Despite vocal and self-righteous claims to the contrary, Palestinian leaders continue to incite their people and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world against Israel and Jews. For the past two and a half years, these leaders have been accusing Israel and Jews of seeking to turn the Israeli-Arab conflict into a religious one. The accusation refers specifically to visits by Jews to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The truth, however, is just the opposite: it is the Palestinians that have been aiming at every turn to transform the political and territorial conflict into a religious one.
By turning the conflict into a religious one, the Palestinians are hoping to avoid any discussion about important issues such as security, borders, the status of Jerusalem, anti-Israel incitement and assaults on public freedoms under the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. Palestinian leaders do not feel comfortable discussing any of these issues; that is why they prefer to make the debate appear as if it is about religious issues.
Palestinian leaders are also hoping that the entire Islamic world will rally against Israel once they are told that Islamic holy sites are allegedly being targeted and desecrated by Jews.
The Palestinian Authority is toe-to-toe with Hamas in this unceasing incitement. The two rival Palestinian parties may disagree about almost everything, but when it comes to libeling Israel and Jews, they have no differences.
Jewish tours of the Temple Mount in the past two and a half years, contrary to Palestinian claims, have not affected the "status quo" or existing state of affairs at the holy site whatsoever. The Islamic holy sites, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, have not been "defiled" or "destroyed" as the result of the presence of Jews at the Temple Mount. More significantly, Muslims' access to their holy sites on the Temple Mount remains unchanged. Every day, thousands of Muslim worshippers converge on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock to perform prayers. On Fridays, the number of Muslim worshippers is sometimes estimated at tens of thousands.
Jewish visits to the Temple Mount are restricted to the early hours of the morning. Jewish visitors, in fact, are even banned from praying at the Temple Mount. The current regulations on the Temple Mount explicitly forbids praying by Jews, and the police have banned Jews from carrying any articles that might lead a Jew to pray. Jews who visited the Temple Mount during the recent autumn harvest holiday of Sukkot were forbidden from bringing the "Four Species" -- the citrus, myrtle, willow and palm frond -- that are mandated by the Torah to be used as part of the services on each of the seven days of the holiday.
These restrictions, however, have not stopped the Palestinians from pursuing their campaign of incitement against Israel and Jews. At the core of this campaign is the false and libelous claim that Israel is seeking to destroy the Islamic holy sites and rebuild the Third Temple on their ruins. They supplement this fabricated and malicious charge with the unholy statement that the Jews are "defiling with their filthy feet" the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Notably, it is the same excuse that Osama bin Laden used against the United States when he said that Americans were "defiling" Saudi Arabia simply by walking on the ground there.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's famous statements from September 2015 continue to reverberate:
"The Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is ours, and they [Jews] have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem. We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing."
Shortly after Abbas made that announcement -- an echo of the same false charge issued in 1941 by the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini not only to expel Jews from the land but to murder them, and that has been dusted off and used ever since -- the Palestinians launched what has become known as the "Knife Intifada," a wave of terror attacks that has so far resulted in the murder of more than 40 Israelis.
Abbas has never retracted his blood libel, or even tried to educate his people for peace. Instead, exactly as Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini did, Abbas has doubled down on inciting his people against Israel and Jews while using Jewish visits to the Temple Mount as a pretext.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (pictured) has never retracted his blood libel, or even tried to educate his people for peace. Instead, he has doubled down on inciting his people against Israel and Jews. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The blood of Israeli, Christian and Palestinian victims is on his hands -- including many Muslim terrorists who were inspired and driven to their deaths by his deliberately subversive rhetoric.
It is precisely the inflammatory speech of Abbas and his senior officials, expressed at every possible podium, which has been trying to turn the conflict into a religious one.
The latest example occurred this week, when one of Abbas's top associates, Fatah leader Azzam Al-Ahmed, repeated the tired old claim that Israel's actions were threatening to turn the conflict into a religious one. Al-Ahmed told parliamentarians from around the world, with his tongue in his cheek:
"We won't allow the conflict with Israel to turn into a religious conflict, as right-wing extremist Israeli groups are trying to do against Islamic and Christian holy sites under the protection of the occupation forces."
Al-Ahmed's statement is part of a Palestinian propaganda campaign designed to frame Israel and Jews and depict them as being responsible for triggering a religious war against Muslims and Christians. These libels advance anti-Semitism and provide ammunition to Israel- and Jew-haters worldwide. It is also the kind of rhetoric that drives many Palestinians to grab a knife and set out to kill the first Jew they meet.
The Palestinians are seeking to turn the conflict into a religious one as part of a strategy to rally as many Muslims and Christians as possible against Israel and Jews. By talking endlessly about a religious conflict, the Palestinians are actually revealing their true desire. They seek a religious conflict because such an incendiary situation distracts attention from the morass of problems at home, particularly the failure of Palestinian leaders to provide a better living for their people and to end corruption and bad government.
Palestinian leaders, from both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, are redirecting the conflict to the topic of religion the better to promote the blood libel that Jews are evil and supposedly even "killed some of the prophets" as is claimed in the Koran:
And [recall] when you said, "O Moses, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth for us from the earth its green herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions." [Moses] said, "Would you exchange what is better for what is less? Go into [any] settlement and indeed, you will have what you have asked." And they were covered with humiliation and poverty and returned with anger from Allah [upon them.] That was because they [repeatedly] disbelieved in the signs of Allah and killed the prophets without right. (Koran 2:61-62)
If any side has turned the conflict into a religious one, it is the Palestinian side, which has long depicted Jews as sons of monkeys and pigs, enemies of Allah and killers of prophets. When Abbas and other Palestinians accuse Jews on a daily basis of "storming" and "desecrating" the Al-Aqsa Mosque, they are firing the first shots in their religious war against Israel and the Jews. In their false charge that Israel is conducting excavation work beneath the Temple Mount in order to bring about the collapse of the Islamic holy sites, no one but they are fanning the flames of religious war. Finally, the stalwart Palestinian denial of any Jewish link to the Temple Mount, where the Jews' first and second Temples once stood, is a clear declaration of what they hope will be received as a religious war on Israel and Jews.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.