On Jan. 31, 2016, Israel's right-wing Cabinet approved with a 15-5 vote the creation of a mixed-gender plaza to resolve a long-standing dispute in the Jewish community concerning access by women to the Wailing Wall. The head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, claimed that the building of the new plaza would not cause any structural damage to the al-Aqsa Mosque, but the problem is that the chosen site is itself a Muslim religious endowment, as duly recorded in the archives of the Jerusalem waqf, or traditional Islamic endowments.
Resolving gender tensions between existing strands of Judaism and women's access to sacred sites through the seizure of a Muslim religious endowment is manipulative and spiritually vacuous. Furthermore, the Israeli Cabinet's move to use this area shifts internal Jewish tensions, and casts the Palestinians as those opposed to building a new plaza for those women seeking access to a holy site.
The key issue here is not about the mixed-gender plaza, but rather that the Palestinians have faced constant encroachment and destruction of Muslim religious endowments and the seizure of their properties. In reality, the current "Wailing Wall Plaza" was expanded after 1967, when the Israeli government ordered and carried out the destruction and demolishment of the Moroccan Quarter. This area included religious endowments, schools, and homes belonging to various Muslim institutions and Sufi orders.
The earliest Moroccan endowment in Jerusalem was set up in the 12th century (CE) as Mujir al-Din relates in his book on the history of al-Quds (Jerusalem) and al-Khalil (Hebron), that 'Afdal al-Din (the son of Salahadin, the esteemed Muslim conqueror) "endowed as waqf the entire quarter of the Maghribis in favor of the Maghribi community, without distinction of origin," and that the "donation took place at the time when the prince ruled over Damascus, to which Jerusalem was joined" at the time. Another endowment was set up in 1303 by Umar ibn Abdullah ibn Abdun-Nabi al-Masmmudi al-Mujarrad, who dedicated a religious school for North Africans who then lived in and visited the Moroccan Quarter.
The grandson of Abu Madyan Shu'ayb Al-Ghawth, a major Sufi master of the 13th century, dedicated a retreat in the area for the benefit of Moroccans and North African Sufis who then visited the area. In addition, Abu Inan Faris al-Marini, the sultan of Morocco, inscribed a Quran in his own hand and established an endowment in Jerusalem that financed a person to recite the Quran daily in the al-Aqsa Mosque. Thus, what is known in Palestine's history as Harat al-Magharibah (the Moroccan Quarter) dates back to the end of the Crusades, and this sector of the city was mostly destroyed following the 1967 war.
The current plans for building a new mixed-gender plaza should not be viewed as an isolated event and merely the response to a crisis, but as part of an ongoing and long-term strategy to change the status quo and the character of Jerusalem. Attempts at changing the character of Jerusalem, from a Muslim and Christian majority city into an exclusivist Zionist and ultra-nationalist racist enclave, have been underway for over 50 years. This is being carried out through the establishment of settlement buildings all around the city to encircle the Arab quarters and squeeze them out of any possible future growth. Outright thievery has being undertaken by thuggish settlers, who descend into Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, protected by the military, and claim rights to Palestinian properties without a shred of evidence. On the contrary, overwhelming evidence points to forged documents and the readiness of the settler-supported Israeli military and government to sanction these robberies. Furthermore, Israelis strategically deploy punishment by home demolishment and destruction for protesting or the whimsical claim of lack of a permit, which the Jerusalem municipality never grants to Palestinian families.
In all of the above strategies, as well as others, Israel directs victims to seek relief from the courts. But a Palestinian's day in Israeli courts is identical to that of African Americans during the days of Jim Crow in the South or South Africans under Apartheid. Israel's "justice system" is affirmatively discriminatory in both religious and racial terms, whereby Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike are guilty of existing in a land that is exclusively granted to Zionist colonial settlers and enforced by successive court rulings. In those few cases where the courts may rule in favor of limited relief for the Palestinians, the Israeli Knesset or Parliament moves swiftly to defend their Jim Crow-like measures and plug any momentary holes of conscience that might at times emerge from the bench.
The new mixed-gender plaza will be celebrated as a breakthrough and a sign of religious progress, and who can argue that such a move to create an "inclusive" space is not welcome? What is lacking in this celebratory story is the context of a stolen land, a displaced people, and a grand theft of the highest order that gets tabled and reported as a desire to bring about a progressive development relating to women's access to the Wailing Wall prayer areas. Pitting women's access against Palestinian land rights is not progressive nor a visionary religious solution because it utilizes one type of oppression to further a long-standing colonial one.