Strange and worrying activities are taking place at Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem that are going largely unreported in the international media. Al Aqsa holds a special place in the hearts of devout Muslims who believe the Prophet Mohammed was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to Al Aqsa during the ‘Night Journey’.
Jews, who refer to the area as ‘Temple Mount’, also revere the site on which Al Aqsa is built, they believe it was once the site of an ancient temple.
I am neither Muslim nor Jew but recent developments should concern us all, those with religious affiliations and those without.
Groups of settlers have taken to descending on the Al Aqsa area and causing disruption, under the eyes – and frequently the protection – of Israeli armed forces. The settlers shout, laugh raucously and generally show no respect for the sanctity of the mosque. Palestinian officials say the settler actions are part of a larger Israeli plan to divide the mosque and eventually to take possession of the site. Their concerns are not baseless, Israelis have made repeated threats to demolish the mosque, in order to build a Jewish temple where it stands.
Israeli government officials were asked to stop the settler invasions, which have been on the increase since the beginning of this year and are now taking place on an almost daily basis, at least during the holy month of Ramadan. They refused.
Since I am neither a Muslim nor a Jew why am I concerned?
Put simply, because Jerusalem is unique in being important to the three leading world religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It should be a place that unites us, not divides us. It should, more than any city on earth, be a place where ‘might’ is not automatically ‘right’; a place where we show tolerance and respect to others, whatever their race or religion.
What we are seeing in the behaviour of the settlers at Al Aqsa is not driven by religion but by nationalism many would argue. Are the settlers abusing worshippers at Al Aqsa because they are Muslim, or because they are Arab?
There is no acceptable answer to that question but it is a sad nation that would stand by and allow the abuse of others at worship and one that, while it might have our prayers, can never enjoy our respect.
Rev. N.P. Hill, Northern Ireland