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Visiting the Prisoners? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The issue of the Palestinian Minister for Endowments and Religious Affairs calling for the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque and [occupied] Jerusalem to show support for the Palestinians ended in the same manner that similar previous calls have ended, with the Grand Sheikh declining the invitation [so long as Jerusalem is occupied by Israel]. The Palestinian Minister made this call during his visit to Egypt in late February. Controversial attacks and harsh language were exchanged with regards to whether making such a visit is equivalent to a normalization of relations with Israel, an nobody put forward any logical viewpoints that assist and protect the presence and property of the people of Palestine.

The Palestinian Minister believes that visiting a prisoner is not the same thing as recognizing the legitimacy of the imprisonment, and he [therefore] invited the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque in July in order to celebrate the Isra and Mi’raj [Prophet Mohamed’s Night Journey to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Ascension to Heaven]. However the Palestinian Minister’s argument did not gain strong support and opponents of this fired a barrage of verbal attacks against him.

This is an old issue, and every so often a statement is issued from a certain party regarding the need for there to be campaign to confirm Muslim’s legitimate right to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque, and also in order to demonstrate to the Palestinian people living in occupied Jerusalem that they are not alone. However every time it seems that the popular front that relies upon worthless slogans and talk have the winning hand in this argument, while the concerned parties delay their response and rather than taking a courageous position and defending what they believe, instead prefer to avoid controversy and accusations of normalizing relations with Israel.

For the Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs was not the first figure to propose this idea, and years prior to this Egyptian Minister of Religious Affairs – along with Palestinian officials – proposed this as well. The Egyptian Minister proposed to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque and pray there in order to demonstrate support for the Palestinians and emphasize the Arab and Islamic heritage of Jerusalem. However this issue continually ends with nothing being achieved, while at the same time the Arab and Islamic identity of Jerusalem is being eroded, along with the rights of Palestinians living there.

It is understood that the major problem that many people have with the idea of visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque is that this is something that requires an Israeli visa, as the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem have been under Israeli occupation since 1976. However at the same time nobody is trying to think of practical solutions [to this problem], and there should be genuine intention to undertake realistic work towards providing support to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinians in Jerusalem rather than this issue being left to resolve itself while the Arabs and Muslims there are losing their rights. The same applies to the Arab Christians who want to visit their holy sites in the occupied territory.

According to international law and custom, these holy sites do not belong to any particular country or people; they are holy sites, some of which are holy to Muslims, other of which are holy to Christians. They are also a part of human heritage, and therefore the responsibility of maintaining these sites and granting access to them, should be an international responsibility.

In other words, rather than making accusations about normalization of relations with Israel and treason, and then going and sitting down in coffeehouses and being content with having done one’s national duty, we should think about entreating the international community and its institutions to make special arrangements with the Palestinian Authority and Israel for all those who want to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim or Christian holy sites. I do not believe that anybody can oppose this without damaging their image and reputation at an international level.

The idea is very simply engaging one’s intellect and thinking about finding constructive solutions, rather than relying upon doing what is easiest or inciting emotions whilst on the ground the price of the losses are increasing day after day.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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