The Middle East is ablaze with so many fires that even the Israeli-Arab conflict has been obscured by the smoke, fading from the headlines. Tomorrow, though, Palestinian activists in South Florida hope to change that, taking to the streets to air their concerns about the fate of a place of worship sacred to the Muslim faith.
The third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of the Temple Mount, located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The district was captured by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War, and, though the mosque is administered by an Islamic trust, the area remains under effective control of the Israelis.
The organizers of tomorrow's protest say the mosque is under threat, pointing to a series of incidents this fall in which religious Jews have sought increasing access to the mosque and the Temple Mount as a whole. (Feelings about the site run so high that the 2000 visit there by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon set off riots that blossomed into the Second Intifada.)
Here's how the New York Times described recent developments:
[Religious Zionist] activists have stepped up their campaign for access and prayer at the Temple Mount, part of a broader push to cement Jewish control of all of Jerusalem. While the numbers remain tiny compared with the 10 million annual visitors to the Western Wall below, Palestinian officials say what used to be a trickle of individuals has given way to groups of 40, 60, 90...
As visiting the Mount has become more mainstream... the original hard core has been emboldened. A group formed last year calls for building a small synagogue on the plaza. Yehuda Etzion, who was arrested in 1984 for plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock, and a team of architects are designing a "future Jerusalem" plan with a new temple at its heart. An activist group's Web site devoted to the Mount unveiled a virtual tour this summer with a Third Temple where the Dome stands.
"We're talking about something much deeper than visiting the place, we're talking about a movement that wants to change the status quo from its roots," said Yedidia Z. Stern, a vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an Orthodox Jew with liberal leanings who has watched the change with concern. "You're dealing with the ultimate TNT in our national existence here."
Tensions over Al-Aqsa boiled over last week, when Israeli police locked a crowd of Palestinians inside the mosque as the Palestinians prepared to block non-Muslims from visiting the site.
Reactions to that clash were varied -- and confusing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed "Palestinian extremists" for spreading "false and baseless rumors that we are threatening the Muslim holy places." Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on his followers to prevent Jews from "desecrating" the mosque. Palestinian Authority security services cracked down on two rallies in defense of the mosque.
Tomorrow's rally in defense of the mosque may, at the very least, help South Florida residents get some better understanding of this latest Holy Land dispute. Stand Up for Jerusalem! Hands Off Al-Aqsa!! Saturday, October 25, 5 p.m. U.S. Federal Courthouse 299 E. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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