Response to Claim 36: Israel attacked the Al Aqsa Mosque in May 2021

These accusations by Mauritania, Cuba, Yemen and others are outright lies. They refer to violence in and around the Al Aqsa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount, during the last weekend in Ramadan—May 7-10, 2021. The violence was directly incited by Palestinian leaders and initiated by Palestinian worshippers who had stockpiled weapons on the Temple Mount, including stone slabs, rocks and fireworks with the intention of attacking Israeli police, as well as Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below.[1] On May 7, Hamas politburo member Fathi Hammad urged the Palestinian masses of Jerusalem to buy a knife for five shekels and “cut off the heads of Jews.”[2] Similarly, on May 8, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called on his followers to “raise the level of confrontation in the coming days and hours in the Palestinian lands, the points of friction, and the settlers’ roads.”[3]

On the night of May 7, thousands of Palestinian worshippers on the Temple Mount hurled stones and firecrackers at the Israeli police, prompting police to enter the compound in order to disperse the riot and restore order.[4] Palestinians also rioted at other locations in and around the Old City. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leaders incited the masses and threatened Israel with more violence.[5] The riots continued over the weekend and into Monday, with Palestinians attacking police with stones and firecrackers and blocking a road South of the compound.[6] Some 8,000 worshippers had barricaded themselves in the compound overnight from Sunday to Monday.[7] On Monday, Israeli police again were required to enter the compound to disperse the riots and restore order. Throughout the day, rioters on the Temple Mount clashed with police, in a repeated pattern where police withdrew after bringing the situation under control only to be met with renewed attacks.[8] Thus, it is not the Israeli police who attacked Al Aqsa, but rather the Palestinian militants who violated a holy site by turning it into a weapons cache from which to attack the Israeli police.

Moreover, the Palestinian attacks did not occur in a vacuum, but were part of a pattern of increased violence throughout the month of Ramadan, beginning on April 12. For the first two weeks of Ramadan, Palestinians clashed violently with Israeli police over its decision to erect barriers at the Damascus gate to regulate pedestrian traffic into the Old City.[9] During this period, there was also a general uptick in Arab-Jewish violence, with Palestinians posting videos on TikTok of themselves attacking visibly Orthodox Jews, Palestinian fire-bombings, stone-throwings and physical assaults of Jews, as well as violence by far-right Jews.[10] On the weekend of April 23-24, 2021, 36 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel leading Israel to retaliate.

Fatah, Hamas and other Gaza terror leaders endorsed and incited this violence.

  • PA President Mahmoud Abbas: “We salute our people in Jerusalem for their resolve against the Israeli plans to take control of the holy city.”[11]
  • Fatah Central Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh: Stated that events in East Jerusalem were the Palestinians’ “heroic response” to the real battle for the defense of Jerusalem and the holy sites.[12]
  • Hamas spokesman Abde Latif al Qanoa: “Palestinian resistance forces in the Strip are ready to block any aggression and set the tone of the response to any fire and aggression from Israel…The Palestinian people and resistance forces support and identify with the Palestinians in Jerusalem.”[13]
  • Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar: “After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have reached the conclusion that without weapons, we cannot liberate our land, protect our holy sites, bringing back our people to their land or maintain our dignity.”[14]
  • Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a statement: “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line, and the Palestinian people stand behind Al-Aqsa and the Palestinians in Jerusalem and will not allow settlers to harm the holiness of the mosque…The resistance forces will respond to any aggression and provide defense to the Palestinian people.”[15]

Although Israeli police removed the Damascus gate barriers on April 25, 2021, the violence continued. Israel took a number of other steps to de-escalate the tensions in Jerusalem, including postponing the Supreme Court hearing in the Sheikh Jarrah civil property dispute case, barring Jews from entering the Temple Mount, and re-routing then canceling the May 10 Jerusalem Day Flag March. Hamas exploited the events as an opportunity to present itself as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians and the defender of Jerusalem, particularly after PA President Mahmoud Abbas canceled the Palestinian elections on April 30.[16]

It bears noting that accusing Israel of “disdain for holy sites” is particularly outrageous considering that only under Israeli control are all holy sites protected and freedom of religion for all fully respected, as discussed in our response to Claim 22. The Al Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount—the holiest site in Judaism—a part of Jerusalem which had been controlled by the Jordanians for 19 years from 1948 to 1967 and is now under Israeli sovereignty. While under Jordanian control, Jews had no access to the site at all and even today, while Jews may visit the Temple Mount, they are forbidden from praying there. Even before then, since at least the 1920s, false claims that Jews sought to harm Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem have been used to mobilize violence against Jews locally and throughout the Middle East. It is appalling that at the United Nations this conspiracy theory is also regurgitated.

Typically, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims travel en masse to the Temple Mount to pray. Israel has facilitated this Palestinian pilgrimage to Jerusalem by providing West Bank Palestinians with busing from checkpoints.[17] During the Eid al Fitr festival that marks the end of Ramadan, tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank normally receive permits to enter Israel and have been known to throng the beaches in Tel Aviv.[18] On Saturday May 8, over 90,000 worshippers visited the mosque.[19] Even after Hamas launched its rocket attacks on May 10, tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers continued to celebrate Ramadan at the Temple Mount. In the midst of the military conflict, on Thursday, May 13—the last day of Ramadan—some 100,000 Muslim worshippers gathered on the Temple Mount to pray.[20]

Ironically, although it is Judaism’s holiest site, Israeli authorities completely forbade Jews from entering the Temple Mount for 19 days (May 4 to May 23, 2021) for security reasons due to the Palestinian incitement and violence.[21]

[1] TV: Palestinians stocked rocks for Temple Mount riots, police caught unawares, Times of Israel (May 8, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/tv-palestinians-stocked-rocks-for-temple-mount-riots-police-caught-unawares/;  Amb. Dore Gold, Behind the Outbreak of Palestinian Violence, JCPA (May 12, 2021), https://jcpa.org/behind-the-outbreak-of-palestinian-violence/.

[2] Senior Hamas Official Fathi Hammad To Palestinians In Jerusalem: Buy 5-Shekel Knives And Cut Off The Heads Of The Jews, MEMRI (May 7, 2021), https://www.memri.org/tv/snr-hamas-official-fathi-hammad-urges-people-jerusalem-cut-off-heads-jews-knives-day-reckoning-moment-destruction.

[3] Itamar Marcus, Abbas wants more blood, PMW (May 9, 2021), https://palwatch.org/page/21752.

[4] Moshe Nussbaum, Major disturbances on Temple Mount: Thousands of Muslim worshippers rioted in the compound, Mako (May 8, 2021), https://www.mako.co.il/news-military/2020_q1/Article-70d8d948af74971027.htm.

[5] Id.

[6] The clashes in East Jerusalem Situation as at May 10, 2021, Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (May 13, 2021), https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/the-clashes-in-east-jerusalem-situation-as-at-may-10-2021/; Alon Hakmon and Arik Bender, Tense night in Jerusalem: 64 injured in clashes between police and rioters at Damascus Gate, Maariv (May 9, 2021), https://www.maariv.co.il/news/military/Article-839071.

[7] Yishai Porat and Meir Marciano, Disturbances on Temple Mount: Palestinians threw stones – 9 police hurt, 13 News (May 10, 2021), https://13news.co.il/item/news/domestic/exfne-1248384/.

[8] Some 300 Palestinians, 21 cops said hurt in latest heavy clashes in Jerusalem, Times of Israel (May 10, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/some-280-palestinians-9-cops-hurt-in-latest-heavy-clashes-in-jerusalem/; 7 Palestinians seriously injured, victory cries on Temple Mount, Ynet (May 10, 2021), https://www.ynet.co.il/news/article/Hk22xNL0000.

[9] Nir Hasson and Josh Breiner, After violent clashes, Barricades Removed at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, Haaretz (April 25, 2021), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-after-days-of-clashes-barricades-removed-at-jerusalem-s-damascus-gate-1.9745875.

[10] Id. AFP, Israeli police take down East Jerusalem barricades after violent protests, France24 (April 24, 2021), https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210425-israeli-police-take-down-east-jerusalem-barricades-after-violent-protests.

[11] Nan Jacques Zilberdik, Abbas “salutes” Arab rioters in Jerusalem; Fatah promotes Intifada against Jews, PMW (April 28, 2021), https://palwatch.org/page/20729.

[12] Tensions peak during Ramadan, including confrontations in Jerusalem and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeting Israel’s south, Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (April 27, 2021), https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/tensions-peak-during-ramadan-including-confrontations-in-jerusalem-and-rocket-fire-from-the-gaza-strip-targeting-israels-south/.

[13] Almog Ben Zikri, Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury, IDF Strikes Gaza, Barrage of Rockets Fired on Israel in Night of Escalating Tension, Haaretz (April 23, 2021), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-three-gaza-rockets-launched-into-israel-one-intercepted-by-iron-dome-1.9741518.

[14] Israel launches strikes on Gaza after rocket attack, Deutsche Welle (April 24, 2021),  https://www.dw.com/en/israel-launches-strikes-on-gaza-after-rocket-attack/a-57320413.

[15] Almog Ben Zikri, Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury, IDF Strikes Gaza, Barrage of Rockets Fired on Israel in Night of Escalating Tension, Haaretz (April 23, 2021), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-three-gaza-rockets-launched-into-israel-one-intercepted-by-iron-dome-1.9741518.

[16] Daniel L. Byman, Hamas tries to seize the day, Brookings (May 12, 2021), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/05/12/hamas-tries-to-seize-the-day/.

[17] Elhanan Miller, For the first time in years, IDF to let Palestinian buses into Israel on Ramadan, Times of Israel (June 16, 2015), https://www.timesofisrael.com/for-first-time-in-years-idf-to-let-palestinian-buses-into-israel-on-ramadan/.

[18] Oren Ziv, On Eid al-Fitr, some Palestinians get their first visit to the sea, 972Magazine (June 18, 2018), https://www.972mag.com/on-eid-al-fitr-some-palestinians-get-their-first-visit-to-the-sea/; AFP, Palestinians take a holiday dip in Israeli waters, Yahoo News (September 13, 2016), https://www.yahoo.com/news/palestinians-holiday-dip-israeli-waters-172549528.html; Marty Friedlander, Tourist Tip #287 / ‘Ramadan Kareem,’ Haaretz (July 15, 2013), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/travel/.premium-tourist-tip-287-ramadan-kareem-1.5295660?lts=1623838787079.

[19] Dozens injured as Palestinians riot in Jerusalem, al-Aqsa, Jerusalem Post (May 9, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/palestinian-prayer-goers-walk-to-jerusalem-as-police-close-roads-667608; 100 Palestinians Injured as Jerusalem Clashes Continue for Second Night, Haaretz (May 9, 2021), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-over-15-palestinians-arrested-in-east-jerusalem-raids-day-after-violent-clashes-1.9785217.

[20] Temple Mount: thousands gather to pray during somber Eid al-Fitr, I24 News (May 13, 2021), https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/society/1620896370-temple-mount-thousands-gather-to-pray-during-somber-eid-al-fitr.

[21] Jeremy Sharon, Temple Mount reopens to Jews after weeks of clashes and unrest, Jerusalem Post (May 23, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/temple-mount-reopened-to-jews-after-weeks-of-clashes-and-unrest-668871.

UN Watch