I, like many who sympathise with the Palestinians during these particularly hard times, was extremely disappointed and saddened by the Islamists’ condemnation of the visit to Al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem by the grand mufti of Egypt a couple of weeks ago. This condemnation is yet another evidence of Islamists’ shortsightedness and negative vision.
Since the very beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel has spared no effort to turn its occupation of Palestine into colonisation. Throughout the long decades of the conflict, it has made it a policy and a systematic practice to get rid of Palestinians by all means at its disposal: destruction of towns, eviction of inhabitants, deportation of political activists, imprisonment of young people, closure of schools and universities, confiscation of arable land, erection of settlements, separation of Palestinian towns, demolition of houses, shelling and bombardment of civilian areas and subversion of the peace process.
Recent Israeli governments, both influenced and headed by extremists and racists, have intensified efforts to make it as difficult as possible for Palestinians to live a normal life and stay on their land. Israel intends and hopes that somehow the Palestinians would one day vanish.
The Palestinians will not vanish, of course, and no matter what happens, they remain steadfast on their land. But the Palestinians, in facing a most barbaric occupation/colonisation, suffer greatly and need much support.
What support are they getting from Arab and Muslim countries? Not much. Even when the Palestinians filed for UN membership a few months ago, they did not get the necessary diplomatic support from Arab and Muslim countries, which contributed to the erosion of the bid.
Clearly, the Palestinians are in dire need of moral and material support to help them cling to their land and appropriately counter all types of Israeli policies that aim to compel them to depart or deport them.
One basic form of support is constant contacts with Palestinians. Arabs and Muslims should make it a point to keep the channels of communication and contact open with the Palestinian population in order to alleviate their suffering, solidify their steadfastness and contribute as much as possible to the normalisation of their life under the abnormal circumstances that Israel is imposing on them.
Visits to the holy sites in occupied Palestinian territories, by Arabs and Muslims should, therefore, not only be encouraged, but made a priority. Such visits clearly offer much psychological support to the Palestinians, assuring them that their fellow Arabs and Muslims have not forsaken them, but are there for them and with them.
Additionally, constant visits by Arabs and Muslims to Islamic and Christian sites function as a reminder of the importance of these sites to Arabs and Muslims, and the fact that they are under Israeli occupation. This helps focus international attention on Israeli occupation.
This is why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called on Arabs and Muslims to continually visit Palestine. By boycotting Israel, in effect one boycotts the Palestinians. The same sentiment was echoed by the Palestinian minister of awqaf and religious affairs.
Israel wants and loves nothing more than to have Arabs and Muslims turn their back on the Palestinians and on the holy sites in the occupied territories. Those who are calling for banning visits to the occupied territories are, indirectly and foolishly, abetting Israel’s schemes.
Visits to the Palestinian population under occupation and to holy sites should not, in any way, be seen as normalising relations with Israel. Rather, they should be looked at as concrete examples of what fellow Arabs and Muslims can do to normalise the daily lives of Palestinians and help them remain steadfast on their land — which is what the Palestine question is all about at this point in time.
Arabs, Muslims and peace advocates the world over should keep the road to Jerusalem open and travel it frequently to show solidarity with the Palestinians and to keep the matter of the occupation of holy sites alive in the minds of people.