Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- Tens of millions of dollars are disbursed by Turkey each year for various projects and to gain influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City, and east Jerusalem.
- The Turks’ allies in the city are affiliated with the Israeli Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and with the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Two recent flashpoints are in the vicinity of the Western Wall and al-Zahra Street in east Jerusalem, where the Turkish Cultural Center is located.
- Erdogan is trying to boost “al-Aqsa tourism” by Turkish citizens and Muslims from around the world.
- Turkey’s Our Heritage (Mirasimiz) and TIKA nonprofit associations are at the forefront of Turkish assistance to various Islamic projects in Jerusalem.
- Turkey funds Hamas activities and harbors Hamas terrorists.
Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighborhoods. It is encouraging welfare-religious (dawa) activities – in the form of economic, communal, religious, and social assistance – aimed at drawing the Palestinian public toward the Turkish-Islamic heritage and at weakening Israel’s hold on the Old City and east Jerusalem.
In the second decade of the 21st century, Turkish nonprofit associations – and sometimes the Turkish government itself via the governmental aid agency TIKA – have funneled tens of millions of dollars into various initiatives that have enhanced Turkey’s influence on the Temple Mount compound, the vicinity of the Mount, the Old City, and east Jerusalem. In many of the locations, the activity has been done in cooperation with activists ideologically linked to the Muslim Brotherhood movement in east Jerusalem or to members of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which is led by Sheikh Raed Salah (the Northern Branch was outlawed in November 2015).
Two significant centers of dawa activity recently encouraged by Turkey are the Emad Abu Khadija Shop and the Turkish Culture Center. The shop, which TIKA has renovated, is on HaShalshelet Street, just a two-minute walk from the Western Wall. Serving as a café and restaurant, it is also a magnet for Turkish and Islamic tourism and is adorned with Turkish and PLO flags as well as pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The Sultan was accused of massacres of the Armenian people and sharply rebuffed Theodor Herzl’s request to lay the groundwork for a Jewish state. Also found at the shop are publications about “the real heritage of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa.” Postings in recent years by the shop or its personnel have encouraged identification with figures such as Mohammed Morsi, the late former president of Egypt and Muslim Brotherhood member, or Northern Branch leader Raed Salah and his deputy Kamal Khatib.
The second hub of dawa activity, the Turkish Culture Center, is located on al-Zahra Street in east Jerusalem. A few months ago, a cooperation agreement was signed between the Jerusalem Waqf and the center, which sometimes acts as an operational arm of the Turkish consulate in Jerusalem. Representing the Waqf at the signing ceremony was Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, whom Israel recently banned from the Temple Mount.1 Sabri, who denies the legitimacy of Israel’s existence and more than once has inflamed passions on the Mount with harsh words about “the West,” the United States, and Israel, is the former mufti of Jerusalem and one of the prominent preachers at al-Aqsa. He is close to Erdogan, and about two and a half years ago, the Turkish president awarded him the Guardian of Jerusalem Medal. He, too, is affiliated with both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Movement in Israel.
On the Ruins of Western Liberalism
The common denominator between Erdogan, the Northern Branch, and figures like Ekrima Sabri consists of the tenets and spirit of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to which “Islam is the solution” to all problems of the individual, the society, and the state. The Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology centers on an Islamic renaissance and rule by Islamic law (that is, a caliphate), to be established first in the Islamic countries and then globally on the ruins of Western liberalism. The Muslim Brotherhood denies Israel’s right to exist and views all of “Palestine” as an Islamic endowment (waqf).
For years, Erdogan has been positioning himself at the center of this array. Viewing himself as the successor to the line of Ottoman sultans, he wants to revive the empire and regards himself as responsible for Jerusalem from the Islamic standpoint. In his own eyes, Erdogan is the heir to Saladin and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and the Turks are the “grandchildren” of those two figures. Erdogan sometimes invokes the dream of the caliphate, like his partner Raed Salah (who was recently sentenced to 28 months in prison for inciting terror and praising the perpetrators of the July 2017 terror attack on the Temple Mount).
Erdogan has restored the study of the Ottoman Turkish language in Turkish schools, and in official receptions for foreign leaders, he includes honor guards wearing the uniforms of the soldiers of the Ottoman caliphate and not the old republican honor guard. Erdogan’s Turkey regards itself as the representative of Muslim civilization, and Erdogan sees himself as the partner, patron, and protector of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Muslim world. His AKP Islamic Justice and Development Party is close to the Muslim Brotherhood in its outlook. It seeks to reestablish Turkish influence in areas that in the past were part of the Ottoman Empire.
While still prime minister, Erdogan emphasized this point more than once, describing as “sisters” a series of cities that the Ottoman Empire ruled in the past – Mecca, Medina, Cairo, Alexandria, Beirut, Damascus, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, and Ankara. “The world must know and understand,” he declared, “that Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, Rafah, Gaza, and Jerusalem, too, are sister cities and their residents are our brothers.”
Thus, Erdogan linked the distant vision of the caliphate with his current, central concern for Palestine, Jerusalem, and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Indeed, these days Erdogan is active in different parts of the world, but first and foremost in Jerusalem. His sights have been set on it for years. Since becoming president of Turkey in August 2014, he has shown increasing involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a strong and overt emphasis on Jerusalem as the focal point of the conflict. “Every day that Jerusalem is under occupation,” Erdogan has asserted more than once, “is an insult to us.”3 In the summer of 2017, he called to conquer Jerusalem by means of a mass influx of Muslim tourists to Israel, and over the years, he has indeed taken the trouble himself to encourage hundreds of thousands from Turkey to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque. His partner in Israel, Salah, meanwhile promoted the project of transporting large numbers of Israeli Arabs to al-Aqsa as well as the activity of the Murabitun and Murabitat organizations. These are subsidiaries of the Northern Branch (which have also been outlawed for now) that for years tried to physically block Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and have inflamed passions there.
A Planned, Organized Initiative
The Murabitun (men) and Murabitat (women) of the Northern Branch did not come to the Temple Mount spontaneously. They have been busy there daily for several years as a result of a well-planned and organized initiative. The women and men taking part received a monthly salary for their activity on the Mount, were brought there free of charge on chartered buses, and were supplied with food and drink.
The symbiosis between Salah, who was behind the Murabitun and Murabitat activity, and Erdogan, who backed and assisted him, is evident from Salah’s words following the incident of the Turkish Marmara flotilla ten years ago:4
Herzl once wanted the Zionist endeavor to begin from Turkey, and now events indicate to any intelligent person that the Zionist endeavor will come to its end in Turkey…. The blood of the martyrs and wounded of the freedom flotilla carries many messages, among them the blending of Palestinian blood with Turkish blood…. The future of Istanbul is part of the future of al-Quds [Jerusalem], the future of Ankara is part of the future of Gaza, and the future of the Muhammad al-Fatah Mosque [in Istanbul] is part of the future of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Numerous delegations from Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, and the Gulf states have visited Jerusalem and al-Aqsa over the years, and Erdogan, who assumed a key role in the funding and organizing of “al-Aqsa tourism,” has long been trying to take charge of this activity. A few years ago, he launched a publicity blitz aimed at persuading large numbers of Muslims to come to Jerusalem and al-Aqsa.
In the spring of 2017, the Turkish president called on Muslims to come to Jerusalem en masse to support the Palestinians.6 “We must visit al-Aqsa much more,” Erdogan declared. He noted with disappointment that “only 26,000 tourists” had come to Jerusalem from Turkey in 2015 – the largest number of all the Muslim countries, but much lower than hundreds of thousands of Americans, Russians, and French who visited the city and al-Aqsa. “Why don’t hundreds of thousands of Muslims, too, visit al-Quds?” Erdogan wondered. “These visits would constitute the greatest support of our brothers there.”7 Indeed, the push for “al-Aqsa tourism” is subsidized by Turkish government funds.
Over the past decade, Turkey has become a hub for raising funds and supporting activities on the Temple Mount. Turkish nonprofit associations have assumed a central role, particularly since 2014, in financing the work of the Northern Branch, which was behind the Murabitun and Murabitat presence at al-Aqsa.
A key role was played here by the Aman organization and by the Hadiak company. Aman was a “shelf” nonprofit association set up by Northern Branch activists in case restrictions were imposed on the Islamic Movement. Its offices were in the Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, and a bank account was opened for it in one of the Israeli Bedouin communities. The Hadiak company was owned by one of the activists of Muasasat al-Aqsa (the al-Aqsa Institute), and two bank accounts were opened for it in east Jerusalem. Even after the Northern Branch was banned, the aim was that it should continue its dawa (welfare) activity in Israel, Jerusalem, and on the Temple Mount. One of the group’s senior officials went to Turkey, where he worked out an agreement with members of the Miratuna (Our Heritage) nonprofit association that funds would continue to flow for the Northern Branch’s activity in Israel via Hadiak under Aman’s supervision.
The senior Northern Branch official met in Turkey with members of other local nonprofit associations, including Beit al-Mikdas, the Women of al-Aqsa, al-Tadaman, al-Buraq, and Yadan Biyad, and asked them for funding for the Northern Branch’s ongoing activity. The details about that activity and how to transfer the funds were agreed upon in a meeting held at the al-Aqsa Mosque at the start of the month of Ramadan in 2016 and in another meeting at an Umm al-Fahm café. According to the indictment served against seven Northern Branch activists in the Jerusalem District Court, the foreign nonprofit associations transferred (mainly from Turkey but also from Britain) millions of shekels that helped the Northern Branch advance its goals even after it was banned. The money for about 20 different projects went for purchasing food for the breaking of the Ramadan fast at the al-Aqsa Mosque plaza, providing olive trees to east Jerusalem residents to plant in their own soil, renovating mosques in the Negev and in Tarshicha in the Galilee, and various humanitarian activities.
Half a Million Israeli Arabs to Al-Aqsa
Large sums raised in Turkey have enabled the Northern Branch to rent or purchase buses that have brought tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs from the Galilee, the Negev, and the Triangle concentration of Arab towns in Israel to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. A key participant in the bus project was the Turkish nonprofit association Our Heritage, which was partially funded by TIKA, the official Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. At the beginning of the 21st century, TIKA operated as a worldwide humanitarian body, enjoying a huge annual budget of billions of dollars and primarily aiding Islamic institutions, organizations, and populations. Our Heritage, with help from TIKA, prepared a plan to bring about half a million Israeli Arabs to al-Aqsa. It allocated 11.5 million shekels to the project, purchased 11 buses, and each week rented dozens of other buses. Among those transported by Our Heritage were thousands of Murabitun and Murabitat activists.
Our Heritage’s publications say, among other things, that its purpose is “to protect al-Aqsa from the Israeli invasions and the threat to demolish it” and “to overthrow the occupation and the siege.”8 Our Heritage’s plans for transportation to al-Aqsa included many schools from the Israeli Arab sector, and the masses who were brought to the mosque were given food and water at a total cost of 7.5 million shekels. The head of Our Heritage, Muhammat Demerci, spoke in Erdogan’s vein when he predicted the future renaissance of Jerusalem in the context of the Ottoman heritage and said Turkey had the right to intervene in Jerusalem because it was the heir to the Ottomans.
Besides helping Our Heritage transport large numbers of Israeli Arabs to the Temple Mount, TIKA also funneled tens of millions of shekels to east Jerusalem with an emphasis on the Old City and the Mount. According to TIKA publications in 2018, since 2004, the organization had invested millions of dollars in 63 different projects in the eastern part of the city, all of which aimed at protecting “the Muslim heritage and character of Jerusalem and strengthening them.”9 Among other things, TIKA invested in renovating the archives of Muslim Ottoman documents on the Mount; purchased a large water trailer for the worshippers on the Mount; funded rescue excavations on HaShalshelet Street in the Old City; renovated the Muslim cemetery at the foot of the Mount’s eastern wall; and invested in many other religious and community projects in the eastern part of the city. At the helm of TIKA in those years was an Erdogan associate who served in the past as head of his office in the Turkish parliament.
Turkey also paid to replace the old and faded crescent at the top of the Dome of the Rock with a new, gilded, and shiny one. In 2015, the Chairman of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Authority, Mehmet Gormaz, administered the Laylat al-Qadr prayers on the Temple Mount, and during his tenure, Jerusalem was added as a station on the route of the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca. According to Israeli sources, many of the Turkish tourists whom Erdogan urged to visit al-Aqsa were unemployed people who were paid to take part in this initiative, the aim of which was to demonstrate a Turkish presence on the Mount. In recent years, Turkey has wielded considerable influence not only at al-Aqsa but also in parts of the Old City and east Jerusalem. Turkish flags have been raised at many locations; many Turkish foods, alongside Turkish attire and merchandise, are sold in the markets; Turkish cultural centers now operate in east Jerusalem and specifically at Al Ibrahimia College. Some east Jerusalem schools have begun to teach the Turkish language.
Pinhas Inbari, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs who in 2017 investigated Turkish activity in Jerusalem, also pointed to the growing ties between, on the one hand, the Turkish government and nonprofit associations, and, on the other, Raed Salah and Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, Chairman of the Supreme Muslim Council. During that year, Sabri began to wear the white robe worn by members of the Turkish religious establishment, while one of the Turkish publications presented Salah as the governor of Jerusalem. Inbari raised the possibility that the Turks were planning to set up a religious shadow administration in Jerusalem. He noted that Turkish propaganda portrayed the Temple Mount as a site that the Turks would conquer and liberate in the future.10
This Turkish fantasy was also expressed in an animated video that was posted on Facebook and received close to 500,000 shares and 90,000 views. The video, produced by a worldwide Muslim youth organization called “I Am Faithful to Al-Quds,” showed a rumbling bulldozer, surrounded by Israeli soldiers who were protecting it, that battered away at the wall of the Temple Mount. Palestinians who observed what was happening could be seen wringing their hands in despair. Alongside these images, the video shows what appears to be religious Jews walking demonstratively into the Temple Mount compound. At a certain stage, a scene depicts an IDF soldier beating a Palestinian who is standing nearby. Another Palestinian, fleeing in panic from the spot, is shot to death in his back by another Israeli soldier. One of the young Palestinians who are watching the event on their computers decides to mobilize the Muslim world to protect al-Aqsa and sends out an urgent cry for help. In a few seconds, the screen fills with ships, planes, and vehicles. They are adorned with numerous flags of Turkey and Palestine, and they all have one destination: al-Aqsa. After a short time, a human throng storms the gates of the compound, shoves away the soldiers standing at its entrance, and fills every spot of open space in the vast plaza. Al-Aqsa is liberated!
Turkey’s Ties to Hamas Terror
The combination of Turkish money and defiant initiatives on the Temple Mount is almost natural in light of the even more disconcerting relationship between Turkey and the Hamas terror organization. For years, Turkey has served as a haven for Hamas terrorists and military headquarters. Terror attacks or attempted terror attacks in Israel and in Judea and Samaria have been organized and directed from Turkish soil for years. Erdogan has repeatedly asserted that in his view, Hamas is not a terror organization.
In the winter of 2017, it was revealed that a senior director of TIKA, which had helped organize the bringing of half a million Israeli Arabs to the al-Aqsa Mosque, had hoodwinked the agency and was engaged in terror. Muhammad Murteca, director of TIKA’s Gaza Strip branch since 2012, had joined Hamas’ already in 2008. He was involved in military training, manufacturing of weapons, and digging tunnels. Investigations by Israeli security offices showed Murteca diverted TIKA funds to Hamas’ military wing.11 Murteca had also taken part in lessons offered in Gaza mosques where much was said about the “captive” and “desecrated” al-Aqsa Mosque that had to be liberated. During his interrogation, the TIKA official said he had witnessed the transfer of cash-filled suitcases from the Turkish IHH organization in Turkey – which was tied to terror groups and was behind the flotilla to Gaza – to the hands of senior Hamas officials, including some in its military wing.
Profound zealotry for the al-Aqsa issue was also shown by Maher Salah, head of Hamas’ Overseas operation and one of Salah al-Aruri’s associates. Al-Aruri was hosted for years in Turkey, from where he planned and directed terror attacks inside Israel. During the “Jerusalem Pioneers” conference held in Istanbul a few years ago, Salah threatened that Israel with “annihilation;” It would “cease to exist” and “will not get to celebrate a hundred years of independence.”12 “I announce to you,” he asserted, “that some of those present here will be witness to the conquest of Jerusalem and the liberation of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and perhaps will even pray in it…. Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa unite the Ummah, and it is its duty to liberate them. We are the spearhead of the blessed program of jihad.”
Turkey granted safe harbor to Hamas operatives who planned terror attacks in Israel both before and after the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation agreement was signed in June 2016. The agreement was supposed to settle the disputes between the two states stemming from the Marmara episode. From the beginning of the past decade, the terror activity from Turkey was coordinated by al-Aruri, eventually the number-two leader of Hamas. Having been imprisoned in Israel for terror activity, al-Aruri left Israel by agreement sometime before the Shalit deal. He operated in Turkey together with 11 convicted terrorists, who were freed by Israel and expelled to Turkey as part of the Shalit deal. Zahar Jabarin served as his deputy.
Al-Aruri and his comrades recruited Palestinian students from the West Bank to Hamas during their studies abroad and provided them with training in Turkey or in other countries where they were studying. When the recruits returned to Judea and Samaria, senior Hamas officials in Turkey assigned them various missions. The Shabak (Israel Security Agency) uncovered the terror plots in August and September 2014, in which graduates of the courses in Turkey had been involved. Some said in their interrogations that they had been trained in shooting guns in a forest not far from Istanbul.
Also working with al-Aruri in Turkey was Musa al-Akari, brother of Ibrahim al-Akari, who perpetrated the vehicle-ramming attack against Jerusalem light rail passengers in November 2014 out of zeal for al-Aqsa and the conviction that Israel was desecrating it. Musa al-Akari was a member of the gang that kidnapped and murdered Border Police officer Nissim Toledano in 1992. The group planned Toledano’s killing in preparatory meetings held at the al-Aqsa Mosque. Given three life terms, Musa al-Akari was freed in the Shalit deal and joined al-Aruri and the Turkish cell.
As noted, al-Aruri was the coordinator of Hamas terror from abroad. He admitted that Hamas was involved in planning the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenage boys in Gush Etzion in June 2014. Al-Aruri ran his terror network, with many dozens of operatives in Judea and Samaria, directly from Turkey. For this group as well, the Temple Mount was designated as a target – though a secondary one – for violent activity. Its members were arrested by the Shabak before they could carry out their plans. Their main goal was to incite a third intifada and, as it raged, carry out a coup in the West Bank that would remove the Palestinian Authority and put Hamas in power. As part of Hamas’ plan, terror gangs were supposed to make their way from Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Jericho, and from 37 Palestinian villages to perpetrate major attacks against the PA institutions and thus take over Judea and Samaria.
Over the past decade, the Shabak has often uncovered ties between Erdogan’s Turkey and Hamas. About two years ago, the journalist Pazit Ravina, an expert on Arab affairs, published in the Israeli Makor Rishon newspaper a photograph indicating how Erdogan not only supports Hamas on the ideological and political level but is also linked to the group on the tactical level through his military adviser Gen. (ret.) Adnan Tanrıverdi. In the photo, which appeared on the website of the SADAT Turkish security company, is the general during a visit to Saudi Arabia standing beside Hamas official Prof. Jamil Tekeli, who was expelled from Israel, along with the general’s son. His son, Melih Tanriverdi, is the current Chairman of the Board. SADAT, Ravina explains, “is not just another security contractor. Beyond its Islamist agenda, it is considered one of the governmental power centers in Turkey, and Erdogan’s opponents regard it as his private militia.”13
A few days earlier, the Shabak had issued an official announcement on the arrest of Prof. Tekeli and of Umm al-Fahm resident Dara’am Jabarin.15 Tekeli’s interrogation revealed that “Turkey is contributing to the military strengthening of Hamas, among other ways through the SADAT company, which was established by a directive of Adnan Basha, a consultant who is close to elements in the Turkish government.” The Shabak added that “the company was set up to help establish, with money and weapons, a ‘Palestine Army’ whose mission is to fight Israel. One of the company’s workers also facilitated a visit by senior Hamas officials to a weapons exhibition in Turkey, during which they expressed interest in drone capabilities.”16
The Shabak investigators revealed that:
Hamas maintains a direct connection with the Turkish authorities through Jihad Ya’amur, a terror operative who was involved in the kidnapping of the soldier Nachshon Waxman and was freed in the Shalit deal…. Terror operatives whom Takli assisted, most of whom were among those freed in the Shalit deal, were involved in terror attacks that cost Israeli casualties…. The investigation’s findings also revealed wide-ranging Hamas activity in money laundering in Turkey at the behest of Zaher Jabarin…. It turned out that Hamas operatives own a company called IMES. It has served Hamas in camouflaging money-laundering activity in the range of millions of dollars, money that was transferred to the Gaza Strip, and to different countries….”
The company’s importance to Hamas was also revealed in the interrogation of the second suspect who was arrested, Dara’am Jabarin (from Umm al-Fahm, center for the Northern Branch’s activities). Jabarin was recruited to Hamas during his visits to Turkey. He was approached under the guise of business activity by IMES. His operators in Turkey provided him with hundreds of thousands of euros for Hamas’ military infrastructure, and he took care to stash them in a hiding place in Judea and Samaria. The investigation revealed that Dara’am Jabarin’s activity was carried out at the behest of senior Hamas official Zaher Jabarin and his right-hand man Salameh Mar’i, whom Tekeli had helped establish in Turkey. Mar’i, freed in the Shalit deal, was involved in a shooting attack in the Burqin area in March 1993 that killed an IDF soldier.
As the Shabak emphasized in its detailed and unusual announcement, the findings of the investigation “underscore the fact that Hamas’ ramified economic and military activity in Turkey takes place unhindered as Turkish officials turn a blind eye and – on occasion – encourage it, and with the assistance of Turkish nationals, some of whom are close to the government. This activity relies on – inter alia – business platforms that serve Hamas in laundering funds that are transferred to Judea and Samaria and used in recruiting Israelis to its ranks.”17
This article includes passages from Nadav Shragai’s book Al-Aqsa Terror, which was published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Sella Meir.
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16 Shin Bet announcement on their website 14.2.2018 on the clear connection between Turkey, Hamas, and terror attacks.