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Rift opens over plan for security cameras at Al-Aqsa mosque compound

Jordanian officials claimed that they, not Israel, are behind a plan to install security cameras at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem
Jewish men visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem under Israeli police protection (AFP)

A senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Movement, which organised protests against incursions by Jewish national religious hardliners onto the Al-Aqsa Mosque, has condemned an initiative to install security cameras around the plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the movement, called the cameras, whose pictures would be shared by Jordan and Israel, a means to enforce Israeli sovereignty over the compound. He said the cameras would lead to more arrests, fuelling the intifada which is already under way. 

Khatib told Middle East Eye: “We reject this completely, not just because of the security implications. Muslims are not doing anything wrong by praying at the mosque. We are not making military preparations on Al-Aqsa.

"Israel has now achieved what it wants. It can observe everything that moves and can arrest anyone. It is using the cameras to enforce its own sovereignty.”

The movement’s views are echoed by secular Palestinian leaders. Basel Ghattas, a Palestinian member of the Joint List party in the Knesset, who disguised himself to bypass Israeli police to get onto the compound said the cameras would be used by Israel to identify activists, and arrest or ban them from the site.

“When Israeli police determine who gets into Al-Aqsa and who doesn’t, it is clear that they are the real masters, not the Waqf,” he said, referring to an Islamic trust run by Jordan that Israel allows to manage Islamic places in Jerusalem’s Old City including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

As officials from Jordan prepared to meet Israeli officials to finalise arrangements for the cameras, the site was visited by Yehuda Glick, the US-born rabbi who survived an assassination attempt in 2014 and against whom a police ban on visiting the site was recently removed.

Glick, a national-religious activist whose Temple Mount Faithful organisation encourages Jews to enter the site, said his visit felt like “returning home” after a long absence.

Jews refer to the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) as the Temple Mount, arguing that the ruins of two ancient temples lie under Al-Aqsa. The Western Wall, revered by religious Jews, is believed to be a retaining wall of the second temple, destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago. The post 1967 rabbinical consensus remains that it is forbidden for any Jew to enter the site until the Third Temple is built. 

Incursions by national religious Jews triggered the current Palestinian uprising, which has claimed the lives of 178 Palestinians, 28 Israelis, an American, a Sudanese and an Eritrean since October last year.  

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said cameras would persuade Palestinians that Israel is not violating the status quo agreement governing the site since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. 

The cameras initiative has since been claimed by Jordan as its idea. Minister for Religious Trusts Hail Daoud stressed that the installation “was a Jordanian demand, not an Israeli one, and that the move was meant to protect the Aqsa Mosque and document Israeli violations.”

On a recent visit of British MPs organised by the Palestinian organisation, EuroPal Forum, senior members of the Jordanian House of Representatives and the Hashemite royal family explained the kingdom’s position on Al-Aqsa and recent events it has triggered. 

A senior adviser told MPs that the reaction of Muslims around the world would be “beyond Jordan’s control” if Israel went ahead with plans to build a third temple on the site. He called Israel’s actions “sheer madness”. 

“It’s salami tactics. They have slow, creeping annexation in the form of time sharing or limiting Muslim worshippers and then encroaching onto the place. If they keep on playing this game, the reaction of Muslims would be beyond our control.” 

He said Israel was energising the Islamic State group and empowering radicalism in the Islamic world: “Jerusalem has been a rallying cry since 1967, empowering radicalism in the Muslim world. If you ask any Muslim what is the central issue they will say Al-Aqsa, which by the way is one of three Islamic holy sites, not the third holiest site in Islam.

"This has transformed a national war, which is bad enough, into a religious one which would effect not just Jordan but all Muslims living under Islamic law. This is how important this is as an issue. So just leave it alone.”

Atef Tarawneh, speaker of the House of Representatives, said that Jordan had been shouldering “a big burden” since the peace treaty was signed with Israel: “We have been shouldering a big burden of the Islamic and Arab world to the extent that some described us at the time to be simply traitors.

"After the lapse of 20 years, we are in the embarrassing situation both before the people of Jordan and the people of Palestine. People are being killed, elderly women burned in their house, to the extent that even the corpses of those killed are not being released to their families, how can we justify that?”

Yehia al-Saud MP, chairperson of the Palestine Committee, said the Hashemite throne rested on two legitimacies, one for the people of Jordan and the other for the people of Palestine, which was Jordan’s most important issue.

Saud said the shooting dead of a Jordanian judge who was crossing the Allenby Bridge into the West Bank in 2014 was a crime “in cold blood”.

“We know the exact details of the killing,” Saud said, adding that Israel should be tried by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

“The Israelis want security. They want the land. They will never have it as long as Palestinians do not have a state.”

The Royal Committee for Jerusalem Affairs said the “tours” of Jewish groups, soldiers in military uniform, Israeli ministers and MPs around the plazas of Al-Aqsa were all done “to enforce the notion that they have a true right to the place and to create a new de-facto situation. It must be re-iterated that all this takes place under the escort of Israeli security forces.”

The committee stressed that Jordan’s custodianship held sway over all 144,000 square metres of territory defined by the Al-Aqsa mosque walls, which includes the gates of the mosque and many other buildings, domes, minarets and schools. It said the Dome of the Rock should only be presented as part of the complex.

“This would frustrate Israeli attempts to slowly and invisibly Judaise the place while our attention is captured by the preservation of parts of it,” the committee said.

Khatib said Palestinians did not need more evidence of incursions which were already well documented.

“Yesterday the Israelis allowed Glick back into the compound, the man who caused the intifada we now have. This is in preparation for more raids. It is sad how soon the Israelis forget that this intifada is continuing, that the Palestinian reaction is growing day by day and that this area in the coming time will not be quiet.”