Policy Analysis 12 July, 2012

To visit or not to visit? Abbas’ call for Arabs to come to Jerusalem


Policy Analysis Unit

The Policy Analysis Unit is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Policy Analysis Unit draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Assessment Report, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas used the platform of the First International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem, held in Doha in February of this year, to appeal to both Christians and Muslims of the Arab world, inviting them to visit and pray in the Israeli-occupied city. Abbas argued that such a move would constitute a form of resistance, breaking the isolation of Jerusalem's Palestinian population and bolstering their steadfastness. In Abbas' words, visits by Arabs to Jerusalem "would contribute to the protection and consolidation of the city's identity and heritage, which is being threatened with eradication; it would remind the occupier that the cause of Jerusalem is the cause of every Arab, every Muslim and every Christian."  

Abbas quoted a number of excerpts from the body of hadith, or prophetic narrations, attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, in which visits to al-Aqsa Mosque are encouraged. He also pointed out that when the Prophet declared that "the ultimate pilgrimage can only be to three mosques: the Kaaba (in Mecca), this Mosque of mine (in Medina), and al-Aqsa Mosque," Jerusalem was under Byzantine control. In addition, the Palestinian president recalled that even when Jerusalem was under the control of the Frankish invaders, known as the Crusaders, not a single Muslim cleric issued a fatwa (or religious judgment) forbidding pilgrimages to the city.

Shortly after Abbas' remarks in Doha, the mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Sufi Sheikh al-Habib al-Jafri of Yemen, and a number of Jordanian officials announced religious pilgrimages to Jerusalem. With the exception of al-Jafri, none of these prominent pilgrims who took the initiative to visit Jerusalem had previously been known for opposition to "normalization" of Arab-Israeli relations: for at the end of the day, they are part of a dynamic diplomacy that has been active for decades, backed by the concluded Arab-Israeli peace agreements. Notably, the visits of both al-Jafri and Jordan's intelligence chief, Hussein al-Majali, were under Israeli supervision and control, with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) not even being aware of them.[1]

Abbas' comments have sparked a discussion in Palestinian and broader Arab circles about the legitimacy and utility or otherwise of visits to the Palestinian territories and pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the context of Israeli occupation. Muslim clerics on the Palestinian Authority's payroll, including Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud al-Habbash, and the Chief Justice of the Islamic Court, Yousef Ideiss, were supportive of Abbas' suggestions. Most Palestinian and wider Arab political forces, however, were opposed to them, arguing that acceptance would be akin to an open affirmation of the normalization of Arab-Israeli ties; a number of fatwas issued by Muslim clerics in Palestine and other Arab countries have served to highlight the same point. Of course, it was Abbas' use of religion to justify his proclamation which led to the religious form of the opposition to his move: only religious arguments can be used to refute the statements made by Abbas, cloaked as they were in religious garb. 

This paper will address the historical context that led to the general Arab sentiment opposed to normalization, and seek to better define the meaning of this sentiment. With this in mind, this paper will examine the true contents of Abbas' statement, in which he sought to describe pilgrimages to Jerusalem as a facet of the "struggle" to bolster the steadfastness of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, this paper will seek to clarify exactly what the Israeli occupiers allow when it comes to the influx of Arabs and Arab support for the Occupied Palestinian Territories: given the history of Arab attempts to take the peaceful route and normalize relations with the Zionists, what impact will an accusation of "normalizing" have on the future of the Palestinian cause and the struggle against the Israelis?

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[1] Jihan Mustafa, "Habib al-Jaffri's post-Jerusalem dilemma," Mareb Press, April 11, 2012, http://marebpress.net/articles.php?id=15035.