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Al Aqsa and the war against Palestinians

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Israel has closed the Al Aqsa mosque. The occupation is tightening the noose. Of a Palestine on its last legs?

Lesson for us all? Religious rights – however regulated – cannot be sustained without political rights. Arguing for religious rights without pursuing political rights is hypocrisy – on all sides.

So Mahmoud Abbas is wrong. Closing Al Aqsa is not Israel declaring war against the Palestinian people. That war was declared in the founding of Israel. Closing Al Aqsa is Israel’s continuation of the war against Palestinians.

John Kerry was also wrong. It isn’t a matter of reopening Al Aqsa and urging restraint on all sides. Kerry needs to argue for real and effective Palestinian rights which can only be guaranteed in a real and effective Palestinian state.

Thus those arguing for the reopening of Al Aqsa on grounds of religious freedom, as important as religious freedom is, are wrong. Religious freedom is impossible without political freedom.

In some circumstance religious freedom becomes a trap. As Jerusalem has been occupied, “unified,” and Judaized, Al Aqsa has remained open. Al Aqsa is one of the last entities in Jerusalem that is controlled by Palestinians – or, in reality, partially controlled by Palestinians. Like Palestinians throughout the land, Al Aqsa is surrounded by Israelis and Israeli power.

So, in line with his overall take on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Kerry’s plea for a return to the status quo is misguided:

I am extremely concerned by escalating tensions across Jerusalem and particularly surrounding the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount – in word and in practice. The continued commitment by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians to preserve the historic status quo at this holy site is critical; any decisions or actions to change it would be both provocative and dangerous. The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount must be re-opened to Muslim worshipers and I support the long-standing practices regarding non-Muslim visitors to the site, consistent with respect for the status quo arrangements governing religious observance there.

I am in close touch with senior Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian leaders to try to deescalate the situation. I urge the leaders of all three parties to exercise decisive leadership and work cooperatively together to lower tensions and discourage violence, alleviate restrictions on Muslim worshipers, and reinvigorate long-standing coordination mechanisms and relationships that have served over the decades to preserve the historic status quo as it pertains to religious observance and access to the site.

Is there a more apolitical statement possible?

Kerry – but there are others on all sides – seeks to respond to an overtly political move by Israel by asserting religious rights. But here, expanding on Karl Marx’s take on religion – religious liberty can become the opiate of the people. It can become a tool of the political powers who seek to diminish what Palestinians have a right to – political freedom.

Al Aqsa is yet another redline violation. How many more are there? The thought is that if this redline is violated, then then the house of Israeli cards falls. It’s the Muslim world against a small but nuclear Jewish state. Perhaps. But then if Israel backtracks as it surely will at least for now, what are the Palestinians left with? A partially controlled historic mosque in the center of Jerusalem surrounded by Israeli power.

Al Aqsa is the last leg of institutional Palestinian life in Jerusalem. Its fate is dire – but not for religious reasons.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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13 Responses

  1. just on October 31, 2014, 10:49 am

    Thanks Prof.

    The picture up top is so awful. It depicts what you write quite well:

    “Religious freedom is impossible without political freedom.”

    Praying under Occupation. Praying under the gun.


  2. pabelmont on October 31, 2014, 11:15 am

    And what is the freedom (the small snippet) being offered by Israel these days? Are Palestinians of both genders and all ages being allowed to visit the Haram Al Sharif and pray at Al Aqsa? Even if they live outside greater Israel? Even if they live in OPTs?

    My memory is of considerable restrictions on Palestinians visiting these places on so-called security grounds (as if Israel could not check proposed visitors for weapons!).

    The Mosque exists within a set of concentric circles of political control. Israel decides who can pass through each of these circles. Is it religious freedom to say that ‘you may pray at Al Aqsa if you can get to Al Aqsa’ ?

  3. JLewisDickerson on October 31, 2014, 12:14 pm

    RE: “Closing Al Aqsa is not Israel declaring war against the Palestinian people. That war was declared in the founding of Israel. Closing Al Aqsa is Israel’s continuation of the war against Palestinians.” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: This is yet another reason that Jerusalem must be made an ‘international city’ pursuant to General Assembly resolution 181 (II) November 29, 1947, which provides for the full territorial internationalisation of Jerusalem: “The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.”
    Netanyahu recently made it clear (albeit speaking only in Hebrew) that as far as he is concerned there will never be a sovereign nation-state of Palestine in the West Bank (with, or without, E. Jerusalem as its capital). Consequently, unless Jerusalem is protected by virtue of its being made an ‘international city’ administered by the UN, it is just a matter of time before the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa mosque and numerous other historic sites come under existential threat as Israel’s radical, extremist nationalists (like Yehuda Glick’s Temple Institute) become more and more determined to completely “Judeaize” the city.

    • just on October 31, 2014, 12:18 pm


      This is NOT the time for “Kerry’s plea for a return to the status quo” or any other such platitudes.

      The status quo is untenable.

  4. just on October 31, 2014, 12:34 pm

    “JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — The initial autopsy report of a Palestinian man slain by Israeli soldiers early Thursday shows that he was shot all over the body at least 20 times and that his death was caused by severe bleeding from his chest, neck, hands, legs, lungs, and heart.

    The report is expected to add fuel to allegations by Palestinians that Israeli officers charged with arresting Mutaz Hijazi, 32, on suspicion of potential involvement in the shooting of a right-wing Jewish activist late Wednesday, instead executed him.


    Mahmoud said that the bullets in his arm had “deformed and crushed” his bones, and that the autopsy showed that different types of bullets had been used, presumably from a number of different weapons.

    Earlier reports said that Hijazi was shot and immobilized by Israeli police officers while on the rooftop of his home. The officers then ascended to the rooftop and reportedly dropped a water tank on his body, crushing him.

    The autopsy suggests he subsequently bled to death while on the roof, while Israeli soldiers reportedly prevented locals from reaching his body.

    Israeli police officers then allowed an ambulance to come but subsequently forced the driver to stop and stole Hijazi’s body from the back.

    ‘Extrajudicial killings’

    The killing of Hijazi set off a torrent of anger across Jerusalem, and is considered by many to be the second extrajudicial killing of a Palestinian in a week in the city by Israeli forces. ”

    Israeli “justice”. Sick, sick, sick.

  5. JLewisDickerson on October 31, 2014, 1:07 pm

    RE: “John Kerry was also wrong. It isn’t a matter of reopening Al Aqsa and urging restraint on all sides.” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: Joel Kovel would undoubtedly agree!*

    * FROM JOEL KOVEL, 1-20-13:

    [EXCERPT] . . . As with everyone I know of in official political culture, [Thomas] Friedman [probably like John Kerry – J.L.D.] assumes that Israel is a rational actor on the international stage who will obey the calculus of reward and punishment that regulates the conduct of normal states.
    The presumption is that if you tell it the truth, and even pull back US support, it will get the message, reflect, and change its ways. But Israel is not a normal state, except superficially. It will make adjustments, pulling back here, co-operating there, making nice when necessary, crafting its message using a powerful propaganda apparatus employing the most up-to-date social science. But this is simply tactical and no more predicts or explains the behavior of the Zionist state than an individual sociopath can be explained by the fact that he obeys traffic signals while driving to the scene of his crime. . .

    SOURCE –

    P.S. FROM ALISTAIR CROOKE, London Review of Books, 03/03/11:

    [EXCERPT] . . . Israel’s vice-premier, Moshe Ya’alon, was candid when asked in an interview this year: ‘Why all these games of make-believe negotiations?’ He replied:

    Because … there are pressures. Peace Now from within, and other elements from without. So you have to manoeuvre … what we have to do is manoeuvre with the American administration and the European establishment, which are nourished by Israeli elements [and] which create the illusion that an agreement can be reached … I say that time works for those who make use of it. The founders of Zionism knew … and we in the government know how to make use of time.

    SOURCE –

    • JLewisDickerson on October 31, 2014, 1:14 pm

      P.S. RE: “I say that time works for those who make use of it. The founders of Zionism knew … and we in the government know how to make use of time.” ~ Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon (from above)

      CHABADNIK BOB DYLAN: “Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
      Running out the clock”
      ~ from Neighborhood Bully, 1983

      Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
      His enemies say he’s on their land
      They got him outnumbered about a million to one
      He got no place to escape to, no place to run
      He’s the neighborhood bully . . .
      . . . He got no allies to really speak of
      What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love . . .
      . . . Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
      That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him

      ’Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
      And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac
      He’s the neighborhood bully . . .
      . . . Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
      Running out the clock
      , time standing still
      Neighborhood bully

      SOURCE –

      P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Israel, the ‘Neighborhood Bully’: Deconstructing the Lyrics of Bob Dylan in the Light of the Gaza Crisis”, By Adeyinka Makinde, Global Research, July 28, 2014
      LINK –

      • JLewisDickerson on October 31, 2014, 4:09 pm

        P.P.P.P.P.S. Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Right Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is a seminal anti-war song of the 60s, having spawned so many famous quotes, people have probably forgotten the origin: quotes like “He who is not busy being born is busy dying”.
        I think it’s fair to assume that once Bob Dylan joined the Chabad cult, he was no longer “busy being born”, but was instead “busy dying”. I see this as being even more tragic than Phil Ochs’ sad demise. –

        FROM “Bob Dylan – The Rolling Stone Interview” (by Kurt Loder – 1984)

        . . . • Q (Loder) – Your latest album, ‘Infidels’, is hardly subteen fodder. Some critics have even detected a new note of conservatism in some of the songs — even
        outright jingoism in “Neighborhood Bully”
        in which the metaphorical subject is said to be “just one man” whose “enemies say he’s on their land.” That’s clearly a strong Zionist political statement, is it not?
        • A (Dylan) – You’d have to point that out to me, you know, what line is in it that spells that out. I’m not a political songwriter. Joe Hill was a political songwriter; uh, Merle Travis wrote some political songs. “Which Side Are You On?” is a political song. And “Neighborhood Bully,” to me, is not a political song, because if it were, it would fall into a certain political party. If you’re talkin’ about it as an Israeli political song – in Israel alone, there’s maybe twenty political parties. I don’t know where that would fall, what party.
        • Q (Loder) – Well, would it be fair to call that song a heartfelt statement of belief?
        • A (Dylan) – Maybe it is, yeah. But just because somebody feels a certain way, you can’t come around and stick some political-party slogan on it. If you listen closely, it really could be about other things.
        It’s simple and easy to define it, so you got it pegged, and you can deal with it in that certain kinda way. However, I wouldn’t do that. ‘Cause I don’t know what the politics of Israel is. I just don’t know.
        • Q (Loder) – So you haven’t resolved for yourself, for instance, the Palestinian question?
        • A (Dylan) – Not really, because I live here.

        • Q (Loder) – Would you ever live in Israel?
        • A (Dylan) – I don’t know. It’s hard to speculate what tomorrow may bring. I kinda live where I find myself.
        At another point in the song, you say, “He got no allies to really speak of,” and while “he buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied…no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.” Do you feel that America should send troops over there?
        No. The song doesn’t say that. Who should, who shouldn’t — who am I to say?
        • Q (Loder) – Well, do you think Israel should get more help from the American Jewish community? I don’t want to push this so far, but it just seems so…
        • A (Dylan) – Well, you’re not pushing it too far, you’re just making it specific. And you’re making it specific to what’s going on today. But what’s going on today isn’t gonna last, you know? The battle of Armageddon is specifically spelled out: where it will be fought, and if you wanna get technical, when it will be fought. And the battle of the Armageddon definitely will be fought in the Middle East. . .

        SOURCE –

        P.P.P.P.P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Bob Dylan turns 70; still hasn’t Recanted Praise for Rabbi Meir Kahane”, by Amago,, 5/24/11
        LINK –

    • JLewisDickerson on October 31, 2014, 3:46 pm


      [EXCERPT] . . . According to the Sue Fishkoff book “The Rebbe’s Army”, p.167, Bob Dylan is one of the biggest names associated with Chabad. In the early 1980s, Chabad “rescued” Dylan from a brief flirtation with Christianity, and for several years, Dylan studied with Minneapolis Rabbis Manis Friedman and Moshe Feller, whom he visited also for Shabbat dinners. Dylan made a surprise appearance at the 1988 and 1989 Chabad telethons, once playing “Hava Negila” out of tune on the harmonica. . .

      SOURCE –

      P.P.P.P.S. REGARDING BOB DYLAN’S MENTOR, RABBI MANIS FRIEDMAN, SEE: “Why is the US Honoring a Racist Rabbi?”, by Alison Weir,, 4/07/14

      [EXCERPTS] If things proceed normally, President Barak Obama will soon proclaim April 11, 2014 “Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A.” Despite the innocuous name, this day honors the memory of a religious leader whose lesser-known teachings help fuel some of the most violent attacks against Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers and soldiers.
      The leader being honored on this day is Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, charismatic head of a mystical/fundamentalist version of Judaism [namely, Chabad-Lubavitch]. . .
      . . . Congress first passed a Resolution honoring Schneerson in 1975. . .
      . . . Schneerson and his movement are an extremely mixed bag.
      Schneerson has been praised widely for a public persona and organization that emphasized “deep compassion and insight,” worked to bring many secular Jews “back” into the fold, created numerous schools around the world, and had offered, in the words of the Jewish Virtual Library, “social-service programs and humanitarian aid to all people, regardless of religious affiliation or background.”
      However, there is also a less attractive underside often at odds with such public perceptions. And some of the more extreme parts of Schneerson’s teachings – such as that Jews are a completely different species than non-Jews, and that non-Jews exist only to serve Jews – have been largely hidden, it appears, even from many who consider themselves his followers.
      As we will see, such views profoundly impact the lives of Palestinians living – and dying – under Israeli occupation and military invasions. . .
      . . . Another such rabbi is Manis Friedman, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi inspired by Schneerson who served as the simultaneous translator for a series of Schneerson’s talks. (Friedman is currently dean of a Jewish Studies institute in Minnesota.)
      A 2009 article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports, “Like the best Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis, Manis Friedman has won the hearts of many unaffiliated Jews with his charismatic talks about love and God; it was Friedman who helped lead Bob Dylan into a relationship with Chabad.
      “But Friedman, who today travels the country as a Chabad speaker, showed a less warm and cuddly side when he was asked how he thinks Jews should treat their Arab neighbors.”

      In ‘Moment; magazine’s article, “Ask the Rabbis // How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?” Friedman answered: “I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral. “The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).” . . .


  6. Kay24 on October 31, 2014, 1:28 pm

    Again, Israel proves the world right, that they deserved to be one of the most disliked nations in the world. Instead of being grateful they had a place to live and call their own, when no one wanted them in their shores, even the US, they have become monsters devouring everything they see, and trying to make it all theirs. Whether it is land, water, and other resources, they have become a violent menace in the neighborhood, unable to stay within their given borders, and breaking every international law they can to rid the territories of the indigenous people.
    Using a Mosque to inflict pain and suffering on Arabs is disgraceful. There is a limit to collective punishment, and as usual Israel excels in exceeding those limits.

  7. just on November 1, 2014, 9:51 am

    “JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — At least 28 Palestinians were injured as clashes with Israeli forces continued into the late hours of the night on Friday across Jerusalem, as anger over a series of killings by Israeli police boiled over into the streets of the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods.

    On Friday evening, Israeli forces raided the area around Hijazi’s home al-Thawri neighborhood in Silwan, and locals told Ma’an that soldiers attacked a tent set up by the mourning family where friends and relatives were dropping in to offer condolences.”


    When is the world going to act???

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