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Turks shocked by Al-Aqsa Mosque clashes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Israel "barbaric" after the latest clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Palestinians clean the Al Aqsa mosque after clashes with Israeli police on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City November 5, 2014. Israeli security forces hurling stun grenades clashed with Palestinian stone-throwers at al-Aqsa mosque - a confrontation that has played out frequently over the past several weeks. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST RELIGION) - RTR4CY3R

It remains a mystery to outside observers what exactly happened the morning of Nov. 5 at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, though it's certain that the morning's events triggered speculation of an imminent third intifada. Based on Turkish news coverage, the general perception was that Israeli security forces entered the mosque and clashed with the Palestinians praying inside, throwing several Qurans to the floor.

"You cannot soil these sacred grounds with your dirty boots — you can only smear your souls," Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said Nov. 6. "What will happen if a state, a government, an administration derails and acts in a perverted way and conducts persecution?"

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ramped up the criticism. Erdogan said that no such intervention at Al-Aqsa Mosque had occurred since 1967. He described the Israeli action as “barbaric” and “despicable” and argued that Israel was knowingly “provoking” Palestinians to more violence. “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is not only important for Arabs and Palestinians, but for all the Muslims in the world. This Israeli action is barbaric, nefarious and inexcusable,” Erdogan said Nov. 6. “There is a planning here. There is a strategic approach. One needs to really think hard about [the timing] of this incident.”

Erdogan contended that Israel intentionally selected this moment to create a new crisis with the Palestinians, since the world’s attention was focused on developments in Kobani and Aleppo, with Islamic State militants fighting hard to take over those two Syrian cities.

Turkey’s opposition parties have also joined the government in condemning the armed clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Levent Gok of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said that the widely-viewed video footage showing fighting inside the mosque has offended Muslims all over, though Palestinians said no Israeli soldier can be seen inside the mosque in the video footage. “[Everyone] needs to be respectful to religiously accepted sacred places,” said Gok.

Yusuf Halacoglu of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) echoed this sentiment. “We condemn Israeli soldiers putting their boots in Al-Aqsa Mosque in the strongest way,” he said. “Those who do not respect others’ sacred places should not expect respect.” Idris Baluken of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) said that Israel has directly targeted Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was unacceptable. “We are on the side of the suffering Palestinian people till the end,” he said.

However, Aykan Erdemir, a CHP Bursa deputy, called for moderates on both sides — Palestinian and Israeli — to turn this crisis into a new beginning, whereby the two sides could foster a constructive dialogue and intensify peace-building efforts. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Erdemir criticized Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric. “I believe that in condemning the incident statesmen should use a careful and constructive language if they want to ensure that the incident leads to conflict resolution and peace-building,” he said. “If politicians insist on using inflammatory language on all sides, this will only add fuel [to an already existing fire], and the recent developments have proven once again that hawkish language and violent response neither bring a short-term solution nor a long-term sustainable settlement.”

Leyla, a housewife who asked to be identified only by her first name, told Al-Monitor, “I have no issues with Israel and have actually developed more empathy toward them since this government came to power. I am fed up being told by our leaders to see Israel as wrong all the time. But, I tell you, I hope they really grasp the moment of our technological environment, where anything could be televised, and their utter disrespect to Al-Aqsa could incite unprecedented condemnation and even action from afar [from those] who have no bone to pick in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The deadly incidents over the past month are not part of the conversation in Turkey, though the video footage did show some sort of clash taking place in the mosque. Moreover, no one here really talks about how right-wing members of the Knesset stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque for three consecutive days.

When I asked Leyla whether she had heard that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the entry of these right-wing Israeli politicians into the mosque as “cheap” politics lacking wisdom, she said, “Good for him, but who really cares what he said or did not say? This video footage is all that matters to me. And I want Israel to respect our sacred places.”

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