Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- East Jerusalem, despite being linked with both Israel and the West Bank, has developed an independent political system. The public activity in east Jerusalem occurs at the plaza of the mosques on the Temple Mount where the Islamic movements are the dynamic political forces.
- The Islamic force that can muster impressive rallies under its flag and symbols is an international movement known as the Islamic Liberation Party, or Hizb ut-Tahrir, which to a large extent is the most significant actor on the Mount.
- Also influencing the political system in the eastern part of the city is the involvement of regional powers, particularly Jordan and Turkey, a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
- Saudi Arabia has no interest in promoting its status in Jerusalem; the Wahabi kingdom regards the city as a competitor of Mecca. Abbas often complains that the Arab League did not honor its promise to funnel $400 million into east Jerusalem. There is good reason to believe that the Saudi kingdom torpedoed the decision.
- Turkish institutions are directly involved in Jerusalem’s affairs, particularly one called TIKA, that is directly identified with the president of Turkey. This association’s website makes clear that it works in all territories of the Ottoman Empire to rehabilitate the old Ottoman heritage.
East Jerusalem, despite being linked with both Israel and the West Bank, has developed an independent political system. It is indeed subject to influences from both Israel and the West Bank, but to a large extent east Jerusalem is managed as a self-contained entity in its own distinct ways.
Because no political force is strong enough to mobilize rallies and demonstrations in the streets or is interested in doing so, most of the public activity occurs at the plaza of the mosques on the Temple Mount where the dynamic political forces are the Islamic movements. Specifically, the Islamic force that can muster impressive rallies under its flag and symbols is an international movement known as the Islamic Liberation Party, or Hizb ut-Tahrir, which to a large extent is the most significant actor on the Mount.
Another force is the Hamas movement, but because Israel designates it as a terror organization it cannot hold rallies. Hence, compared to Tahrir, its capabilities are something of an enigma.
The Israeli-based influence takes the form of the Northern Islamic Movement of Sheikh Raed Salah who has exploited the protection of Israeli law and Israeli democracy to penetrate deep into the mosque plaza along with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is represented by Sheikh Akrima Sabri, the former Chief Mufti of Jerusalem.
Hamas has also been helped by Raed Salah’s movement – while, at the same time, waging a struggle with it over prominence.
Although the Fatah movement has lagged behind, it has a strong presence in the city and its importance is undeniable. In the struggle over public activity at the mosque plaza, it is hardly a match for Tahrir. It wields influence, however, in the side streets and in several neighborhoods.
Another phenomenon is that the “general” movements like Hamas and Fatah have adopted stances that are independent of the parent movements. Fatah has an aristocratic tradition of following in the path of the late Jerusalemite Faisal Husseini and his Orient House officialdom and differs in its behavior patterns from the violent Fatah of the nearby “seam-line” neighborhoods beyond the security fence. Fatah is more connected with Ramallah; it does not have a strong connection with Jerusalem itself or use it as an arena for violence and terror.
As for Hamas, it is influenced by the large community of former Hebronites in Jerusalem. Yet, very surprisingly, the Hamas people, despite being Hebronites by extraction, are not inspired by the messages that come from the parent-movement in Hebron and are content with the Israeli policy of preventing the Hebronite preachers from taking the pulpits at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Also influencing the political system in the eastern part of the city is the involvement of regional powers, particularly Jordan and Turkey. These two are essentially in direct confrontation with each other. It is hard not to be impressed by the depth of Turkey’s penetration of the city, which it has achieved with the help of the Islamic Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Islamic Movements
The lack of any mechanism of elections makes it difficult to estimate the strength of the Islamic movements operating in Jerusalem, There is, however, a criterion that can help us assess their relative strength, namely, the ability to assemble crowds at the Al-Aqsa plaza. According to this criterion, the Tahrir Liberation Party is outpacing all the others.
Although Hamas can also turn out crowds, its designation in Israel as a terror organization denies it the freedom of action that Tahrir possesses. The presence of Raed Salah is also impressive, but his Murabitat followers are Israeli Arabs who are organized and bused in. Now that the movement has been outlawed, it does not appear that he will be able to summon east Jerusalemites for rallies at the mosque compound as Tahrir succeeds to do.
According to east Jerusalem sources, Hamas is operating in the city as an underground movement, concealing its real leadership from sight. Three of its leaders, Muhammad Abu Tir, Khaled Abu Arafa, and Mohamed Tutach, were expelled by Israel in 2010 and are now operating in Ramallah.1
These three were arrested and expelled after their east Jerusalem residency was revoked. The move was part of the wide-scale campaign of arrests targeting the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank.2
The east Jerusalem sources explained that Hamas has learned to forgo overt activity, instead submerging itself and adopting the behavior of an underground movement.
These sources also say that, despite all that divides these movements, they have several common features though each relates to them differently.
All have the goal of maintaining the religious-Islamic character of the shrines on the Mount. Hence, they function as “antibodies” whenever there is an infusion of Arab secular-nationalist elements. For instance, when Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher came to pray at the mosque in June 2009, he was ejected in disgrace when shoes were thrown at him;3Palestinian Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud al-Habbash was almost lynched;4and representatives of the Jordanian government, even though they were clerics, were violently expelled because of their role (see below).
Thus, the opposition to Israeli presence is part of a much wider refusal to countenance any secular presence at all, even if it is Arab.
These three movements, however, not only unite against Jewish or secular “invaders” but also against Islamic elements that are not part of one of the known frameworks. One such case was the expulsion of the “independent” cleric Salah a-Din Abu Arafa.5
Because the Tahrir Islamic Liberation Party appears to be dominant on the mount, we will consider it first.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Liberation Party
In 1953, during Jordanian rule over east Jerusalem, the Islamic Liberation Party was founded as an anti-Hashemite party by a cleric at Al-Aqsa, Taqi a-Din al-Nabhani.6The party called for a restoration of the Ottoman caliphate, which it saw as the only legal caliphate, and suspected that the Hashemites were planning to declare a caliphate of their own. The party also attacked the Hashemites for cooperating with the British “Crusaders” in ousting the legal dynasty of the caliphs.
Even though Tahrir’s founder and all its “guides” were Palestinians and its current leader, Atta Abu Rashta, is also a Palestinian who lives in Beirut, they do not define themselves as Palestinians in the nationalist sense.7 In their view, Palestine is not a national entity but only a geographical district.
The concept of “liberation” also needs to be clarified: it does not refer to territorial or political liberation in the national sense, but to a total cultural liberation from the influence of Western culture, in fact, a total renunciation of it. In the Palestinian context, this means rejecting any element that is not purely Islamic, whether national authority, elections, or agreements as practiced in Western culture, particularly the Oslo agreements. The party also disdains the Turkish president’s ambition to reestablish the Ottoman caliphate; modern Turkey is, after all, run as a Western country and is a member of NATO.8
The term “party” also requires explanation. It does not refer to a party in the Western sense that runs in elections, but in the Islamic sense of a society of believers in Allah, similar to Hizb-Allah, the Party of Allah.
The Tahrir Party is an international party that is dispersed throughout the globe. In the Palestinian sphere, it focuses on three issues: turning the Al-Aqsa plaza into a podium for declaring the global caliphate, canceling the Oslo agreements, and challenging Jordan’s pretension to be the guardian of the Jerusalem holy places.
According to sources in east Jerusalem, Tahrir is concentrating its overt activity solely on the Al-Aqsa location, unlike in the other West Bank cities where it holds open gatherings.9 Its leaders meet in private homes rather than public places, unlike Raed Salah’s people who can be seen meeting in hotels.10
In the Jerusalem domain, Tahrir has a foothold in Al-Quds University in Abu Dis; on the West Bank it has cells at other universities, such as An-Najah in Nablus,11 in Bethlehem, Bir Zeit near Ramallah, and certainly in Hebron.12
This author had a chance to meet with Tahrir members at their mosque in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa (they have another one in Beit Hanina). The encounter, which happened toward the end of the Annapolis Conference in November 2007, was mediated by a respected east Jerusalem merchant. What I was told there still pertains today. I asked them why they held fervent demonstrations against the conference throughout the West Bank whereas, in Jerusalem of all places, where they had great influence, they were quiet. They answered that their main concern at that stage was the Arab regimes that had deviated from Islam, such as the Palestinian Authority (PA), and that the time for the Al-Aqsa Mosque rallies would come when Israel withdrew from the plaza; they would then enter it13 and proclaim the caliphate. That is, they would not clash with Israel, but as soon as it transferred the responsibility to an Arab regime that did not meet the demands of the caliphate, they would take over.
Thus, their opposition to the PLO stems from the fact that it is a secular-nationalist movement. Tahrir strives to keep the PLO out of the mosque plaza and views all Western-type agreements, such as the Oslo agreements, as invalid.14
There is only one force that will achieve the liberation of Palestine, according to Tahrir, not to establish a secular state but to create a district of the Islamic caliphate; and that force is the future caliphate itself. Any other initiative impedes the flow of history toward the caliphate. Tahrir, therefore, opposed the intifadas and views the present one as a mere nuisance for Israel that does not advance any objective. Jerusalem will only be liberated by the armies of the Muslim caliphate.15
That is also the basis of their opposition to Hamas, which goes along with the Oslo process and is part of the PA ostensibly, thereby granting legitimacy to the rule of “the Jews” or “sons of Zion.” Tahrir does not use the word “Israel.”16
From this standpoint, their opposition to Daesh (the Islamic State) can be understood as well. In Tahrir’s view, Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration of the caliphate does not accord with the path of the Prophet, and since the declaration was made they have kept defining the caliphate as “a caliphate in the ways of the Prophet.” They also disapprove of Daesh’s cruelty for contravening the Prophet’s practice of mercy.17
As noted, however, Tahrir is not a Palestinian party but a worldwide one with a branch in the Palestine district. In Tahrir’s view, the special importance of Palestine is that it includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque, site of the future proclamation of the caliphate.
Thus, some of the party’s activity in Palestine stems from its struggles in the world – for example, in Russia where it is persecuted. Indeed, in Jerusalem the party preaches against the Russian Orthodox Christians who are perceived as serving Russia’s interests.18
Tahrir is essentially a dawa party – that is, engaged in preaching, not jihad. Hence, it has a modus vivendi with Israel, which, in turn, enables it to confront almost all the forces operating in Jerusalem. And yet Tahrir is also inching toward terror. The term used by Tahrir for this phenomenon refers to an incubator of young chicks; in other words, Tahrir is an incubator of terror.19
For example, in a visit to mourners in Jenin, a group of Tahrir consolers came very close to preaching terror.20 They praised Palestinian youth “who fight the occupation with a knife, with a screwdriver; and after all those with military ranks have disappeared, and all the Arab and Muslim rulers have abandoned the people of Palestine … the blood of the shahids will illuminate the path of those who strive on behalf of Islam, for the fulfillment of Allah’s promises to restore the caliphate.”
Indeed, it appears that some of the Daesh phenomena in Jerusalem stem from the Tahrir preachers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque (more below).
Hamas, as noted, operates underground, does not reveal who its leaders are, and to a very large extent is managed politically by the expellees in Ramallah. The latest sit-down strike for the Hamas expellees in the courtyard of the Red Cross did not attract crowds; this author visited the event and saw how meagerly attended it was. East Jerusalem sources say that Gaza-based Hamas does not wield influence in Jerusalem, and what is referred to as Hamas is actually Muslim Brotherhood people such as Akrima Sabri and his ally, Sheikh Raed Salah, who represent Turkey more than Qatar and are part of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood network, not of Gaza – on which more below.
Several strikes that Gaza-based Hamas tried to impose in east Jerusalem were thwarted both by the Muslim Brotherhood and Tahrir people, east Jerusalem sources reported to this author.
Hamas’ power center in Hebron has also tried to send preachers to Al-Aqsa. These efforts were foiled by Israel – to the satisfaction of former Hebronites in Jerusalem who did not want the “Hebron spirit” to be imposed on them, according to east Jerusalem sources.
Because Israel suppresses the military and political wings of Hamas in east Jerusalem, the movement’s leading figures there are the businessman Mustafa Abu Zahara21 who, according to east Jerusalem sources, also promotes Turkey’s interests, and the educational figure Jamil Hamami,22 who is also a member of the Supreme Muslim Council.
The Islamic movements set the tone for east Jerusalem’s internal politics to a very great extent. Yet one cannot discount the Fatah movement or even veteran PLO movements that have almost vanished from the political map such as the Popular Front, which, according to east Jerusalem sources, have a considerable hold on problematic places for Israel such as the village of Isawiyah.
East Jerusalem sources say23 that Fatah, because of its weakness, “rides on the horses of others” when it sees a development it does not want to be left out of. For example, the Fatah spokesman in Jerusalem, Rifat Alian, declared that Fatah supports the Murabitat (of the Islamic Movement), even though everyone knows about the deep animosity between the two movements.24 He also supported the latest cycle of violence, the “Habbah,” and indeed Fatah – the parent-movement – stood behind the outbreak of the intifada.
The Fatah movement in Jerusalem, however, is not homogeneous. To assess its role one needs to understand some of the societal components that influence the movement. First, there is the group of veteran Jerusalem clans, particularly the Husseinis and also the Nusseibahs, who were hit hard by the closing of Orient House. The prevailing view in east Jerusalem is that Faisal Husseini’s demise left a vacuum of leadership not only for Fatah but for the east Jerusalem Palestinians in general.
Faisal Husseini died of a heart attack in Kuwait in 2001. In private conversations, however, former Orient House elements accuse PLO leader Yasser Arafat of demoralizing Husseini in a way that led to his death. Arafat was not enamored with Husseini’s status and constantly suspected that eventually he would be the key figure in a new Palestinian leadership that would oust the old PLO.
Along with this nucleus of veteran families, over the years, a large number of Hebronites have settled in Jerusalem – to the old families’ distress. Conversations with these two parts of the population quickly reveal the mutual distaste, which is a variant of the old tension between Faisal Husseini in his Orient House headquarters in Jerusalem and Arafat in the Mukata in Ramallah.
In addition to this division, Fatah circles outside of Jerusalem also project influence into the city. This is particularly the case regarding developments beyond the separation fence, as well as problematic locations such as the refugee camps in Kalandia and Shuafat.25
For their part, Fatah people in the Old City, mainly from the original families but also some of the Hebronites, have no desire to clash with Israel; like the Tahrir Party, they seek to entrench their power in the city to the detriment of Hamas while maintaining correct relations with Israel. Some of them also take part in security-coordination meetings with Israel.26
Nevertheless, the latest wave of terror attacks stemmed from Fatah in the periphery – from the Kalandia and Isawiyah camps and neighborhoods and elsewhere.
Within the city, a leading Fatah personality is Nasser Kos, who was Faisal Husseini’s bodyguard. Another prominent individual is Adnan Husseini, a former Waqf official and now governor of the city who also manages the area, as much as he can do so, from beyond the separation fence. The nature of his activity was evident in his most recent initiative to pay compensation to the Old City merchants for intifada-related damages, a move that counteracted these merchants’ growing anger toward Fatah.
Fatah’s main concern is that Jerusalem’s Palestinian-Islamic/national character will lose out to its Jewish character. It works behind the scenes to prevent the sale of Palestinian properties to Jews, though without directly confronting Israel. The person believed to be coordinating this activity is the special adviser for Jerusalem affairs in the Mukata, Ahmed Royachi.27
When Haggai Street was closed in reaction to the stabbing attacks, Fatah feared that this move would lead to a Jewish takeover of the entire street as in the case of Shuhada Street in Hebron. To a considerable extent, it was because Fatah elements, along with merchants along the street, appealed to Israel that the street was reopened.
This move was important for Fatah in showing the Old City merchants that whereas the Islamic movements, and particularly Raed Salah and Hamas, cause them damage, Fatah’s interactions with Israel are to their benefit and safeguard their interests along with those of the Arab city in general.
Hamas’ anger over these moves by Fatah was very evident in a critical article about “The Cooperation” of Fatah with Israel that was posted on Hamas’
websites.28 The headline says it all: “How is it that the ‘prohibited’ Fatah organization operates unhampered in Jerusalem?” The article also asks: “How is it that Fatah has clubs in the Old City and Israel does not close them?”
An interview with senior Fatah official Abu Ala shed light on the mood in Fatah and their anger over the Mukata, and about the movement’s power structure in Jerusalem. Abu Ala also did not hide his criticism of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas without mentioning his name.29 He said that the PLO does not have a presence (neither generally nor in Jerusalem), and that all different Fatah frameworks, each of which operates separately without authority or budgets, need to unite.
Abu Ala detailed the Fatah components in Jerusalem as follows:
- The PLO’s Jerusalem department (which he heads),
- The “popular assembly” headed by senior Fatah official Uthman Abu Garbiya,
- Abbas bureau (headed by Ahmed Ruweidi),
- The governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Husseini
As Abbas’ aide Ahmed Ruweidi remarked in an interview to Radio Palestine, Fatah runs “youth committees” in the city. According to sources in the Fatah Tanzim,30 the movement has also infiltrated its people into all the neighborhoods, from which they report back to the Fatah center in Ramallah on developments in the city while monitoring the residents.
Hamas, to counter what it sees as cooperation between Israel and Fatah, is establishing an opposing bloc that comprises Raed Salah and his main ally in the Old City, Akrima Sabri, with Turkey in the background.
Even though Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood do not overlap in Jerusalem, Hamas, suppressed by Israel, relies on the Brotherhood. Raed Salah, for his part, is protected for the time being by Israeli law, and Israel has not acted against Akrima Sabri because it has not viewed him as a security risk.31
The Jerusalem-based branch of Fatah of the veteran families tries to express its distinctness from Ramallah-based Fatah in two contrasting ways. On the one hand, it highlights the militant history of Faisal Husseini’s father, Abd al-Qadr al-Husseini32 in the 1930s and 1940s – though not, interestingly, that of the Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, as this poster indicates:
Despite the poster, nothing is known about any real preparation for terror in this vein. There is, however, activity in the opposite direction: that of general and civic education, social empowerment, and a distancing from terror in the institution called the Faisal Husseini Foundation,33 which is run by Faisal Husseini’s son, Abd al-Qadr.
This foundation’s website includes no direct link to the PLO. The list of contributors includes Kuwait, where Faisal Husseini died, West European countries, and the Palestine Association of Today, which is identified with Muhammad Dahlan and Salam Fayyad.
In conversations with members of this circle, and with Fatah people in Jerusalem generally, harsh criticism of the Mukata is not uncommon. In one meeting between Jerusalem Fatah people and Abbas – of which there are not many – Jerusalem activists said that the city receives much less from the PA than the average West Bank city such as Salfit, even “less than half.”34
This complaint about a lack of funding for east Jerusalem was also part of the conflict between Faisal Husseini and Arafat, who also was tightfisted with budgets for Orient House and forbade Husseini from recruiting contributions himself.
The two examples, then, reveal a tendency among the local Fatah, which is the Fatah of the veteran families and Orient House, of detachment from Ramallah and even from Fatah and the PLO. This tendency is even more evident in the case of Sari Nusseibeh, who, when he was president of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, wanted his institution to be recognized as an Israeli university.35
This tendency, however, was of course limited to the veteran families. Among other parts of the population, the picture is different. For example, the person considered the head of Fatah’s violent Tanzim faction, Adnan Gitti of Silwan, has clashed with Israel, was arrested, and after being released, opened an office “beyond the fence.” He said Abbas had no control over the intifada and “predicted” that it would triumph.36
And, in general, Fatah activity “beyond the fence” projects violence toward Jerusalem and is also connected with the intifada, both because of the violent nature of the Fatah Tanzim and because of the internal war within the refugee camps and neighborhoods beyond the fence between militias of the Tanzim, Dahlan, and General Security chief Majed Faraj. These factors undermine the sense of security of the population within Jerusalem. A visit to the areas outside the fence makes clear that the fence has made them part of the PA and not of Jerusalem.
The Islamic State and the Christians
The Islamist winds that are blowing in east Jerusalem bring with them the spirit of Daesh (the Islamic State). So far Daesh has not been a significant, active force in east Jerusalem. But the first signs of its emergence particularly worry the Christians.
According to Christian sources in east Jerusalem, the Daesh phenomenon stems from the existing Islamist network and feeds off Christian-Muslim tensions that go back years.37
The main focus of these frictions is the Vatican’s Rosary School. The Islamic movements goad the Muslim parents to oppose the school’s policy of forbidding the girl students to wear a headscarf. For years the school’s administration withstood the pressures and did not permit the wearing of the hijab, insisting that this does not entail discriminating against another religion.38 Recently, though, the administration has changed its stance and allowed the hijab.39
Meanwhile, the Islamist school known as Al-Iman is led by the abovementioned senior Hamas official Jamil Hamami, who is also a member of the Supreme Muslim Council.40 Sources say it is he who urged the parents of the Rosary girls to insist on wearing the head scarf; the girl students in his school are required to wear it. As Christian sources noted bitterly: “He demands the wearing of the headscarf in Rosary in the name of religious freedom, but in the Iman school, there is no religious freedom not to wear the headscarf.”
With this demand, new Daesh proclamations materialized. The organization added a harsh demand to the old ones: that the female teachers should not appear before the Muslim students while wearing a cross – and this in a Vatican school!
A Daesh proclamation that preceded the “Rosary proclamation” was even more grave: it called on all the Christians in Jerusalem to leave the city or suffer the consequences. All this happens against the backdrop of the massacre of Christians and destruction of churches in Syria and Iraq.
What amazed Fatah and Hamas operatives, as well as Sheikh Raed Salah, was that at the height of the campaign to “save Al-Aqsa,” Daesh did not refer to Al-Aqsa at all but only to the Christians, according to our sources in the east of the capital. Hamas and Fatah operatives mocked the Islamists on this matter, and even PA officials expressed wonderment. For example, the ambassador of Palestine in Madrid, Kifah Odeh, in a Radio Palestine broadcast on the Daesh terror attacks in Paris, expressed amazement that, despite the suffering of the Palestinian people, Daesh, or Al Qaeda, did not mount any operation against Israel. They incite against the West – but have not carried out any operation against Israel.”41
According to Fatah sources, the Tahrir Party, Hamas, and Raed Salah are responsible for an “incubation” phenomenon. They may not want Daesh or Al Qaeda people to issue from their ranks, but they are incubators of “chicks” that become more extreme. It is known that Raed Salah followers in Israel move on to Daesh.42 The struggle between Hamas and the Vatican over the hijab at Rosary and the requirement to wear the hijab at Iman, “incubated” as proclamations of Daesh.
In general, it is hard not to discern the Daesh winds blowing in east Jerusalem. For example, in the lobby of a major hotel, pictures were hung that omitted any trace of Christianity from the city. The entire urban landscape is devoid of churches, and parts of the Jewish city, of course, were absent as well; and an apocalyptic black Daesh horse decorated the lobby.
Sources in Nablus assessed 20-40 percent support for Daesh in the city! There is also support for Daesh in Hebron, and last Christmas the organization made a provocative appearance in Bethlehem.
In that instance, Bethlehem hotels received phone calls demanding that the Christmas celebrations be canceled on pain of being attacked. Some decided to comply and others took the risk. Christian sources in East Jerusalem said that many tourists who came for the celebrations requested to leave for Nazareth, but the hotels in Nazareth were already full. The Christians’ disappointment stemmed not only from the Daesh threats but from the PLO organizations’ reactions. Instead of protecting the Christians, they justified the threats by saying it was inappropriate to hold celebrations during the intifada.
Following the Bethlehem event, Palestinian security forces launched an arrest campaign of Daesh suspects in Bethlehem and Kalkilya.43
Abbas spoke in the Christians’ defense, but also added a threat to the Orthodox Church not to sell land to Jews.
Palestinian security sources said that the main incubator of Daesh is the Tahrir movement; Christian sources added that the person who especially stirs the Daesh winds is the Tahrir preacher Issam Amira.44 These sources said that, after an anti-Christian exhortation about a month ago in which he demanded that they pay the Muslims the special tax for Christians, the jizra, fanatic Muslims attacked Christians in the Christian Quarter of the Old City.
A check of Issam Amira’s sermons reveals that he is not only preoccupied with attacking the Christians of Jerusalem but Christianity and Western culture in general. Indeed, sources in Tahrir have said that, once Israel leaves the place, the movement aims to change the mosque plaza into a global podium of preaching for the caliphate.45
The Christian sources added that during the recent holidays of Ramadan and Christmas, there were almost no exchanges of holiday greetings between Christians and Muslims. An evil wind is indeed blowing in the city.
Foreign Actors’ Involvement in Events in the City
In addition to the internal struggles, there is also a contest over the city between foreign actors: Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.
Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia has no interest in promoting its status in Jerusalem; the Wahabi kingdom regards the city as a competitor of Mecca.46
Not long ago, Abbas’ emissary, the adviser for Jerusalem issues at the Mukata, Ahmed Ruweid, returned from Saudi Arabia and told Radio Palestine that “the Arab League has not supported and will not support Jerusalem.”47
Abbas often complains that the Arab League did not honor its promise to funnel $400 million into east Jerusalem. There is good reason to believe that the Wahabi kingdom torpedoed the decision.
In the distant past, Saudi Arabia contributed carpets to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This was seen at the time, however, as a way to undermine Jordan and its ambition to compete with Saudi Arabia as “guardian of the holy places,” which then appeared dangerous to the Saudis because Jordan was an ally of Saddam Hussein.
Given the current challenges of a changing east Jerusalem, this aspiration of Jordan’s is no longer seen as a major threat; hence, there is no tension between these two Sunni powers.
An interesting testimony on Saudi Arabia’s attitude toward the Al-Aqsa Mosque can be found in a sermon by a cleric who is not part of the known movements, Salah al-Din Abu Arafa.48In it he told the Saudis that there is no contradiction between “Al-Haram al-Qudsi,” that is, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the “Haram” of Mecca.
Jerusalem between Turkey and Jordan
From Jordan’s standpoint, its status in the mosque plaza remains essential because the Hashemite dynasty’s prestige lies in its role as protector of the mosques. The challenges to that status come from many sides: the Tahrir Party, Sheikh Raed Salah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas,49 Fatah, and elements in Israel that seek to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Jordan retains a special tie to east Jerusalem where it ruled for 19 years between 1948 and 1967. The first King Abdullah (great-grandfather of the current king) was assassinated on the Temple Mount in 1951 by a Husseini clan member. And the late King Hussein sold properties in London in order to pay for the gilding of the Dome of the Rock.
Israel has a great interest in preserving the status quo and safeguarding Jordan’s status as embodied in the peace agreements with it. Hence, the Waqf administration, which is linked with Jordan, is the only address Israel recognizes in the east of the city.
A special danger looms for Jordan, however, because of Turkey’s involvement, which, in turn, is made possible by the aggressive involvement in east Jerusalem of Raed Salah’s Islamic Movement.
Saudi Arabia’s absence gives Turkey an opening, and two dyed-in-the-wool representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, Raed Salah and Akrima Sabri, were the conduit through which Turkey penetrated east Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa plaza. Indeed, according to east Jerusalem sources, it is the Israeli activists at the mosque plaza who hang the Turkish flags on Al-Aqsa.
The main institution out of which Akrima Sabri operates is the Association of Love for Protecting Children in Distress50 in Ras al-Amoud. According to sources, funding for purchasing and preparing the property arrived from Turkey. Previously other buildings were purchased that will become a center for Turkish activity in east Jerusalem.
The institution’s Facebook page51 shows that it works not only to protect children but also to maintain the original, Islamic nature of Jerusalem – not as blatantly as in the Daesh pictures but in a similar vein.
A notable public phenomenon in the city is the move to Turkish-style shawarma (a popular meat sandwich) by numerous food stalls as large Turkish flags flutter above them.
Along with Akrima Sabri’s establishment, Turkish institutions are directly involved in Jerusalem’s affairs, and particularly one, called TIKA, is directly identified with the president of Turkey. This association’s website makes clear that it works in all territories of the Ottoman Empire to rehabilitate the old Ottoman heritage,53 and also in territories toward which the Ottoman Empire aspires such as the Turkmen regions in Russia. One of TIKA’s projects is to renovate the Nebi Musa site which was used for Sufi celebrations in Ottoman days.54 Other projects have to do with sports55 and preserving the Islamic heritage of Jerusalem in the spirit of the Muslim Brotherhood.56
Another Turkish organization directly involved in east Jerusalem is Kanadil, which supports educational institutions. For example, it contributed $140,000 to the Taawon Institution.57 According to Kanadil’s Twitter page, it focuses on Jerusalem and particularly the Al-Aqsa plaza, in keeping with the values of the Muslim Brotherhood.58
The Turkish activity ignores Israel but is mainly anti-Jordanian. The Hashemite dynasty draws its legitimacy from its responsibility for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is part of the peace treaty with Israel. The Waqf administration, which is comprised of Jordanian officials, is the only body that Israel recognizes as part of the status quo.
To understand the delicate balance that has emerged between Israel, Jordan, and Turkey, one must return to the events of May 23, 2015. On that day, a vociferous mob of Palestinians disrupted the sermon and prayer service of the head of the Jordanian qadis, Dr. Ahmed al-Huleil, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and finally ejected him with blows.59
To grasp the significance of this incident, one must go back a few days earlier to the visit to the site by the Turkish minister of religious affairs, Prof. Muhammad Gormaz; he was received with great honor and his words were listened to attentively.60 In other words, the Islamic forces at the Al-Aqsa plaza acted on behalf of Turkey and against Jordan, and if they can, they will remove Jordan and admit Turkey.
As for the Fatah people’s behavior, it is consistent with their policy of joining initiatives of the other movements. A thorough check of the messages that the Turkish personality conveyed, however, can only worry Fatah. For example, in a visit to Hebron, he refused to wear the scarf of the PA, with the black and white keffiyeh, but rather wore the green scarf of Hamas.
Who are these forces? First and foremost, it was the Tahrir Islamic Liberation Party that organized the rally against the Jordanian delegation but did not disturb the Turkish minister. The party’s anti-Jordanian posture is historical. It also attacks Turkey for its NATO membership and what the party sees as its Western regime. But because the preaching in favor of the Ottoman caliphate and Turkish President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman politics jibe with Tahrir’s ideology, it looks favorably upon Turkey’s penetration of Jerusalem at Jordan’s expense, according to sources in the eastern part of the city.
Jordanian sources complain that when the Jordanian dignitaries visited, Tahrir people engaged in shouting and harassment, but followers of Raed Salah, Hamas, and Fatah attacked them physically.
This situation has posed a crisis between Jordan and the PA, particularly when Jordan learned that a large Tahrir rally was planned for Ramallah. Jordan demanded that the PA cancel the event, but the PA refused. Since then King Abdullah has refused to receive the PA chairman. Jordanian sources say that the PA is promoting Tahrir in order to weaken Hamas.
The PA’s acceptance by UNESCO also created a problem with Jordan. Whereas Jordan had been the one to represent the Jerusalem issue until that point, the PA did not hide its eagerness to use its UNESCO membership to gain status in the city. After Jordan applied pressure, the PA and Jordan signed an agreement saying Jordan will keep representing the Jerusalem issue in UNESCO while the PA will represent Bethlehem.
Yet, despite the “UNESCO agreement,” Ahmed Ruweidi of Abbas’ bureau recently announced that, in any case, the PA is pushing anti-Israeli initiatives at UNESCO.61
The arm-twisting between Jordan and the Palestinians has not come to an end. At present a crisis is brewing on the issue of installing cameras on the Temple Mount which are supposed to help Jordan monitor what happens there.
At present, the issue is frozen. There is an Israeli aspect to it as well, which will not be dealt with here. Because Jordan realizes that the Palestinians will not allow the cameras to operate, the matter may have to be dropped from the agenda.
On November 4, 2015, King Abdullah summoned a broad delegation of representatives of the east Jerusalem population.62 According to people who were at the meeting, the king was sparing with his words, irate, and left immediately; his bureau chief told the delegation that Jordan had restricted its involvement in Jerusalem to the area of the mosque plaza between the walls of the compound, along with Isawiyah. As for the rest of the Jerusalem issues, Amman was renouncing any role.
Another important aspect of the PA-Jordanian tensions concerns east Jerusalem’s link with Ramallah. The east Jerusalem residents hold Jordanian citizenship, but Jordan revokes the citizenship of anyone who obtains Palestinian (or Israeli) citizenship. This practice deters east Jerusalem Palestinians from joining the PA as citizens.
In sum, Jordan is struggling in several arenas to maintain its privileged status in the mosque plaza. It has to fight the Islamic Liberation Party, Hamas, Raed Salah’s Islamic Movement, as well as Fatah to a certain extent. It maintains its status thanks to the status quo arrangement with Israel and the special role of the Waqf administration.
For their part, the Islamic movements undermine the status quo, vilify Jordan for deriving its authority from an agreement with Israel, reject Jordan, and promote Turkey.
Russia, Tahrir, and the Orthodox Christians
On January 22, 2016, the Tahrir Party issued a proclamation in east Jerusalem against the Orthodox Christians there, warning them not to help Russia purchase a property that Tahrir defined as a Waqf property from the early days of Islam in Hebron. The announcement also accused the PA of helping Russia take over this early Islamic heritage site;63 thus, Tahrir joined Daesh in attacking Christians. But whereas Daesh has concentrated on Catholics, Tahrir focused on the Orthodox link to Russia, and it is not hard to trace the influences here of the struggles in Syria where Russia backs Assad and the Shiites against Turkey and the Sunnis. Tahrir’s proclamation stated:
You lived an honored life among the Muslims for hundreds of years, and many of you came from afar, and the Muslims received you well, and let you dwell among them; as for the wicked powers, [Russia and European states] they only pursue their own interests, and you do not interest them, and many of you know that… Do not make an alliance, and we, the nation of Islam, will not harm those who are under our protection [dhimma].
The announcement goes on to use threatening language, saying the Orthodox Christians should “be warned” against selling Waqf property to Russia.
Tahrir, however, wants to distinguish itself from Daesh. Whereas in its view, Daesh is “violating a covenant” with the Christians and slaughtering them, Tahrir “keeps the covenant” of providing protection – dhimma – but warns the Christians against violating their side of the covenant by supporting Russia and, thus, Assad as well.
According to east Jerusalem sources, the Orthodox Christians are divided among themselves between the Greek clergy, which is maintaining its status, and the Arab believers who have been unable to penetrate the high levels of the priesthood. Whereas the Greek clergy is loyal to Greece and Russia, the Arab priests are Arab-nationalist and try to maintain good ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. The leading figure in pro-Arab/Islamic Orthodoxy is Archbishop Atallah Hanna. He has, for example, taken part in a Hamas demonstration in Hebron while wrapped in a green Muslim Brotherhood scarf.64 In other words, despite being a senior Orthodox clergyman he opposes Russia, the leading Orthodox power. When a Daesh anti-Christian proclamation was issued, he harshly criticized it and declared that the Christians would not abandon Jerusalem.65
The lower priesthood accuses the higher priesthood of selling church properties to Israel, and at present the Tahrir Party is directing the same accusation at Russia.
* * *
7 https://khelafah.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%A3%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%AE-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85-%D8%B9%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A8%D9%86-%D8%AE%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%84-%D8%A3. Abu Rashta’s personal website sets forth his stances, which deal with the current issues from the religious standpoint.
8 Tahrir criticizes, for example, Erdogan’s policy in Syria, which relies on the West, and they also have not forgotten his old alliance with Assad. http://www.pal-tahrir.info/flash/8676-بدل-نصرة-أهل-الشام-والثأر-من-عدوهم،-لسان-حال-أردوغان-أن-دمروا-ما-شئتم-وهجروا-واقتلوا-ونحن-علينا-الإيواء.html
See also: Tahrir against Turkey: http://hizb.net/?p=4719 and http://www.pal-tahrir.info/flash/8676-%D8%A8%D8%AF%D9%84-%D9%86%D8%B5%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A3%D9%87%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AB%D8%A3%D8%B1-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%B9%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%87%D9%85%D8%8C-%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A3%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%BA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A3%D9%86-%D8%AF%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A7-%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%B4%D8%A6%D8%AA%D9%85-%D9%88%D9%87%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A7-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%88%D8%A7-%D9%88%D9%86%D8%AD%D9%86-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%86%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%A1.html
10 For example, this writer saw Akrima Sabri meet with Raed Salah people at the Ambassador Hotel.
12 “British consul general driven out of West Bank university,” Hizb ut-Tahrir, Britain, March 6, 2013. http://www.hizb.org.uk/news-watch/british-consul-general-driven-out-of-west-bank-university
13 Tahrir people are not waiting until Israel leaves the plaza, and they have already made the mosque a podium for preaching to the Muslim world as a whole. For example: http://www.pal-tahrir.info/flash/8676-بدل-نصرة-أهل-الشام-والثأر-من-عدوهم،-لسان-حال-أردوغان-أن-دمروا-ما-شئتم-وهجروا-واقتلوا-ونحن-علينا-الإيواء.html In this case, preaching why no ideology can be allowed to replace the words of the Prophet.
14 Adnan Abu Amer, “Pan-Islamic movement becomes political player in Palestine,” Al-Monitor, June 19, 2015, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/06/palestine-hizb-ut-tahrir-al-aqsa-hamas-islamic-caliphate.html#
15 This is a regular motif in their proclamations in east Jerusalem. For example:
18 See below on a Tahrir proclamation against Russia and the Orthodox Christians.
19 In an interview with Ma’an News (note 16), the interviewer asserted, without opposition from the Tahrir spokesman, that the party is one of dawa and not of struggle; that is, it operates through preaching, not violence.
21 https://www.facebook.com/qpressn/videos/487286031432641 He is designated as head of the Committee for the Protection of Muslim Graves and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtMxvKxg-U0&app=desktop channeling economic assistance to the Old City merchants. In this clip he is trying to organize a demonstration in the Old City, but it is very limited in size. In addition, a senior Fatah official in the city, Hatam Abd al-Qadr, is taking part in a Hamas demonstration, in line with Fatah’s practice of joining the activity of others so as to maintain a certain extent of their own activity. Mustafa Abu Zahara also reports that they get a boost from the Islamic Movement of the Israeli Arabs.
22 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GInBmYxib6Y In this clip he rejects, in the name of the Supreme Muslim Council, Jordan’s role under the agreement with Israel, and asserts that the whole Muslim world is responsible for Al-Aqsa.
23 In a personal conversation.
26 According to Fatah sources in Jerusalem.
27 For example, his interview to Dunya al-Watan: http://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/news/2015/02/24/667852.html On January 1, 2016, he gave an interview to Radio Palestine in which he sounded dejected after a visit to Saudi Arabia to raise funds for maintaining the city’s Islamic character. He remarked: “The Arabs have not fulfilled their obligations to Jerusalem and will not do so in the future either.” He said that “youth committees of Fatah” are monitoring Arab property to ensure it is not acquired by Jewish organizations, but to a limited extent.
30 In a conversation with the author.
31 According to descriptions by East Jerusalem sources.
34 In a personal conversation with Fatah people in Jerusalem.
35 According to sources in the university, Nusseibeh was attacked by Fatah writers for his efforts to cancel boycotts of Israeli universities: http://pulpit.alwatanvoice.com/articles/2005/05/27/22490.html
37 In a conversation with the author.
39 Facebook page of the fighters for the hijab: https://www.facebook.com/Tolerance.In.Jerusalem.Private.Schools, December 4, 2015.
40 See note 22.
41 Radio interview recorded by the author.
42 In the assessment of Palestinian security officials, there are about 200 Israeli Arabs in the ranks of Daesh.
44 https://www.linga.org/local-news/NzUyNg But Issam Amira is not the only one. For example, Sheikh Said al-Karmi, one of the leading Tahrir preachers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, accuses the Jews and Christians of distorting the religion of Abraham – but particularly the Christians for adding idol worship to the original religion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KJbBAMKIhM&feature=youtu.be
45 See above. He says one must fight non-Muslims even if they extend their hand in peace, so as to subjugate them to the religion of Allah.
47 See the note above
49 See the words of Jamil Hamami in note 22.
52 Black horse ridden by a “soldier of Allah”
61 March 15, 2016.
62 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-uDsACwSM8 It was strange to see that the guests included Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List in the Knesset. Perhaps it had to do with anger at how Israel was then permitting Raed Salah’s activity.
64 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB3mZtRB-Jw In general, Atallah Hana’s cooperation with Akrima Sabri is impressive. For example: http://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/news/2015/07/30/750726.html, http://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/news/2015/07/05/739368.html