Visiting Jerusalem as religiously allowed and politically prohibited

For a long time, visiting Jerusalem had been an Islamic tradition associated with pilgrimage season especially for those coming from distant places. This tradition ceased at a certain historical stage related to the consequences of old wars as Europeans – Historically known as crusaders -captured the city of Jerusalem in 1099 AD. Yet, Jerusalem remained a sacred place to which caravans used to be heading to. As Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967 together with all historical Palestine, Arabs and Muslims no longer set up to the city. This was not only for Muslims, but also for Christians who also stopped visiting Jerusalem although they used to visit the sacred shrine, churches and cathedrals which are holly places in Christianity.   

Six months after the war in 1967, Israel agreed to open a crossing between Jordan and Israel with the name of “King Hussein Bridge” which was formally opened on 11th December 1967 upon an Israeli military order number 175 by virtue of which Israel allowed Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation and those living abroad to visit each other. Palestinians in the West Bank and territories occupied in 1948 were allowed to leave through King Hussein Bridge after getting written approval notes allotted to Palestinians inland and abroad. Nevertheless, Palestinians coming from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan with approval notes issued by Israel were allowed to temporarily stay with their family members, but they were not allowed to go back to and stay in their original houses in which they used to live at the time of occupation with the intention of settling there. Israeli occupation allowed Palestinians to come for a visit providing they had relatives and their relatives had to request and follow up on the approvals issued by the Israeli Military Governor. Palestinians were not allowed to tour the country or visit Jerusalem.    

In the meanwhile. The Jordanian Government continued granting passports to Palestinians living in the West Bank to help them travel from Jordan to other countries and then come back to the West Bank providing that they get the approval of the Israeli Authorities through which they originally left. This was not possible due to the absence of any diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries because getting a vis necessitates the existence of an Israeli Embassy. After Egypt signed a peace accords with Israel in Camp David and Jordan signed a similar peace accords in Wadi Araba, the situation changed for citizens of these two Arab countries. They became able to enter Jerusalem and get Israeli visa from Israeli embassies in Cairo and Amman. This meant that passports would be stamped by Israel for anyone who wanted to visit Jerusalem. The problem was that those having Israeli seal on their passport were unable to enter other Arab Countries like Syria, which used to consider this visit as a kind of treachery.   

Normalization Issue

“Normalization” is a new terminology that appeared following the peace treaties signed with Israel in Camp David by Egypt and Wadi Araba by Jordan. Illustration of this terminology can be traced in following quotation from the Peace Treaty: “Both parties agreed that normal relations between them include full recognition, diplomatic, economic and cultural relations, and the termination of economic boycott and barriers of discrimination imposed on the free movement of individuals and goods. Each party pledges to guarantee all legal rights for citizens of the other party.”

However, this normalization process was not achieved as it was intended by its advocates for many reasons. One of these reasons is that the concept of peace between Arabs and Israel was not acceptable for the public as it came just after a historical stage that followed October War in 1973 when Arabs shared this attitude as a result of the victory in that war. Victory of October War was still fresh and present in the mind of the public. This coincided with the abrupt visit to the Israeli Knesset by President of Egypt, Anwar Al Sadat. Arabs were looking forward to launching another war to restore occupied lands. As the public was taken away by repulsive mood towards settlement with Israel, normalization didn’t become acceptable by the public.

Jerusalem remained beyond the reach of Arabs although it is possible to visit. This is attributed to many reasons including, but not limited to, the rejection of political settlement with Israel by Palestinians and Arabs. The reply to advocates of settlement came from the so-called “Steadfastness and Discrepancy Front[1]”. Palestinian Liberation Organization refused any settlement because such settlement gave the Palestinians some kind of autonomy rather than a recognized state.  That same deal was apparently refused by Assad’s Regime which wanted to inherit the leadership after Egypt was out  

Reluctance of Assad’s Regime was soon revealed after It allowed Israel to occupy large areas of Lebanon, and it was even clearer when Assad launched his war against Palestinians on 9th of May 1983. This accelerated extradition of Palestinian militias from Lebanon. All these developments led to Madrid Conference, Oslo Accords, Wadi Araba Accords between Jordan and Israel. Large number of Jordanians entered Jerusalem after getting Israeli visas since millions of Jordanians are from Palestinian origin. This Accord helped those Jordanians with Palestinian origin to reunion with their families and relatives who stayed home after 1948 and 1967 Wars. All these developments brought Jerusalem Issue back to public discussion in a different way.    

Prohibition of visiting Jerusalem

Visiting Jerusalem under the authority of the Israeli occupation became a new trend. So, introducing prohibition terminology is a complicated issue as it requires a legal order that convicts those groups or individuals who visit Al Aqsa Mosque, which is the first Qibla for Muslims and one of the three prominent mosques that Muslim set up for as it is agreed in Islamic doctrine. Religious prohibition should be based on a religious rule. We can say that visiting Al Aqsa was originally prohibited on political rather than religious basis. The acceptance of such a fatwa implies that political developments can be an essential part of allowance and prohibition in Islamic doctrine which means an additional jurisprudence that can be an integral part of Islamic doctrine. Originally, a political issue comes in the context of interactions just like any political ban imposed by any state on its citizens in certain circumstances.

The majority of sheikhs and Islamic scholars prohibited visiting Jerusalem under occupation. Yousef Al Karadawi, for example considered visiting Jerusalem by Arabs and Muslims to be in favor of normalization with Israel and will lessen the pressure imposed on the Israeli occupation. This will, according to Karadawi, empower the Israeli economy more than it does to the economic status of residents of Jerusalem. This is a very unrealistic view because economy of West Bank as well as Gaza Strip is associated with Israeli economy. Gaza get fuel and food stuff from Israel on daily basis.

Gaza Strip used to export some vegetables to Israel and visiting Gaza Strip is halal from an Islamic point of view although the destination of money circulation comes to Israel by the end. How come it is prohibited in the case of Jerusalem and acceptable in the case of Gaza. It is worth mentioning that even entering Gaza Strip requires prior agreement by Israeli authorities. Karadawi, the godfather of this fatwa, contradicted himself when he visited Gaza Strip in 2013 as Palestinian Prime Minister Muhmood Abbas said in a TV interview.

Karadawi refused the idea of getting the Israeli visa. He considered it a recognition of the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation. Due to this political dilemma, the prohibition fatwa was ready to issue by Arabic Fatwa entities. But, there is much confusion in these fatwas as they failed to distinguish between prohibition of cooperation with occupation and visiting occupied Jerusalem. Consequently, these fatwas considered that any Arab citizen, who tried to visit Jerusalem, to be cooperative with the occupation. This approach caused agony for residents of Jerusalem who found themselves under Arabic siege and isolation for years that secluded them from their Arabic surrounding.      

Calls to annihilate these fatwas

Undoubtedly, Karadawi’s fatwa, which gained consensus of most Islamic scholars, complicated life conditions for residents of Jerusalem. It was not only an Islamic isolation but also a total Arabic isolation. As the voice of the religious entities was louder in their accusations of treason to Muslims visiting Jerusalem, the Church of the Orient was embarrassed to keep silent and it also prohibited visiting Jerusalem. Patriarch Shinoda was wise enough and didn’t want to deviate from the consensus of the Arab World.

On its part, Palestinian Authority repeatedly appealed Arabs to go to Jerusalem for the advocacy and support of those living in the city and demanded Karadawi to annihilate his fatwa. Under Jordanian Royal patronage, a conference was held in Jordan entitled: “The Road to Jerusalem”. Delegations from the Arab and Muslim countries participated in the conference and legalized visiting Jerusalem.

Have Muslim Brothers got influence?

Few years before Hamas took over in Gaza Strip, dispute about Jerusalem was clearly noticed. Hamas adopted Muslim Brothers’ concept which prohibited visiting Jerusalem. They considered it a kind of normalization for the benefit of Israel. Muslim Brothers used their media channels to float Hamas as an alternative to Palestinian Authority. When Al Aqsa Uprising started, Hamas was keen on showing its religious tendencies just to be recognized on the Palestinian scene. This coincided with the wind of Jihadi Islam that was blowing in the region due to the Afghani trend and the new media that shook the stagnant water in the Middle East.

Moreover, Muslim Brothers promoted illusions about their abilities to handle the conflict with Israel especially after Camp David Accords and this was intended to weaken Palestinian Liberation Organization, which Hamas hasn’t apologized for yet despite the famous document of Khalid Masha’al announced in Qatar. Despite the fervent efforts to attract and contain Hamas made by ex-president Yasser Arafat, Hamas didn’t respond. For example, in 1996 Yasser Arafat asked Hamas to agree on a bargain to release a pro-Israeli detained agent in return for releasing Ahmad Yasin who was imprisoned by Israel. Hamas utterly rejected the proposal despite the illness of Ahmad Yasin in prison. Hamas didn’t only reject the proposal but also insulted President Yasser Arafat. Surprisingly, one year later, Hamas agreed on the same proposal after Khalid Masha’al was exposed to an assassination attempt in Amman, Jordan. Ahmad Yasin was set free upon a request by King of Jordan in return for the Israeli agents who attempted to assassinate Khalid Masha’al.   

This significant event showed Hamas disrespect of the humanitarian status of their prominent figure, Ahmad Yasin just to oppose President Yaser Arafat who just wanted to help Hamas by releasing their leader.

Hamas based its strategy on their dispute with Palestinian Liberation Organization. Hamas fervently attempted to characterize itself with purity. Axiomatically, Hamas persistently invested the Issue of Jerusalem as a central Islamic issue for attracting the   attention of Arabs and Muslims around the World. Hamas pretended to be focusing on Jerusalem and calling Arabs and Muslim to head to Jerusalem under the pretext of supporting those living in Jerusalem. Hamas established “Al Kuds International Institution” in Beirut in 2001. Holding the first conference in Beirut was problematic as this institution was born in the arms of Hezbullah and with the participation of its members. Iran actively participated through its ex-ambassador in Damascus, Ali Akbar Muhtashemi. Muhtashemi was one of the founders of this institution. Soon there was a branch in Damascus led by Buthaina Sha’ban. During all meetings of the institution in Damascus, Buthaina Sha’ban used to keep talking about the axis of Resistance and Discrepancy.        

In general, very few people noticed that following the establishment of Al Kuds Institution, Al Kuds Satellite TV Channel started together with the appearance of many local and international conferences. It is a real paradox that those who prohibited visiting Jerusalem became advocates of this new Institution. Very few people knew that the strange appearance of this institution, that joined Hezbullah, Iran, Assad’s Regime and Muslim Brothers, raised many questions about the primary intention of preventing visits to Jerusalem. Is it really a religious issue, or a political one? Something suspicious underlies this initiative if we notice that the absence of Arabs and Muslims for 50 years gave the impression that Jerusalem is not that important issue. This has been politically significant on the International level as Israel succeeded in convincing the World that Jerusalem is not that important religious issue for Muslims. The Israeli thesis was best helped by Muslim Brothers and advocates of Resistance and Discrepancy.  

Iran and the exploitation of Jerusalem Issue

When we know that Iran is the godfather of Kuds International Day through which it crossed to the Arab Orient to mess around, it becomes clear that Iran has got its hands inside Jerusalem through Hamas institutions. Thus, we suspect any Arabic presence in Jerusalem even offering meals to fasting Muslims in Al Aqsa during Ramadan. This association is of a great importance. This year, the attempts of Muslim Brothers were intended to exploit the disputes with Qatar when Palestinian activists prevented volunteers form United Arab Emirates from offering any meals to fasting Muslims in Al Aksa Mosque. The goal of this prevention is to anticipate any Arabic or international role in supporting people in Al Kuds. The issue for Muslim Brothers is much bigger than we might think. Al Jazeera Satellite Channel and some other Websites went further to accuse United Arab Emirates of funding the sale of houses in Jerusalem in preparation for reselling these houses to Jewish settlers. Theses fabricated news came after the dispute between Qatar on one hand and Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other reached a critical level.     

This illogical discourse and treason allegations against the Palestinian Liberation Organization and other Arab countries is not accidental as parties on the other side take no notice of what Iran is doing in Iraq, Syrian, Lebanon and its destructive activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Following Oslo Accords, Hamas seemed to have decided to replace Palestinian Liberation Organization even if this would lead to isolating Jerusalem from any contact with Arabs and Muslims. The above-mentioned review imposes a big deduction i.e. Hamas adherence to Muslim Brothers’ fatwa in regard to visiting Jerusalem was a free gift to Israel to help it convince the World that Al Aqsa Mosque is not that sacred issue for Muslims. So, it is normal that Israel keeps it under its governance.   

[1]  An alliance of Iran, Syrian Regime, Hezbulla, Hamas and some parties and militias in Iraq. These entities claim resisting the Israeli occupation and the policies of USA and its allies in the Middle East.

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