Israel Grabs More Palestinian Land
Army Rules Illegal Settlement Now 'Legal'
April 13, 2014
Israel has carried out a new land appropriation in the occupied West Bank, the Haaretz daily said on Sunday, in a move that could complicate efforts to extend troubled peace talks with the Palestinians.
Haaretz said the Defence Ministry declared nearly 250 acres (100 hectares) of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc just south of Jerusalem “state land”. Asked by Reuters about the report, the ministry declined immediate comment.
The land appropriation, the left-leaning newspaper said, was the largest in years and could eventually lead to the expansion of several settlements and authorisation of a settler outpost built without Israeli government permission in 2001.
The measure, which falls short of annexing the land to Israel, is based on an Israeli interpretation of an Ottoman-era law that allowed the confiscation of tracts that had not been planted or cultivated for several years in a row.
Haaretz said the heads of nearby Palestinian villages that claimed the land as theirs were informed of the move last week and have 45 days to appeal.
It was not immediately clear whether the reported appropriation was part of sanctions that Israel has begun to impose in response to the April 1 signing by Palestinians of 15 international conventions and agreements during the current crisis in U.S.-brokered peace negotiations.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Israel of trying to destroy chances for peace through a “frantic escalation” of settlement activity.
“This is the real face of the Israeli government,” she told Reuters. “This is a government hostile to peace moves and it’s taking steps which have a longer-term strategy.”
Speaking before the Haaretz report appeared, Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni said on the YNet news site that she is optimistic the statehood negotiations will be extended beyond the original April 29 deadline for a deal.
“I believe that we are close enough to a decision on the part of both leaderships, encouraged by the Americans, to continue the negotiations,” she said.
Livni has been meeting her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat in an intensive push over the past few days to try to salvage the talks.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Israel’s publication on April 1 of a tender for 708 homes for settlers in East Jerusalem was the proximate cause for the near collapse of the talks, which began in July.
Israel’s anti-settlement Peace Now movement said on its website that at least 90 of the 120 Jewish settlements built in the occupied West Bank since its capture in a 1967 war are on “state land”. Most countries regard the settlements as illegal.
Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and fear settlements will deny them a viable country. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and Jerusalem and says Gush Etzion is one of the enclaves it intends to keep in any future peace deal.
Citing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s signing of U.N. human rights conventions, Israel said on Wednesday it was limiting its contacts with Palestinian officials, although Livni could continue to meet negotiators.
Announcing another sanction a day later, an Israeli official said Israel would deduct debt payments from tax transfers which the Palestinian Authority routinely receives, and limit the self-rule government’s deposits in Israeli banks.
For his part, Abbas has accused Israel of violating a commitment to release two dozen prisoners at the end of March, including Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis, when the negotiations resumed. This is the last group of 104 prisoners Israel pledged to free as a confidence-building measure.
Hatem Moussa/AP - Gazans protest in Gaza City on Sept. 24 against visits to a disputed Jerusalem holy site by religious Jews, claiming it is a desecration of al-Aqsa Mosque. The hilltop compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Jewish activists set sights on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, raising alarm in Muslim world
By William Booth and Ruth Eglash
December 2, 2013
JERUSALEM — A small but growing movement by Jewish activists demanding the right to pray at the site of their destroyed temple, in the heart of this disputed capital’s Old City, is creating a potentially explosive clash with the Muslim world, which considers the spot holy and bans Jews from public worship there.
Each week, hundreds of Jews ascend the creaky wooden ramp built above the Western Wall and enter what is often called the most contested real estate on Earth. Many then embark upon a game of hide-and-seek with their police escorts — whispering forbidden prayers while pretending to talk into cellphones, and getting in quick but banned bows by dropping coins and then bending to pick them up.
Their proposals, long dismissed as extremist, are now being debated in the Israeli parliament and embraced by an expansionist wing in the ruling coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
These political leaders, many in Netanyahu’s party, want Israel to assert more, not less, control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the place known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.
“We’re looking for it to be divided between Jews and Muslims,” said Aviad Visoli, chairman of the Temple Mount Organizations, which claims 27 groups under its umbrella. “Today, Jews realize the Western Wall is not enough. They want to go to the real thing.”
Two millenniums ago, this place was the site of the Jews’ Second Temple, destroyed in A.D. 70 by Roman legions under Titus, who cast the Jews into exile. The Western Wall, visited by 10 million people a year, is part of the remaining rampart built around the raised temple complex. Together, the wall and the site of the destroyed temple are the holiest landmarks in Judaism.
The same courtyard is home to al-Aqsa mosque, one of the oldest in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock, the golden landmark where tradition says the prophet Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.
For Palestinians and much of the Muslim world, any mention of changing the status quo at the site, the third-holiest in Islam, is incendiary. Protecting al-Aqsa has been a rallying cry for generations.
“This place belongs to the Muslim people, and no others have the right to pray here,” said Sheik Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that administers the site. Khatib said the mosque is a unifying symbol for the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.
“If they try to take over the mosque, this will be the end of time,” Khatib warned. “This will create rage and anger not only in the West Bank but all over the Islamic world — and only God knows what will happen.”
The site, like all of Jerusalem’s Old City, was under Jordanian control until 1967, when it was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War. The Waqf administers and protects the site. Israeli police also patrol the area and accompany Jewish visitors while they visit.
Non-Muslim tourists are welcome to wander freely around the grounds. But non-Muslim prayer is forbidden. Jews in religious garb are taken aside at the entrance by Israeli security officers, screened more closely and sternly warned not to pray, bow, sing, tear their clothes in mourning or display any religious items.
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has ruled that Jews should not enter the Temple Mount esplanade, for fear they will accidentally walk upon ground that is part of the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and only the high priest was permitted to enter.
But political leaders are urging that this stance be reexamined. Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, deputy minister of religious affairs, has proposed giving Jews an hour a day to pray there.
“There is a growing reality among sectors of the population who want to go up there and pray, and there are rabbis who are encouraging their followers to do so,” Ben-Dahan said at a November committee hearing on the matter in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “The rabbinate needs to recognize this reality.’’
War of words
The hearing quickly devolved into a shouting match. “Every citizen of Israel should have the right to pray at their holy sites without harassment or being attacked,” said Miri Regev , the committee chairwoman. “If Jews want to go up to the Temple Mount to pray, they should have that right.”
“There is no such thing as the Temple Mount!’’ interrupted an Arab Israeli parliamentarian, Jamal Zahalka. “It does not exist. It is not there. ”
Legislators hurled shouts of “Barbarian!” and “Fascist!”
Arab Israeli lawmakers stormed out in protest.
“Because of your games at the al-Aqsa mosque, a third intifada could erupt,” Ahmad Tibi, deputy speaker of the Knesset and leader of the Arab political party Ta’al, told Regev. “You are a dangerous woman — to yourself, your children and all of us. Enough of playing with fire!”
In 2000, in the aftermath of failed peace negotiations mediated by President Bill Clinton, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon — campaigning to become prime minister — visited the Temple Mount with an escort of 1,000 police officers.
Some analysts say the visit sparked the second Palestinian uprising, often referred to as the al-Aqsa Intifada. Others claim that Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was looking for an excuse to unleash the uprising and found one in Sharon’s action. In a report by former U.S. senator and peace negotiator George P. Mitchell, Sharon’s visit was called “poorly timed” and “provocative.” But the report said Israel’s use of lethal force against rioters in subsequent demonstrations had a greater negative effect.
Today, as yet another round of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are underway, Khatib and other Islamic clerics warn that proposals to grant “time and space” to Jews looking to pray on the Temple Mount could ignite a holy war.
The clerics say they have pleaded with Israeli police to limit the number of Jews allowed to visit the site and warned that Jewish extremists are trying to change a delicate status quo and create new facts on the ground.
Uri Ariel, Israel’s minister of construction and housing, told reporters after a recent visit: “The Temple Mount is ours, and it cannot be argued about or negotiated. . . . It must be open for prayer at every hour, to every Jew.”...