Arab News (Editorial)
March 1, 2010 - 1:00am

This is an annexation of the mosques, which is illegal, and an attempt to trigger religious confrontation. The two mosques are the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque near Bethlehem and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

When, on Feb. 3, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu originally outlined a plan to restore 130 so-called Jewish heritage sites, the two mosques were not included. However, after Jewish settlers and their allies in the government exerted pressure on the Israeli premier, he decided to add them. But the fact is that Netanyahu truly believes the sites belong to Israel. The Israeli plan is to invest more than $100 million on them. Even the US could see through the scheme, raising concerns about the designation of the West Bank sites as “Israeli national heritage sites.”

Netanyahu added the two Islamic sites “in order to reconnect Israelis to their history”. This, even though the two mosques are located in the heart of Palestinian population centers where no significant Jewish population exists. The city of Hebron has a population of over 200,000 Palestinians and a further half a million living in surrounding villages, compared to only 400 Jewish settlers living in the city’s Old Quarter, protected round the clock by thousands of Israeli soldiers who routinely harass local Palestinians in order to provide the settlers with optimal security.

For a change, the Palestinians are not alone in their protests. The US expressed further concern that the move could undermine efforts to revive peace talks and used the rarely used word “provocative” in describing an Israeli action.

The UN, too, censured Israel pointedly reminding it that the two sites are located in the West Bank, “in occupied Palestinian territory.”

Even at home Netanyahu has come under fire. Yediot Aharonot carried cartoons of Netanyahu with a box of matches, indicating how provocative it saw his proposals to be, while Haaretz dubbed the prime minister a “master pyromaniac” for the move, asking whether it was really necessary to “open such a Pandora’s box.”

Indeed, Netanyahu loves to cause trouble. It was he who during a previous term as premier in 1996 sparked bloody riots in Jerusalem by ordering the opening of a tunnel under another disputed holy site.

The pyromaniac certainly understands timing. The latest Israeli provocation came 16 years after Baruch Goldstein, the American Jewish terrorist, sprayed Muslim worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron with a machine gun, killing at least 29 worshippers and injuring dozens of others. In a bid to calm tension, Netanyahu said the heritage plan involves only restoration work, that there had been a misunderstanding and that it was not a political decision.

There has been no misunderstanding. These sites are being deliberately taken away when, in fact, they are on Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967, precisely the lands upon which the independent Palestinian state will be established. The mosques are an inseparable part of these lands and international law obliges the occupation authorities not to change the historical heritage of the occupied territories.


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