The Israeli state-funded campaign to replace al-Aqsa
The ferocious assaults by Israeli forces on the grounds of al-Aqsa have caught the attention of millions worldwide. While the evidence of brutality is evident at first sight, it is necessary to zoom out and observe this equation in its totality. These regular assaults are carried out to ease the passage of Israeli citizens and settlers, including members of the extremist Temple Movement, into the compound.
These groups assert that a Jewish temple must be built in al-Aqsa's place and are working to achieve that objective. In a classic case of what Jewish Iraqi lawyer Yusef al-Kabir referred to as the "militant archaeology" of Zionism, the movement seeks to "rebuild" a temple that is believed to have existed around 2,000 years ago.
For at least 20 years, the Israeli state has been quietly funding this campaign, facilitating the indoctrination of children with the ideas of the movement and even recruiting people into it as an alternative to national military service.
Across the decades there have been numerous plots and attempts to attack and even blow-up al-Aqsa; fortunately, many were thwarted. However, now a movement with similar aims has stealthily crept into an extremely powerful position within the Israeli state.
"Across the decades there have been numerous plots and attempts to attack and even blow-up al-Aqsa; fortunately, many were thwarted. However, now a movement with similar aims has stealthily crept into an extremely powerful position within the Israeli state"
The recent beatings, shootings and assaults of worshippers at al-Aqsa have been part of a bid to protect the passage of the notorious Return to the Mount group, which offered cash rewards to those who could successfully sacrifice an animal there. Members of the group also have disguised themselves as Muslims to enter the mosque compound in the past.
Return to the Mount works closely with followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, a militant Jewish extremist figure whose party is banned in Israel and who co-founded of the Jewish Defence League, which was designated terrorist group in the United States. Return to the Mount is a part of the Temple Movement seeking to replace the al-Aqsa compound with a Jewish Temple.
Another key organisation in the group is The Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful movement, which has the stated objective to "liberate the Temple Mount from Arab/Islamic occupation.” The group explicitly advocates for "removing the pagan shrines" and have asserted that the removed places of worship for Muslims should be relocated to Mecca.
The most developed group in the movement is The Temple Institute. It has worked with architects constructing a design of how the temple will look on the ruins of al-Aqsa, and displays the intricate design at its museum in Jerusalem. The Temple Institute has a strong presence in the education system, where it propagates the idea that this destructive move will be a fulfilment of the divine prophecy that Israeli children are obligated to work towards.
Since annexing East Jerusalem, Israel has enacted discriminatory legal and political policies to dispossess Palestinians. @emadmoussa examines the ways in which Israeli authorities are attempting to de-Palestinise the holy city ⬇ https://t.co/Wi9nWNSMDe— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) May 5, 2022
The Temple Institute has even created a 200 pound golden menorah, which is to be used in the proposed temple along with other expensively produced ornaments. The ornaments are kept in cases by al-Aqsa waiting to be installed as the movement calls for “removing the Muslim shrines” on the Mount.
The Temple Movement is led by US born former Likud politician Yehuda Glick, who came of age in the Israeli intelligence service. The official body of the movement has called for the "liberation of the Temple Mount (al-Aqsa) from the murderous Islam.”
The chief Rabbi of the Temple Movement is Yisrael Ariel, who claims to have been part of the 55th Paratrooper Brigade which first occupied al-Aqsa in 1967. He has called for the "destruction of Mosques and Christian spires" and advocated for genocidal violence in achieving these aims, encouraging his followers to “kill all their males by the sword."
Ariel’s views are far from fringe ideas discouraged by the state; rather, they are actively encouraged, and he was given an award by the mayor of Jerusalem for his work with the Temple Movement.
Nowadays, when Glick is asked how strong the Temple Movement has become he reflects that, "they used to see us as zealots, lunatics, peculiar…Today it’s mainstream.” He wistfully continues in his strongly North American inflection "today, we have 20 Knesset members who are part of the battle for the redemption of the Temple Mount.”
When examining the facts, it seems that Glick was somewhat understating the reality. The Temple Movement is not just advocated by members of the government, it is one with the Israeli state.
A 2013 investigation by the Israeli Army Radio revealed that young women hoping to avoid compulsory military service are given the choice to become a part of The Temple Mount Movement instead, working as unpaid tour guides for the Temple Institute or in schools advocating for the "rebuilding" of the Temple in the place of al-Aqsa.
The investigation also found that two key Israeli government ministries – culture and education – had been quietly funding The Temple Institute. The Ministry of Culture had been funding it since 2008, and a spokesperson claimed that "the rebuilding of the Holy Temple is a positive commandment which will usher in an unparalleled era of world peace” while the ministry of education had been funding the group for more than 10 years.
"When examining the facts, it seems that Glick was somewhat understating the reality. The Temple Movement is not just advocated by members of the government, it is one with the Israeli state"
Since 2008, the Religious Education Administration has featured the concept of the Temple strongly in its curriculum and has recommended visiting and touring the Temple Institute. The Israel Ministry of Education, then under current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, included various Temple Movement organisations on its list of recommended field trip sites. The Knesset Education Committee has recommended making the touring of Haram al-Sharif, which it calls Temple Mount, compulsory for all Israeli school children.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli public security minister, is also a strong supporter of the movement. As he was establishing the anti-BDS Ministry of Strategic Affairs, he was also credited with initiating the cooperation between Israeli police and the Temple Mount Movement.
Former PM Benjamin Netanyahu's triumphant speech at the ceremony marking the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem gave an explicit salute to the Temple Mount movement. Recently, the Bennett government’s rule has seen an exponential increase in Temple Mount movement supporters entering the compound. It has been claimed that over a year period from late 2020 to late 2021, over 10,000 have entered, an 80% increase from past years.
Here in the UK, there is also support for the Temple Movement. Israeli ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotevely has supported the movement and spoken at its events, and stated that it is her dream to see "the Israeli flag fly over the Temple Mount.”
In the US, New York billionaire Henry Sweica is a major funder of the Temple Mount Movement. Through his Sweica Family Foundation, he has pumped millions into The Temple Institute, the Friends of the IDF and the David Horowitz Centre, which employed British Islamophobe Tommy Robinson and the well-known US loudmouth Ben Shapiro.
Another US funder of the movement is Florida billionaire Simon Falic, the man behind the empire of Duty Free America shops throughout airports. He has financed the Temple Mount movement and illegal settlements in the West Bank to the tune of millions.
So, the equation is clear. The Israeli state, with the help of its Western allies, is funding and facilitating a movement that is intent on replacing the 35 acres of the al-Aqsa compound with a temple for Jewish people in violation of the supposed status-quo agreement.
The global implications of what this movement is working to achieve should scare us all.
Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip hop artist, academic and political campaigner. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn. His latest album Soundtrack To The Struggle 2 featured Noam Chomsky, Frankie Boyle and Ken Loach and has been streamed millions of times.
Follow him on Twitter: @Lowkey0nline
Have questions or comments? Email us at: email@example.com
Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of their employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.