who are attracted to the beauty and the camaraderie of the place, worshippers and those who came also or solely for a family picnic. (Only 99.99 percent of residents of the Gaza Strip, 70 kilometers [44 miles] away, are completely excluded, without any semblance of Israel giving them freedom of worship). 

The abusive routine of Israel, which makes sure to increasingly dismember the Palestinian territory and which destroyed and continues to destroy every Palestinian geographical, historical and social continuity that has existed in the land for centuries, cannot negate Al-Aqsa. But Jewish political-religious forces that aspire to this, and that can no longer be dismissed as marginal and harmless, give the Palestinians every reason to worry about the fate of the place and to request the intervention of international bodies. And so, the Arab Muslim states, even those that are advancing normalization with Israel and do not hide that they are “fed up” with the Palestinian cause, cannot turn a blind eye to Israel’s practices in the mosque and toward Palestinian worshippers there. Because it is a pan-Islamic religious site, Israel – which does not permit Palestinians to demonstrate – cannot erase its nature as a permanent mass gathering place. This fact also makes this holy place even more precious to Palestinians and gives the central site of religious worship social and political power. 

This year, as in past years, in the weeks preceding the month of fasting, the security agencies and their colleagues in the media once again “succeeded” in depicting Ramadan as a terrorist event. In this way, it is associated in the minds of Israeli Jews with potential security tension and warnings of harm to them and in effect to all the “normality” they enjoy, as if this were the essence of the holy month to Muslims. Placing the responsibility for quiet on the Palestinians involves a typical disregard for the fact that there is nothing normal about Israeli domination over the Palestinians, despite its decades-long persistence. 

Therefore, without planning or instructions from above, everything related to Al-Aqsa and Ramadan has become a blend of protecting the freedom of worship and the social customs that developed around it together with a struggle against the foreign Israeli regime: So it was when tens of thousands of people refused to pass through the metal detectors installed at the entrances to the compound, in 2017, and in 2021, when young people who stayed awake during the nights of Ramadan refused when police demanded they leave the steps outside Damascus Gate where they congregated. There is nothing religious or sacred about sitting on steps, and those young people were neither political leaders nor particularly devout. But the mere connection to Ramadan and the prohibition gave their refusal social legitimacy. 

This year, another custom stood out as a religious-national tool: The custom of i’tikaf – temporary withdrawal of believers from regular life, and their staying overnight in a mosque. According to the Al Jazeera website, since 1967 this custom has been restricted at Al Aqsa to the last 10 days of the month of Ramadan and to Friday nights, with the restriction being enforced by the Jordanian Religious Affairs Ministry and the mosque’s administration. This year’s requests from Jerusalem families and religious institutions in the city to the Jordanian authorities to permit overnight stays in the mosque the entire month went unanswered. Despite this, and despite the demand of the Israeli police that they evacuate, Al Jazeera says this is the second time since 1967 that people keeping this custom managed to remain inside the mosque for the first two days of Ramadan. Then the police began to raid the compound, forcing them out. Video footage of every provocation by Jews seeking to sacrifice goats or pray on the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif despite the ban, and every incursion into the compound by club-wielding Border Police who stomp on the prayer rugs with their heavy boots, is seen by millions of Muslims around the world, who are appalled. 

Is it an inbuilt, shameless disdain towards a religion other than Jewish? Is it a nearly innate contempt for the faithful on the Temple Mount just because they are Arabs? Is it the uniformed and armed forces – including Druze and Arab members, if they were among them – having gone power mad? All of the above, apparently. You can’t just say that this is what the police are like in the age of the new National Security Ministry, since it acted this way (and even shot dead worshipers at Al Aqsa) before we could have ever imagined that Itamar Ben-Gvir would become the minister in charge of the police. What is certain is that this déjà vu of a pseudo-military assault on a religious and holy site is created by Israel year after year, with a relentless persistence that is beyond puzzling to anyone who believes in the rationality of this government. 

This persistence is understandable when one recalls that the army and police are obligated to protect all Jews who are right-wing settlers who intend to torch a vineyard in the West Bank, to set fire to homes in Hawara, to set a village mosque alight or to violate the sanctity of Al-Aqsa. The aims of the Jews who go up to the Temple Mount are political and irredentist, and that is why the Palestinian youth – who are mainly but not exclusively from Jerusalem – do not need anyone to organize them or give them orders. Regardless of their level of piety, they know that they must defend the only place in their land that is still (relatively) protected from Israel’s intentions and capabilities to destroy. 

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UN Palestinian ambassador on Israeli minister’s Al-Aqsa visit

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Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, on Wednesday (January 4) condemned a visit by Israel’s new far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, calling it an ‘attack’.Article link:
Article source: Hobart mercury

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