The clashes at the Al Aqsa Mosque between rioters and Israeli police on Friday morning prompted the EU and some EU member states to call on all sides to engage in de-escalatory efforts and to act with restraint.
In a statement on Friday, the EU lead spokesperson for foreign affairs wrote that the violence needs to stop immediately. “All leaders have a responsibility to act against extremists. Further civilian casualties must be prevented as a priority. The status quo of the holy sites must be fully respected. Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation is essential.”
The Arab countries that signed the Abrahams Accords with Israel on peace and normalisation of relations condemned the Israeli police action against worshipers at the mosque as a violation of its sanctity.
As previously reported, at least 150 Palestinians were injured in the clashes and hundreds of people were arrested. Since then, most of the arrested people have been released. On Friday afternoon the situation had calmed down and 50,000 Palestinians prayed at the mosque. The situation in East Jerusalem has been tense for some time after a new terrorist wave by “lone wolves” which hit cities in central Israel.
The Temple Mount (in Arabic Haram esh-Sharif), with its two mosques and just above the Wailing Wall, a remnant of the Jewish temple in ancient times, is a recurring flashpoint where the situation easily can spiral out of control and escalate to war as happened last year in the Gaza war with Hamas.
This year, the holidays of the three monotheistic religions coincided: the Christian Easter, the Jewish Passover and the Muslim month-long Ramadan. Instead of celebrating the holidays peacefully in the true spirit of their religions, extremists on both sides are doing their best to provoke each-other and incite to violence.
Jewish extremists are threatening the status quo on the Temple Mount by entering the Mount under strong police protection and illegally conducting prayers there. An Israel-Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List faction, added fuel to the fire last week by calling on Arabs serving in the Israeli police to throw away their weapons.
While frustration and despair about the on-going occupation and suppression is simmering, the direct spark that ignited the riots on Friday was a rumour that extremists were planning to enter the Temple Mount and sacrifice a Passover lamb there, something which has not been done since the Temple was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago.
The police prevented it from happening by arresting the suspects who had announced their plans in advance but the damage was already done. Busloads of Arab citizens from inside Israel were brought to Jerusalem in the early Friday hours, apparently by a branch of the Islamic movement in Israel, and barricaded themselves inside the Al Aqsa Mosque with stones.
The police feared that they would throw them on Jewish worshipers at the Wailing Wall and entered the mosque to dispel rioters. Pictures show the police using excessive force. The risk of more violence seems to be over this time but Ramadan and the incitement on both sides continue and can escalate, especially when the government is facing a crisis and is constantly attacked by the far-right.
EU monitoring on the ground
Critics of the Israeli occupation are of the opinion that the risk of violence and terrorist acts will increase if Israel continues not to allow peaceful protests and outlaw Palestinian civil society organisations. This happened last October when the Israeli government banned six Palestinian NGOs operating in the West Bank because of their alleged links to PLFP, a terrorist organisation.
Israel claims that it showed the EU evidence of transfer of EU funds to PFLP but Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, head of the EU office in East Jerusalem, told The Brussels Times before the latest riots that his office did not receive any evidence. The charges against the director of one of the banned NGOs have mostly been dropped in a plea bargain and she was only charged for membership in PFLP.
Israeli NGO Monitor, which is monitoring EU funding to Palestinian NGOs, has criticized von Burgsdorff for attending a conference organised by PNGO (Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network), which it claims is terror-linked and should not be EU-funded.
How would you describe the application of EU rules on funding NGOs that are suspected of links to terrorist organisations?
“Allegations of the EU supporting terror are unfounded and unacceptable,” he replied in an email interview. “We strongly object to any such suggestion. Our commitment to the fight against terrorism has never been stronger. The EU has strict rules to screen and vet the beneficiaries of EU funds.”
He explains that these rules make the participation of entities, individuals or groups affiliated with terrorist organisations categorically incompatible with any EU funding. “The EU will continue to stand by international law and support NGOs that have a role to play in promoting international law, human rights and democratic values.”
Do PNGO and Palestinian NGOs refuse to sign an EU grant request which stipulates that they must not transfer any EU aid to terrorist groups or entities, claiming that they are merely political parties? If so, what was the Commission’s reaction to that and how is the rule enforced?
He assured that all recipients of EU funding are required to ensure that the funds are not made available, either directly or indirectly, to entities, individuals or groups, which have been sanctioned by the EU. “Strict monitoring and control mechanisms make sure that all individuals involved in EU funded actions exclusively pursue the objectives and activities approved for EU funding.”
What is your experience of the field visits carried out by diplomats from EU and member states in the occupied territories? Do they have an impact on Israeli authorities?
“EU and member states frequently conduct field visits to East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank,” the head of the EU office replied. “The purpose of the visits is notably to monitor developments of Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in that context, such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscations of homes.”
“Such actions are illegal under international law and an impediment to a viable two-state solution. The visits do not require previous coordination and there has never been, to our knowledge, any specific reaction from the Israeli authorities in the course of the visits.”
“There have been occasions where settlers have interrupted the field visits but episodes of violence against the visiting delegations have not been reported so far. A core task of any EU delegation is to report to Brussels on developments on the ground.”
Israeli Prime Minister Bennett emphasized at a security assessment on Sunday that “efforts must continue to enable members of all faiths to celebrate their holidays in Jerusalem”. Dissemination of false reports and fake news must be dealt with. He backed the police and said that the security forces are continuing to receive “a free hand” for any measure to ensure security for the citizens of Israel.
The Brussels Times