Fueling the Al-Aqsa controversy, Hamas-style

The Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa TV channel is well-known for its controversial programming. A recent animated film, accusing Israel of seeking to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is adding to the controversy about Israeli excavation work near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Cartoon Al aqsa
An excerpt from an animated film by Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV which accuses Israel of seeking to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. R.R.

GAZA, Sep. 5, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The cartoon on Al-Aqsa TV begins with the appearance of a crack below the surface and widens to a huge chasm as it breaks the surface of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

It also depicts a sleeping man – meant to symbolize any Arab regime – with a sign above him that reads, "The Arab and Muslim World." Also appearing in the cartoon are an officer in the Israeli army, an Israeli Rabbi, and a regular citizen digging under the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

At one point, the Rabbi says, "Slowly, the Arabs will start waking up."

The officer answers, "The Arabs are always sleeping, the Arabs will never wake up."

It ends with the sentence, "Al-Aqsa is in danger.”

Israel's excavation work on the Temple Mount, and its plans to build a footbridge leading to the Al-Aqsa mosque, have been a hot topic in the Arab world for more than a year.

In February 2007, Israeli archeologists began excavating the centuries-old ramp leading from the Jewish prayer plaza at the Western Wall up to the Temple Mount compound, known to Muslims as the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and the site of two landmark shrines: the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest Islamic site, and the Dome of the Rock.

Israel says it wants to build a bridge there to replace the ramp, which collapsed four years ago after a heavy snowstorm.

Jordanian protest

But the excavation work immediately sparked riots by angry Muslims who feared that it could damage the foundations of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Israeli-installed webcams, allowing Muslims to monitor the dig, failed to appease the Muslim community, and Jerusalem's mayor, Uri Lupolianski, suspended the work, vowing at the same time that the excavation would continue.

Lately, the controversy has gained new momentum after Jordan, on August 21, urged the world's major powers to put pressure on Israel to halt its excavations. Jordan is the legal custodian of the Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem under the 1994 peace agreement with Israel.

Jordan's Foreign Minister,
Salah Bashir, urged a cessation of all unilateral steps in the holy city, which could only "enhance tension in the region and derail peace moves."

Mohammed Abu Hdeib, a Jordanian MP, went even further in an interview with AFP. "This would also lead to a new violent conflict in the Middle East because Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims and Arabs," Abu Hdeib said.


Adding to the controversy comes the 1-minute animated cartoon that the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa satellite TV channel has recently started broadcasting from Gaza. It has turned more than a few heads in Israeli, although it has received little attention so far in the Arab world.

Al-Aqsa TV representatives say the cartoon is more of an advertisement than anything else, but pro-Israeli groups like the Palestine Media Watch say it is a means of inciting violence in an already tense situation.

Samir Abu Mohsen, program manager at Al-Aqsa TV told MENASSAT, “The idea behind producing the clip came after the excavation works under al-Aqsa Mosque began. It was presented to Al-Aqsa's cartoons department, which liked the idea and gave the OK to produce it."

The cartoon, Mohsen said, "is just a means of using popular culture to get the message out."

By airing it, "Al-Aqsa TV is only reflecting a popular sentiment among Palestinians."

In fact, others have said it even more forcefully.

Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, head of the Supreme Muslim Council which oversees the Jerusalem Sanctuary, was recently quoted in Egypt's Al-Ahram saying, "I have no doubt the Israeli government has the will and desire to destroy the Aqsa Mosque. They only want to do it in a way that would make the demolition look as if it was a result of natural causes."

Mission accomplished

Al-Aqsa TV is doing its bit by running the cartoon as a sort of teaser in between regular programming.

The cartoon was produced by Baha' Yassin but when MENASSAT tried to get Yassin's information, Abu Mohsen refused.

"Baha' Yassin is not allowed to talk about this... His mission is to execute cartoons for the station," said Abu Mohsen, who was clearly aware that the cartoon has generated a good deal of media attention.

"So many media outlets have been interested in the cartoon, and this is a clear indication of its success and that it accomplished its media mission to the perfection."

That mission, in Abu Mohsen's words, "is to wake up all the Muslims and Arabs in the world that they need to come to the aid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque before it is too late."

"The Muslims and Arabs need to wake up out of their hibernation," he said. 

Public opinion in Gaza about the cartoon varied.

Emad Ramlawi told MENASSAT, "The duration of the clip is one minute, but it clearly expresses the reality of the Arab world. Arab governments pay no more than lip service to what is happening in the Palestinian Territories, and especially what is happening with Al-Aqsa Mosque."

Mohammad al-Kilani disagreed. "Some Arab countries and leaders try to help us in our daily suffering. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and many others. But the tremendous pressures practiced on the Arab World don't give these leaders a chance to express their opinion."

Yuram Dinor, an Israeli political writer and analyst, expressed worry about the possible repercussions of the Al-Aqsa controversy.

"The issue of the excavation under Al-Aqsa Mosque is very sensitive, and it could turn the Palestinian-Israeli struggle from a nationalist conflict into a religious conflict," he told MENASSAT. "This doesn't serve the people of this region in the least, including Israel."

Regarding the Al-Aqsa TV animation, Dinor felt that if anyone should be insulted by it, it is the Arab leaders .

"This cartoon was directed not so much against the Israelis as against the sleeping Arab leaders."