'Judaization' of Jerusalem targets Islamic relics – Muslim cleric
Sabri accused Israeli authorities of the deliberate ‘Jewishization’ of Jerusalem, and of attempting to gradually take control of the historic Al-Aqsa Mosque.
RT: Israel allows Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but on the other hand it forbids men under the age of 40 from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan. How do you explain this contradiction?
Dr. Sheikh Ikrima Sabri: This contradiction is due to the fact that they let our brothers who live in the areas occupied in 1948 carry out the Hajj, since it’s their legal right. There are also some political benefits to be gained from demonstrating that there is freedom of religion. As for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the rules are the strictest there, since it’s on their territory. If it were situated somewhere else, no such measures would be taken. Now, their focus is on Al-Aqsa. The occupation authorities aren’t criticized only for that, though; most of their actions deserve criticism.
RT: You’ve said that Jewish authorities are trying to desensitize Muslim sensitivities to Al-Aqsa. Why do you say this?
IS: The Israeli occupiers are trying to make it seem like the Al-Aqsa Mosque is not really that important. They say that Muslims have the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, so they don’t need Jerusalem or Al-Aqsa. They also want to weaken the link between Muslims and Palestine, since Al-Aqsa connects 1.5 billion Muslims with Jerusalem and Palestine.
This link is made of belief and faith. They think that if they weaken that link, Muslims are going to lose interest in Al-Aqsa. In reality, though, the Muslims that don’t live in Palestine feel closer to Al-Aqsa because they know it’s in danger, as are their beliefs. And so, whatever the occupiers do to diminish Al-Aqsa’s significance is bound to fail.
RT: You have also said that if the Israeli government and fanatical Jewish groups sense a weak Muslim reaction, they’d see it as a green light to move forward. What in fact should Muslims do?
IS: Sadly, Muslim countries are now more concerned with their domestic issues, neglecting the issues of Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem and allowing the Israeli occupiers to carry out their hostile plans. And they have quite a few of those, including the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem and taking control of Al-Aqsa. They are making the most of the numerous domestic problems that Arab and Muslim countries are busy addressing right now so that they can carry out their plans without any resistance.
RT: Why do you believe that you’re the Muslim world’s first line of defense against Israeli and Jewish ambitions in Jerusalem?
IS: The thing is, Jerusalem is isolated from other Palestinian territories. Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not allowed to enter the city. The only people who can get into it are Palestinians that live in the areas occupied in 1948. They can do that because they live there.
So it’s only the people who live in Jerusalem and the areas that I mentioned who can come to Al-Aqsa. These are the people who protect it, who coordinate action to preserve it. If these people stop going to Al-Aqsa, there will be no one left to protect it. We are grateful to them for what they do.
RT: What do you think of Israeli claims that the walls and checkpoints are for security reasons?
IS: Israel’s claims that the wall was built for security reasons have nothing to do with reality. This is not true, because they do not observe the 1967 borders. They have occupied a lot of Palestinian territories, in addition to those that were seized in 1948. Secondly, making all people feel like prisoners is not the way to solve security issues. The way to do that is to ensure the security of all people, and grant them full human rights. That would be a fair approach. A wall is not a solution.
RT: Over the years, have the Israelis changed their treatment of Palestinians who want to come and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque?
IS: The occupation regime treats Palestinians in a way that is far from humane. They are cruel, oppressive, they don’t have mercy. There is one issue that is not reported in the media – I am talking about Palestinian women who don’t always get a chance to give birth at a hospital. The occupiers stop ambulances at checkpoints, and sometimes because of these delays ambulances cannot get to the woman in labor on time. As a result, they cannot give birth at a medical facility, sometimes the baby dies, and even the mother herself can bleed to death.
We have registered over 300 cases of such inhumane behavior on the part of Israeli authorities. I have met with a number of delegations of American scholars and asked them if they had heard of this. And they all said no. The Western and Zionist media don’t report these cases. My opinion is that these checkpoints are set up to inflict more suffering, to kill unborn babies whose mothers have to give birth on the way to the hospital.
RT: How far has the Israeli excavation under the Al-Aqsa Mosque gone, and how much of a problem is it to the structure of the building?
IS: Excavation works are extensive. They are digging in two directions: From Silwan going south, and to the west of the mosque. And because of this digging, houses and Muslim artifacts get damaged. Actually, they haven’t discovered any Jewish artifacts during the excavations. One Jewish archeologist admitted that they had not found a single stone related to Jewish history.
There is no doubt that this dig will cause the destruction of the mosque – there are already cracks in its southern and eastern walls. They remove soil from under the mosque, uncovering the foundation. It’s like the building is hanging in the air. Geologists say that an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.0 will collapse the structure. Before they dug out these tunnels, the mosque withstood even the worst earthquakes. The dig is very dangerous. We have protested against it several times, but the authorities have ignored us.
RT: Several Israeli extremists have gone as far as to call for the Al-Aqsa mosque to be torn down and for the first and second Jewish temples to be built on its place. What do you have to say about this?
IS: Jewish extremist groups have a lot of power in Israel. They came to power along with the Likud party. The current government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu is working with these extremist groups. And so now they are revealing their secret agenda, including the plan to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Some of them say that there should be separate visiting days for Jews and Muslims. Others claim that the mosque should be under Israeli control, because it is part of Israel. They say that it is located within the Old City limits.
These aggressive statements reveal their true intentions regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Why are they not talking about control over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? They are only interested in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. We think it’s really dangerous. People don’t think that such claims are backed by the state, but in reality the state supports the extremists who make these statements.
RT: You have complained about what you call the totally inadequate manner in which Muslim states reacted to the Israeli efforts to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque. What should Muslim states do?
IS: We believe the al-Aqsa Mosque is not only a sacred place for Palestinians, but for all Muslims. It means that all Muslims must share responsibility in its preservation. It has strategic importance in that it serves Muslim communities across the world – in Russia, the US or Europe. All Muslims must do what they can to help our cause. You can use different leverage – diplomatic, political or economic. Every country must know the truth and be aware of its responsibility. We do what we can do here on the ground, but our resources are limited. We cannot oppose all of Israel’s plans alone.
RT: In what way and why are Israeli authorities harassing you and other spiritual leaders?
IS: Israel wants to carry out its plans gradually, step by step, without much fuss or objection. But we keep bringing it up, and by doing so we have exposed the plans of the occupation authorities. That’s why they use media and press conferences to pile pressure on us, to gag us, to crush those who stand in the way of the occupiers. It only proves that there is no freedom or democracy in Israel. They only have democracy for the Jewish people – it does not apply to us.
RT: Do you see the Palestinian issue being resolved in the future?
IS: There are still no signs that this issue will be resolved in the near future, particularly with the Netanyahu cabinet in power. They want to start negotiations from scratch. Israel does all it can to obstruct and stall the process to prolong the existence of its state. These talks didn’t make any difference for Palestinians. These talks are a waste of time. We can talk about talks for decades. That’s why I don’t think they make any sense.
RT: What do you think about the way that then Palestinian authority is handling the issue of gaining independence?
IS: The Palestinian authorities are weak. They are looking for a solution, they want to prove they have achieved something. But the talks have actually been a failure. So at the moment, we don’t have any solution on the horizon. It means we need to unite, to revive our economy and science to be invincible when D-Day, the moment for a solution, comes.
RT: Is it fair to say that Israel is trying to obliterate the Arab-Islamic identity of Jerusalem?
IS: Israel’s policy on the ethnic issue is based on ‘Judaization,’ the confiscation of lands and construction of settlements. They are working to increase the size of the Jewish population and cut the number of Arabs. They do it by putting pressure on Arab merchants and Arabs in general to push them out of Jerusalem into the suburbs or other towns.
By referring to a crisis in the housing sector, Israel stopped giving permits for construction. And so when a young man grows up and decides to set up a family he will not be able to find or build a home. Even if he finds one, the rent will be too high to afford, and he will be forced to leave. So even without declaring its intentions, Israel is ridding Jerusalem of Arabs.
Israel doesn’t talk publicly about this, but according to my observations, the population of Jerusalem is growing. In 1967, there were 70,000 Arabs; today there are more than 300,000. In one of his prophecies, Muhammad was asked where his followers should go after he leaves, and he said that Muslims should stay in ‘Bayt al-Muqaddas’ – that is in Jerusalem – where they lived at the time. In this way, he blessed all generations to come to live in this city.