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memri
November 3, 2016 No.
6664

Contradictory Statements By 'Abbas Advisor For Religious Affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Supreme Palestinian Authority Qadi (shari'a judge) and advisor for religious and Islamic affairs to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas, makes many statements on various platforms about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the Jews' connection to them.

On the one hand, many of the statements he makes are moderate; for example, he has said that Jews will be entitled to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound under Palestinian sovereignty, and has condemned terrorism, saying that it harms Jews and Arabs alike.[1] Al-Habbash has also harshly condemned Hamas, to which he belonged until 1994, calling its members "Khawarij"[2] and accusing them of sedition, [3] and calling the movement an enemy worse than the Israeli occupation.[4] He even implied on one occasion that killing Hamas leader Isma'il Haniya would be an action sanctioned by Islam.[5] Moreover, Al-Habbash meets with official and unofficial Israeli elements and with Rabbis in Israel and abroad, inter alia as part of his membership in the PLO's Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, which works to promote the Palestinian political narrative among the Israeli public.[6] Some of his dovish statements are made in forums of this sort, and on the Israeli media.

However, more frequent than Al-Habbash's dovish statements are his extreme statements. For example, he has claimed exclusive Palestinian rights to Jerusalem and its holy sites, and has called for jihad for the sake of Al-Aqsa. He has also compared Israel to the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Israeli-Palestinian political process to the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, thus implying that it is a temporary ceasefire to be maintained only so long as it serve Muslim interests. He also questioned whether the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were indeed Muslims. Most of Al-Habbash's more extreme statements have come in his Friday sermons in West Bank mosques, including the mosque at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, where PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas worships, and in statements to Palestinian media.

Following are some of Al-Habbash's statements, 2010-2016:


Mahmoud Al-Habbash (image: Ramallah.news)

Jews Will Be Allowed To Pray In Al-Aqsa Compound Under Palestinian Sovereignty; Jews Have No Claim To Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa

In an interview on Israeli television on February 11, 2014, Al-Habbash welcomed the prospect of Jews praying in the Al-Aqsa compound when this compound is under Palestinian sovereignty: "Any Jew who wants to pray at Al-Aqsa, [we will say to him:] welcome. Politics are one thing and worship is another. But all this will happen  under Palestinian sovereignty."[7] However, in recent statements, Al-Habbash categorically denied the right of Jews to pray in the Al-Aqsa compound. In response to a statement by Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter, on August 15, 2016, that the Temple Mount would not be like Mecca and Medina (i.e., a site open to Muslims only), Al-Habbash said: "These statements reflect the Israeli madness to Judaize Jerusalem. Jerusalem is Arab Palestinian land, and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, with all its components and with its 14.8-hectare compound,  is a unique Islamic-Arab-Palestinian right, and the Jews have not the slightest claim to it."[8]

On October 13, 2016, the United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution that was characterized in Palestinian media as describing the Al-Aqsa compound and the Western Wall as "an exclusively Muslim site, to which the Jews bear no connection." Al-Habbash responded to the resolution's passage by saying: "This resolution is an accurate representation of the truth and of history in terms of all the measures taken by the occupation governments, one after another, with all their political, economic and security branches, to falsify and Judaize [Jerusalem]." He attributed the passage of resolution to Abbas's international policies, and called on the international community and the world's legal institutions to pressure the Israeli government to withdraw from Jerusalem and from all Muslim and Christian holy sites.[9]

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is Not Religious In Nature; Violence Should Be Condemned; All Muslims Must Wage Jihad For Sake Of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa

In October 13, 2016, Al-Habbash attended a meeting between senior Palestinian and Israeli religious leaders, hosted by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at his residence. At the end of the meeting, which was dedicated to denouncing violence and promoting peace between the two peoples, the participants issued the following statement: "God created life and commanded life. Therefore, we denounce the killing of innocents or any kind of aggression against the other. We believe the deliberate killing of or attempt to kill innocents is terrorism, whether it is committed by Muslims, Jews or others. In this spirit, we encourage all our people to work for a just peace, mutual respect for human life and for the status quo on the holy sites, and the eradication of religious hatred."[10]

On April 17, 2014, Al-Habbash, speaking with the Palestinian news network PNN, condemned the shooting attack that had occurred several days earlier in Hebron, in which an Israeli soldier was killed. He said, "We condemn all acts of violence, whether they are directed at Palestinians or Israelis. Palestinian blood is like Israeli blood. It is precious human blood, and nobody wants anybody to be killed... Our constant position as Palestinians, regardless of the Israeli position, is that we are against killing anyone. I have said this [in the past], and this is the unchanging Palestinian position. In other words, we do not need to repeat it every day."[11]

In May 2016, while attending an interfaith dialogue conference in Haifa, Al-Habbash gave an interview to the Arab Israeli news portal Bokra, in which he again took a similarly moderate line. He said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "not a religious conflict but a political one, aimed at realizing the national rights of the Palestinians, which are anchored in international resolutions." He added that the "the causes of violence and hatred in our region are not connected to religion or to the relations between Muslims and Jews or Muslim and Christians; rather, they stem from the Israeli occupation."[12]

However, despite his statements regarding the need to recognize the political, rather than religious, nature of the conflict, many of Al-Habbash's speeches and sermons on Jerusalem refer to political issues in religious terms and call for Muslim action, and even jihad, for the sake of Jerusalem. According to a report on the Palestinian news agency Wafa, in his August 19, 2016 sermon at an Islamic center in Sao Paolo, delivered while he was visiting there to attend the 29th conference of Muslims in Latin America and the Caribbean, Al-Habbash "called to save Jerusalem, its holy places and its residents" and noted that "the crime of torching the Al-Aqsa mosque, and the fact that Al-Aqsa is held hostage to this very day, obligate all Muslims to lift the oppression from Al-Aqsa." He also called on "Muslims worldwide to come [to the rescue of] this holy city."[13]     

"In a November 6, 2014 interview on Palestinian Authority TV, Al-Habbash said that waging jihad for the sake of Al-Aqsa is "an individual duty, incumbent upon every Muslim man and woman from all corners of the Earth," and warned that the flames of a religious war "could reach the U.S., Washington itself, Europe, Asia, Africa, [and] everywhere." In a November 7, 2014 sermon in Ramallah, in the presence of PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas, Al-Habbash said that the battle being waged in Jerusalem is "the final phase, after which our banners will fly... over the minarets of Jerusalem, over its churches, its domes, its hills, its mountains, its alleys, and its homes."[14]

 

 

 

In an address broadcast on Palestinian Authority TV on January 13, 2014 , Al-Habbash said that jihad should be directed toward Jerusalem, not Syria. He stressed that "Jerusalem is still waiting. Jerusalem is the direction. Jerusalem is the address," adding that "evil hands" were "conducting a filthy game" aimed at weakening the Islamic nation and "diverting the compass away from its true direction."[15]

 

 

 

In addition to rallying Muslims to come to the aid of Jerusalem, Al-Habbash has effectively supported incitement against Jews and waging war on them. On January 29, 2010, he was meant to deliver a Friday sermon in Nablus, but arrived late and therefore sufficed with sitting in the audience and delivering a short statement after the sermon. The sermon accused the Jews of being "enemies of Allah" and included statements characterizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being religious rather than political, such as "Our mutual enmity with [the Jews] is a matter of faith more than an issue pertaining to occupation and land"; "The Prophet Muhammad said: You will fight the Jews, and you will kill them"; "This land will only be liberated through Jihad". After the sermon Al-Habbash expressed support for what had been said, and added: "Jews will always be Jews. Even if donkeys cease to bray, dogs cease to bark, wolves cease to howl, and snakes cease to bite, the Jews will not cease to be hostile to the Muslims."[16] 

 

 

 

The Peace Process Must Be Renewed; The Peace Process Is Like The Hudaybiyya Agreement; ISIS And Israel Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Al-Habbash made conflicting statements on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as well. For example, in a recent meeting with Israeli deputy minister Ayoob Kara and with Muhammad Al-Madani, head of the PLO's Committee for Communication with Israeli Society, Al-Habbash called for renewing the peace process.[17] At the same time, he also compared the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to the Hudaybiyya Treaty, thus implying that it is a temporary ceasefire to be maintained only as long as it serves Muslim interests. In a July 17, 2013 sermon that was aired on Palestinian Authority TV, he said, "The agreement to resume talks with Israel is like the Hudaybiyya treaty."

 

 

 

 

 

In a November 20, 2015 Friday sermon at the Ramallah presidency headquarters, Al-Habbash called on the world to work together to fight terrorism by establishing a "moral alliance" (hilf fudhoul) based on support for the oppressed and ending wars - similar to the pre-Islamic trade alliance whose signing Muhammad, not yet a prophet, attended.[18] Terrorism, Al-Habbash said, had no religion or nationality and should not be attributed to Islam, as Islam rejects hasty and indiscriminate killing; he added that "the recent murder of dozens of innocent people in France, Lebanon, Sinai, and Saudi Arabia is the same terrorism of murder and killing that the Israeli occupation has for decades carried out, and is still carrying out, in Hebron, Jerusalem, and occupied Palestine against the unarmed Palestinian people. This is terrorism in the full sense of the word."

Al-Habbash claimed further that "the selective treatment of terrorism [in the world] is one of the reasons for its spread and expansion," and that the Israeli occupation is the chief perpetrator of this terrorism. He said: "For 67 years [since 1948], the Palestinian people has been exposed to Israeli terrorism, and no one has lifted a finger against it. Today, the entire world is dealing with the same terrorism, the same aggression, and the same oppression, and it is therefore time for the world to acknowledge the reality and take fair stances that protect its security - because the terrorist ISIS [organization] and Israeli occupation are two sides of the same coin with regards to terrorism."[19]

 

Endnotes:

[1] Pfnp.net, April 17, 2014.

[2] The Khawarij was a group that broke away from the forces of Caliph 'Ali bin Abu Taleb and formed Islam's first religious opposition group. Today the term is often used pejoratively to designate extremist and violent individuals or groups.

[3] Arabi21. com, May 23, 2015.

[5] See for example MEMRI TV Clip No. 2412, " PA Minister of Religious Endowments Mahmoud Al-Habbash Implies that Islam Sanctions the Killing of Hamas Leader Ismail Haniya," March 5, 2010.

[6] Amad.ps, October 23, 2016. About the committee, Al-Habbash said that "it carries out an important task, namely to explain the Palestinian position to all sectors of Israeli society. It is important that they hear our claims and arguments from us, and [in any case] we have nothing to lose" (maannew.net, August 27, 2016). Al-Habbash also took part in an interfaith conference in the University of Haifa on April 13-14, 2011, titled "Religious Faith and the Jewish-Arab Conflict" (derasat.ara-star.com, April 20, 2016).  In addition, he meant to participate in a conference on the Israeli-Palestinian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on March 1, 2016, along with Israeli Knesset member Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid, but eventually cancelled his participation (amnpress.com, February 28, 2016; safa.ps, March 1, 2016). On December 1, 2014, he delivered a speech on the importance of religious tolerance in the Israeli Palestinian conflict (alresalah.ps, December 1, 2014).   

[7] Fatehorg.ps, February 12, 2014.

[8] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 16, 2016; Wafa.ps, August 16, 2016.

[9] Maannews.net, October 18, 2016.

[10] Washingtoninstitute.org. October 13, 2016.

[11] Fpnp.net, April 17, 2014.

[12] Bokra.net, May 9, 2016.

[13] Wafa.ps, August 20, 2016.

[17] Kofiapress.net, October 30, 2016.

[18] The hilf al-fudhoul fair-trade alliance was signed by Quraysh tribesmen in Mecca in 570. Since Muhammad, though not yet a prophet, attended the signing of the alliance and played an active role in drawing it up, the alliance had a significant impact on Islamic ethics.

[19] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 20, 2015.