A Meeting Underneath Al-Aqsa Mosque: How the Netanyahu Government Strengthens Its Settlement and Judaization Policies

Murad Jandali | a year ago




The Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu recently held its weekly meeting inside a tunnel underneath the al-Buraq Wall in al-Aqsa Mosque on the 56th anniversary of the occupation of the eastern part of Jerusalem (al-Quds) and its annexation to the occupied western part in 1948, in a dangerous escalation considered a continuation of the march of the settlement flags and the accompanying attacks by settlers on the Holy City.

These desperate attempts to show Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem coincided with the announcement of a group of unprecedented Judaization projects under the name of development, but in fact, according to observers, it seeks to continue the Judaization of the eastern part of Jerusalem, obliterating its Islamic and Arab identity, trying to preserve the ruling far-right coalition, and rejecting the Arabs’ renewed adherence to East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians adhere to East Jerusalem as the capital of their aspired state, based on international legitimacy resolutions that neither recognize the Israeli occupation of the city in 1967 nor its annexation to it in 1981 as an alleged unified capital.

Netanyahu was clear at the beginning of the cabinet session when he framed the meeting as a response, provocation, and challenge, when he said, “Today’s meeting on the Temple Mount is a response to the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who said at the United Nations that the Jewish people have nothing to do with Jerusalem, and that the east of the city is part of the areas of the Palestinian Authority; therefore we draw his attention that we are holding our government session this morning below the Temple Mount.”


Demographic Change

In its second session in its history, which was held in the tunnels of the Western Wall below al-Aqsa Mosque on May 21, 2023, the Israeli government approved a set of decisions and budgets to Judaize the Old City of Jerusalem (al-Quds) and promote settlements, especially within the project of the so-called Holy Basin, which is considered the biggest tampering and forgery of Palestinian Arab Islamic history in the city of Jerusalem, according to Palestinian activists.

The Judaization Holy Basin project comes within a five-year plan and at a value of half a billion shekels to develop settlement and Judaization projects in the Old City of Jerusalem and to encourage Jewish extremists to storm al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The projects for the Judaization of Jerusalem also include allocating a budget of 95 million shekels over a period of three years to attract new Jewish migrants and persuade them to settle and live in Jerusalem by granting them financial gifts and special privileges.

According to the data published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 18,000 new migrants have arrived in “Israel” and settled in Jerusalem since 2018, about half of whom are between the ages of 18 and 35. However, about 30% of them left Jerusalem in the last five years.

In addition, the Netanyahu government decided to form a ministerial committee called the Greater Jerusalem Committee and tasked it with preparing a plan for the next five years, with the aim of reviving what is called Jerusalem as the capital of “Israel,” and imposing control over the Palestinian educational and training institutions there, as part of a deliberate plan to obliterate the features of the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.

The Netanyahu government has also allocated 30 million shekels to continue excavations in the Mughrabi Quarter neighborhood and the al-Buraq Wall under the pretext of searching for antiquities.

In a related context, on May 18, 2023, the Israeli Ministry of Transportation announced a huge Judaization project in the city of Jerusalem, with an investment of 30 billion shekels to establish a public transportation network until 2028, linking the east and west of the city.

The project includes several underground and above-ground train tracks that ensure that the city will not be divided in the future. It also leads to the fragmentation and division of the eastern part of the city, which will become scattered neighborhoods and islands surrounded by an interconnected and coherent settlement presence.

In the framework of the Israeli pursuit of what is called the quiet Judaization of Jerusalem, the Israeli Local Committee for Planning and Building in Jerusalem approved the establishment of 1,700 new settlement units east of the Ramot settlement, which today has a population of about 50,000.

The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ) revealed that “Israel” targets more than 6,900 dunams in Jerusalem to impose its control over the city, indicating in a recent report that land settlement is one of the most important Israeli tricks to Judaize Jerusalem.


Religious War

In the same context, Al-Quds International Foundation warned of the dangers of the ongoing and escalating Israeli war targeting al-Aqsa Mosque and the city of Jerusalem (al-Quds), especially after the recent meeting of the Netanyahu government, which is dominated by the religious Zionist movement, with the participation of members of the Temple groups in the tunnels adjacent to the mosque.

The foundation considered that the meeting aims to enhance coordination to achieve the common goal of Judaizing al-Aqsa Mosque and changing its identity as a new step to escalate the aggressive Israeli religious war against al-Aqsa Mosque.

It explained that this Judaizing meeting was held in the tunnels adjacent to the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque immediately following the meeting held by the Netanyahu government there.

The government meeting received wide media coverage, which contributed to obscuring attention from this meeting with the Temple groups, which is the first of its kind in the history of the Temple groups and the Netanyahu government.

Eight ministers and five Knesset members participated in the meeting below al-Aqsa Mosque; they are Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Minister of the Negev and Galilee Yitzhak Wasserlauf, Minister of Communications Shlomo Karhi, Minister of Heritage Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, and Minister of Environmental Protection Idit Silman.

According to the Foundation, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana stated during the meeting that whoever controls the Temple Mount controls Jerusalem, and whoever controls Jerusalem controls the Land of “Israel.”

Al-Quds Foundation noted that this meeting was also attended by the head of the World Zionist Organization, Yaakov Hagoel, and the director general of the World Betar Movement, Yigal Brand, which is the first youth movement of the Zionist national right, pointing out that their presence indicates an attempt to unify the efforts of the Zionist Movements as a World Movement in targeting al-Aqsa Mosque.

In his speech at the aforementioned meeting, the head of the Temple Mount Administration, Rabbi Shimshon Elbaum, said: “We are here to witness the great support for Israel’s return to the Temple Mount, the state’s supreme partnership with us, governmental recognition of us, and governmental and police assistance for our work.”

He added, “Eight years ago we wished for better days on the Temple Mount, but at the same time we must not deny the great goodness that exists in the place today.”

It is noteworthy that the meeting held by the Israeli government is the second to be held inside the tunnels underneath al-Aqsa Mosque. The meeting was preceded by the 2017 meeting, and the last meeting sent many internal and external messages.

According to experts, the most prominent of these messages is that the Netanyahu government aims to satisfy all parties of the far-right, who place Jerusalem and building the Temple at the top of their priorities, and this session is to preserve the strength of the government, which faces many challenges and internal cracks.

In addition, holding a government session inside the tunnels reflects the depth of the internal crises experienced by the Netanyahu government, which is trying to export its crises to the Palestinians, and is behaving provocatively to appear as if it has sovereignty over what it stole and plundered 56 years ago.

It is noteworthy that in Netanyahu’s government consisting of 31 ministers, there are 16 who are counted on the bloc of the Temple groups because they adopt its arguments and work to achieve them, and this means that they support the construction of the alleged Temple in place of al-Aqsa Mosque.


Israeli Provocations

Netanyahu’s meeting and his provocative statements came three days after an Israeli provocation of the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, when the Minister of National Security in his government, Itamar Ben-Gvir, representatives in the Knesset, and a number of Jewish extremists stormed al-Aqsa Mosque, on May 18, 2023, under police protection.

Thousands of Jewish extremists gathered in front of al-Aqsa Mosque to commemorate the march of flags, while the Netanyahu government mobilized thousands of soldiers to secure the march, imposed measures along the borders with the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, and raised the state of alert.

All of this was preceded by an Israeli provocation as well, when the Israeli Knesset approved, on May 17, 2023, in its preliminary reading, a law prohibiting the raising of the Palestinian flag collectively and imposing a prison sentence of up to one year for anyone who violates the law.

The recent Israeli provocations received angry responses at the Palestinian, Arab, and international levels, especially Ben-Gvir’s storming of al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned in the strongest terms the special meeting held by the Israeli government with the alleged Temple groups in one of the tunnels adjacent to the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque on the sidelines of the meeting held by the Netanyahu government in the same place.

The Ministry also strongly condemned the racist colonial statements and attitudes that followed this meeting and their storming of al-Aqsa Mosque and incitement to accelerate the steps of its Judaization and the construction of the alleged temple in its place.

The Ministry indicated that this unprecedented meeting with the alleged Temple groups is a new Israeli attempt to transform the character of the conflict from political to religious and drag the region into chaos and violence with the aim of passing more colonial projects.

In his turn, the Deputy Director of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf Council, Sheikh Najeh Bakirat, said that the Israeli government’s extremist approval of Judaization and settlement projects with huge budgets constitutes a very dangerous escalation, pointing out that the so-called Holy Basin project is the destruction of the demographic structure of Jerusalemites and its transformation into Jewish symbols, and an attack on the neighborhoods of Silwan, Ras al-Amud and Sheikh Jarrah.

Hamas considered the Netanyahu government holding its meeting in the al-Buraq Wall tunnels as a dangerous escalation of the religious war waged by the Israeli occupation against the Holy City.

On its part, Qatar considered the recent storming of al-Aqsa Mosque and attempts to prejudice its religious and historical status not only as an attack on the Palestinians, but also on millions of Muslims worldwide.

Saudi Arabia also considered this a flagrant violation of all international norms and covenants and a provocation to the feelings of Muslims around the world.

The French and US governments have expressed their deep concern at Israel’s provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric in Jerusalem and across the West Bank in recent days and months.

In turn, the researcher on Israeli affairs, Ismail Maslamani, said in a statement to Al-Estiklal, “The settlers’ incursions into the courtyards of al-Aqsa Mosque, the continuation of excavations, the construction of tunnels under it, and its use as the headquarters of the extremist settler government, will have serious repercussions on the status quo, and would ignite the entire region and drag it into a religious war.”

“The alleged Temple Movements are not isolated from the Israeli government, and they participate in decision-making with the aim of Judaizing al-Aqsa Mosque,” he added.

Mr. Maslamani noted that “the Israeli occupation is always trying to blow up the situation inside Jerusalem with the aim of imposing a new reality in al-Aqsa Mosque, but these attempts will not be in its interest in the long run.”