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PA Corona update: Israel criticized for closing mosque, while Hamas criticized for not closing mosques, on same page in official PA daily

Nan Jacques Zilberdik and Itamar Marcus  |
  • Two days after the Waqf criticized Israel, the Waqf agreed to close the Al-Aqsa Mosque

The Palestinian Authority published two opposing messages on the front page of the official PA daily:

One article reported on the condemnation of Israel by the Islamic Waqf Council for fining a Waqf official for not closing the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday. Although the Waqf’s stand contradicted the instructions of the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs, which told Palestinians to pray at home and stay away from the mosques, the official PA daily printed the reactions of Islamic Waqf Council Chairman Abdul Azim Salhab. Salhab accused Israel of exploiting the Coronavirus to harm Muslim worshippers by closing the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He emphasized that the Waqf “opposed closing the mosque.”

At the same time the paper’s editorial – also printed on the front page - slammed Hamas for not closing mosques in order to contain the spread of the virus in Gaza.

Official PA daily: The Waqf slams Israel for wanting to close mosque:

“The Israeli occupation police yesterday evening [March 21, 2020] broke into the home of Jerusalem [Islamic] Waqf Council Chairman Abdul Azim Salhab and gave him a fine of 5,000 [Israeli] shekels, because he did not prevent worshippers from participating in Friday prayers two days ago.Salhab said: … ‘The goal of these fines and steps is to close the Al-Aqsa Mosque to worshippers… on the pretext of preventing the spread of the Coronavirus. Our position in the Waqf is that we oppose closing the mosque. It will remain open to worshippers, so that they will pray in the optimal manner that protects their health and welfare.’”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 22, 2020]

Official PA daily: PA criticizes Hamas for not wanting to close mosques:

The Muslim Brotherhood organization (i.e., Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza) … only recognize [their own] party religious rulings… And therefore they are currently attempting to break the [PA] government’s steps to quarantine the Coronavirus, including a temporary closure [by the PA] of the mosques so that the dangerous virus will not spread among the worshippers.”

[Editorial in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 22, 2020]

An op-ed in the official PA daily likewise pointed out that Hamas is endangering lives of Palestinians by not heeding the PA’s call to close all mosques and pray at home:

If they [Hamas] do not stop, we will demand that the rule of law deter them at all costs… Prayer is security, peace, and mercy on the soul and body of the one who performs it, and how could it be thus when there is a chance that others will be infected with a lethal epidemic? …

In their [Hamas’] contempt for human life and the dangers of the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic, they are forcing the rule of law and the public that cares about its health and health security to confront them…

What they are doing is a criminal act, more severe than the crimes of the terror groups and organizations that kill with weapons, gunfire, and explosions, while they – by transgressing the law and the new decisions – become part of the tools and weapons of the enemy (the epidemic) [parentheses in source]. One who is truly religious, regardless of what their faith is, cares about the security and welfare of the other just as he cares about his own security and welfare.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 22, 2020]

Two days after criticizing Israel for wanting to close the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Waqf agreed to close it– but not for the Waqf members themselves. Yuval Segev of the Israeli radio station Galei Tzahalreported that Waqf members are praying at the Al-Aqsa compound while keeping a distance. [Twitter account of Yuval Segev, March 23, 2020]

Palestinian Media Watchhas reported onthe PA’s reactions to the Coronavirus, including the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs’ instructions to pray at home.

The following are longer excerpts of the reports cited above:

Headline: “The occupation imposed a monetary fine on the Jerusalem Waqf director on the pretext that he allowed prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque”

“The Israeli occupation police yesterday evening [March 21, 2020] broke into the home of Jerusalem [Islamic] Waqf Council Chairman Abdul Azim Salhab and gave him a fine of 5,000 [Israeli] shekels, because he did not prevent worshippers from participating in Friday prayers two days ago. Salhab said: ‘The occupation police broke into my home andgave me a fine for not closing the Al-Aqsa Mosque to worshippers, and therefore I must pay 5,000 shekels.’ He added: ‘The goal of these fines and steps is to close the Al-Aqsa Mosque to worshippers. The mosque is our mosque. We pray at the plazas, and we have instructions for worshippers from the Al-Aqsa Mosque administration on how to pray and how to leave the mosque.’He explained: ‘The Israeli occupation government is implementing a double standard, because it is allowing settlers to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque each day, but preventing [Muslim] worshippers from entering the mosque, and giving them fines on the pretext of preventing the spread of the Coronavirus (sic., Israeli restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people apply to Jews as well as Muslims). Our position in the Waqf is that we oppose closing the mosque. It will remain open to worshippers, so that they will pray in the optimal manner that protects their health and welfare.’”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 22, 2020]

At the same time the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs had published instructions to Palestinians to pray at home and not come to the mosques.

The PA and its leaders misrepresent all of the Temple Mount as an integral part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Therefore they vilify any presence of Jews on the mount as an “invasion” or a "break-in." It should be noted that Jews who visit the Temple Mount only enter some sections of the open areas, and do not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock. Israeli police ban Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount because of threats of violence by Palestinians.

Excerpt of an official PA daily editorial

Headline: “There is the Face of Allah”

“The greatest sources of authority in the Arab world on everything connected to the Islamic religious rulings have all ruled that it is permitted to pray at home, and that one should not go to the mosques these days.This is in order to prevent contact, which is one of the most dangerous paths of spreading the life-threatening Coronavirus…

Prayer remains tantamount to ‘So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah’ [Quran, Sura 2:115, Sahih International translation], but the Muslim Brotherhood organization (i.e., Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza) and their ilk in the parties of strife and Takfir (i.e., the act of accusing other Muslims of heresy) only recognize [their own] party religious rulings… And therefore they are currently attempting to break the [PA] government’s steps to quarantine the Coronavirus, including a temporary closure [by the PA] of the mosques so that the dangerous virus will not spread among the worshippers…

We are left to believe that everywhere that a prayer carpet is placed will turn the site where it is placed into one of Allah’s houses [of worship].”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 22, 2020]

Excerpt of an op-ed by Muwaffaq Matar, Fatah Revolutionary Council member and regular columnist for the official PA daily

Headline: “The rule of law and the transgressions of ‘the [Muslim Brotherhood] organization’ (i.e., Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza)”

“If they [Hamas] do not stop, we will demand that the rule of law deter them at all costs.The freedom of worship is protected, and whoever is doing divine work (i.e., prayer) can do this at his home. Prayer that does not prevent an act of abomination and evil acts and that does not protect people from damage is like prayer that did not exist at all, even if someone performs it at the holiest site in his opinion. This is because prayer is security, peace, and mercy on the soul and body of the one who performs it, and how could it be thus when there is a chance that others will be infected with a lethal epidemic? …

In their [Hamas’] contempt for human life and the dangers of the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic, they are forcing the rule of law and the public that cares about its health and health security to confront them.We think that this is part of their satanic plot, so that afterwards they will be able to depict themselves as those who insist on performing their worship and religious ceremonies, and as those who are persecuted and oppressed for this – as if they do not know that what they are doing is a criminal act, more severe than the crimes of the terror groups and organizations that kill with weapons, gunfire, and explosions, while they – by transgressing the law and the new decisions – become part of the tools and weapons of the enemy (the epidemic) [parentheses in source]. One who is truly religious, regardless of what their faith is, cares about the security and welfare of the other just as he cares about his own security and welfare.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 22, 2020]