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Social Text 21.2 (2003) 141-162

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House and Homeland
Examining Sentiments About and Claims to Jerusalem and its Houses

Amahl Bishara

On Thursday, 28 September 2000, Israeli right-wing Knesset leader Ariel Sharon visited al-Haram al-Sharif or the Temple Mount, the location of al-Aqsa mosque and, in millennia past, of David and Herod's temples, the place from which, according to Islamic texts, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and the location at which, according to Jewish texts, God will someday build a new temple to signify the coming of the Messiah. Ariel Sharon brought with him a one-thousand-member police force dressed in riot gear for the hour-long tour of the expansive stone platform. A military helicopter buzzed above the scene as Palestinians tried to break through the police forces. Several people on both sides were wounded in clashes. On Friday, Palestinians found police reinforcements on al-Haram al-Sharif again. Upon exiting the mosque after prayer, Palestinians began throwing stones at the police in protest of their presence. Some stones fell on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below. In the confrontations that followed, four Palestinians were killed and more than two hundred injured by Israeli rubber bullets and live ammunition. Protests quickly spread to Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and other places in the West Bank. This was the beginning of the second Intifada.

Sharon's visit was immediately the subject of much debate in Israel and around the world about proper behavior in these holy spaces. Palestinians saw the military intrusion on al-Haram al-Sharif as a violation of a holy site. Israelis were outraged that rocks had fallen on Jewish worshippers. The New York Times reported that while Jews were usually allowed by Muslims to visit the site, most Orthodox rabbis prohibit entry into it because of its extreme sacredness. Sharon asserted the legality of his visit, declaring "Arabs have the right to visit everywhere in the Land of Israel, and Jews have the right to visit every place in the Land of Israel." 1 Finally, Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian Authority's representative in Jerusalem, saw Sharon's military escort as proof of the illegitimacy of Israeli control: "Sharon thought that this place belongs to the Israelis, but the way he entered, with thousands of police protecting him, was clear proof to all the world that Israelis have no sovereignty here." 2

Fifteen years earlier, Ariel Sharon, then the minister of industry and trade, had made a different inflammatory move, that time into an apartment in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. On 15 December 1987, [End Page 141] approximately one week after demonstrations that would become the first Intifada began, Sharon invited dozens of friends to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah in his new apartment. Mayor Teddy Kollek turned down the invitation, calling Sharon's decision to purchase in the Old City a provocation and writing in a letter to Sharon, "I believe wholly in our historical right over Jerusalem. Because of this, it is our duty to act with restraint and common sense." 3 Many news articles following the ensuing controversy noted that Sharon's move would be seen as particularly disrespectful because he was "the prime architect of Israel's 1982 Lebanon invasion," 4 and thus, to those who knew the subtext of that tag, held responsible for the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. As an Arab student told reporters, "It's not just a Jew living in an Arab area. Sharon is hated by the Arabs." 5 Sharon himself said that he had a clear right to live anywhere in Israel that he wanted to live, asserting an even Israeli sovereignty over what he considered state territory. He asked whether Palestinians living in predominantly Jewish cities are considered a provocation and commented, "I always believed that Jews and Arabs should live together and will live together in the Land of Israel." 6

A New York Times editorial countered Sharon's claim that Jews should be able to live...


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