Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
Why is Jerusalem so important to Turkey?
Turkey, which supports Hamas, has a growing presence in east Jerusalem, as seen by the Turkish flags flying there. Its influence can even be seen in local restaurants and clothing stores.
Turkish support for Hamas also explains the appearance of Turkish flags among Palestinian protesters in the Gaza fence confrontation.
Turkey is using Muslim “tourism” to gain a foothold on the Temple Mount and other holy sites, possibly aiming to take control of them.
Turkey, under the charismatic leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is intervening in many places throughout the Middle East. In each locale, it takes care to unfurl the Turkish flag literally.
However, Turkey’s public involvement in Jerusalem appears to be more public and striking because Jerusalem is more important to Turkey than other places in the region.
Turkey has shown great interest in both Gaza and Jerusalem. It is interested in Gaza because Gaza is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, Hamas, which Turkey wishes to bring under its wing, and it is interested in Jerusalem to facilitate the “saving of al-Aqsa.”
Erdogan often uses the slogan, “Break through the siege on Gaza,” to spread hatred of Israel and gain more popularity.
Turkey is active in east Jerusalem in several ways, the most dangerous of which is its support for the terror organization Hamas. The most visible sign of its activity is the Turkish flag flying publicly around east Jerusalem. Many of the alleyways of the Old City and in the streets outside the Old City Wall have at times been festooned with Turkish flags flying on every corner, including at the entrances to the Temple Mount, while pro-Turkish demonstrations take place on the Mount itself.
One striking feature of Turkish influence in east Jerusalem is the number of restaurants that have become Turkish shawarma places, with signs commemorating Islamization and the Islamic conquests. Note the horse figure, a prominent Islamic motif, on the picture of the “Istanbul” restaurant.
One restaurant on Zah’ra Street that once had an “Israeli menu” called “Jerusalem mix” has now become a Turkish restaurant. All of this expresses Turkey’s intention to put a stop to the “Israelization” of Arabs in the eastern part of the city.
However, recently, after Erdogan sent the Israeli ambassador back to Israel, Israel expelled the Turkish consul in Jerusalem and the West Bank back to Turkey. As a result, some of the shawarmarestaurants removed their Turkish signs. Palestinian sources explained that the owners began to worry in case Israeli measures against Turkish influence could harm them.
Arab fashion stores have also changed and now sell modest Islamic clothing for women in Turkish style. A modern Turkish fashion store closed down after a short while.
A Turkish cultural center has opened, offering courses in Turkish, Turkish musical concerts, and cultural speakers, who are building up the connection between the residents of east Jerusalem and Turkish culture.
A large amount of property has been purchased in east Jerusalem, most of which has a Turkish historical background.
Two Turkish institutions in east Jerusalem were involved in the property purchases – Kanadil and TIKA. Kanadil was closed down by Israel recently because of its involvement in funding terror.1
Turkey has also infiltrated the city’s Muslim establishment, primarily the Supreme Muslim Council, led by council leader Sheikh Ikrimah Sabri. There has also been an attempt to take control of the east Jerusalem “street” with the help of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which is led by Israeli Muslim leader Sheikh Raed Salah.
Meanwhile, Turkey is gaining control of the mosques on the Temple Mount via extensive Turkish religious tourism.
Recently, Turkish “tourists” confronted Orthodox Jews who pray and study in Samuel’s Tomb in Nebi Samuel located on the Jerusalem outskirts.2
At the same time, Israeli sources involved with east Jerusalem affairs informed us that until now Turkey has not formally challenged Israel’s authority over the eastern part of the city. All of the restoration work on the Turkish sites is done with a license, and any archeological digs they carried out was under the authority and supervision of the Israeli Antiquities Department. “When they put up a Turkish flag on a site, we told them to take it down, and they did so,” stated the sources. According to these sources, “Since there are not many Ottoman sites, they are now widening their activities to Mameluke sites as these are also of Turkish origin.”
Turkey’s Involvement in the Islamic Political System in East Jerusalem
Turkey has two weak points in the political system in east Jerusalem: Hamas is comparatively weak,3 and the most significant Islamic party, the Islamic Liberation Party,4 is opposed to Turkey.5Although at this stage its opposition is verbal and not physical, in the future this party may sabotage Turkish activities in east Jerusalem.
Furthermore, according to knowledgeable sources in east Jerusalem,6 the Islamic Liberation Party had become pro-Iranian because “the founder of Islamic Jihad, Fathi Shqaqi, was a member of the Islamic Liberation Party before he founded Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and it’s possible that he never abandoned the movement.”
Even though pro-Turkish and pro-Iranian forces are currently hostile to each other, events in Syria have left open the possibility that they may eventually join forces in Jerusalem.7
Turkey’s Methods in East Jerusalem
Turkey’s method of influence in east Jerusalem can be seen from several Turkish government organizations posing as NGOs (non-government organizations), which serve, according to several disturbing testimonies, as fronts for the IHH terror organization.
What is the IHH?
The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (or IHH) is an NGO that purports to provide humanitarian aid. However, according to the former head of the Counterterrorism Department in Turkey, Ahmet Sait Yayla, it is a terror organization that collaborates with ISIS.8
IHH was founded during the war in Kosovo, and its activities are spread among all the places that were once under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, or where the Ottomans aspired to rule. These include the Turkish-speaking nations in the former Soviet Union and Russia today. For example, the IHH organized a huge demonstration against Russia in Chechnya,9 which may also indicate its involvement with the actual war there. The leader of the IHH, Bulent Yildirim, called upon the participants in the demonstration to “go and do what needs to be done.” Among the slogans that the demonstrators shouted were: “Killer Russians, Get out of Chechnya!” “Killer Israelis, Get out of Palestine!” and “Killer Americans, Get out of the Middle East!”
Israel was exposed to the IHH’s activities in the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. The IHH was the driving force behind organizing the flotilla, along with Erdogan. Former Turkish intelligence official Ahmet Sait Yayla, who served in this position prior to Erdogan’s rule, explained that Erdogan had two reasons for launching the Marmara: to demonstrate his ties with Hamas in Gaza and to show that he was the defender of Jerusalem. Indeed, interference in Gaza and meddling in Jerusalem are two expressions of Turkish policy regarding the Palestinian problem: Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood, which must be preserved, and Jerusalem has become a principal channel for Turkish subversion of the global Muslim hegemony.
The IHH’s concealed collaboration with the large Turkish NGO TIKA is particularly worrying, because it may mean that terrorist cells are lurking behind the scenes of the cultural, social, and economic activities.
The global reach of TIKA can be seen from its website. For example, its list of offices around the world shows that it has spread to areas that were once under the former Ottoman Empire in the Arab world and in the Islamic states that are especially known to be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey.
On TIKA’s home page,10 the organization’s association with Erdogan is very apparent, as if the organization is a direct mouthpiece for the Turkish president’s policies. Underneath is a large picture of President Erdogan.
TIKA’s activities can also be seen easily on the TIKA Palestine Facebook page.11
One of the most thought-provoking posts on the page concerns an event organized by a different Turkish organization, called Mirath – meaning “Legacy.” Mirath held a conference about the history of the Ottoman Empire’s tolerance toward Christians. The guests at this conference were the leaders of the Armenian Church. Furthermore, the Armenians were the only Christians who were invited. The descendants of the victims of the Armenian Genocide (carried out by Turkey in 1915) were compelled to come to an event celebrating the protection that the Ottomans provided to non-Muslims.12 It should be noted that Turkish “tourists” visiting the Old City often harass the Armenians living there.13
This invitation to the Armenian Church leaders to an exhibition of documents expressing the extent of Ottoman protection to non-Muslims should not only be seen as an act of impudence and an insult, but also a threat that Turkish hegemony will return and everyone had better conform.
One of the ways Turkey is advancing its position in Jerusalem is through religious tourism.14Organized groups of tourists, which, according to Israeli sources are comprised of Turkish unemployed people who participate in this project in return for payment15 come to Jerusalem. The purpose of their trip is not to enjoy the city’s sites, but to demonstrate a Turkish presence on the Temple Mount.
The first person to promote Muslim religious tourism in Jerusalem was Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, but he encountered strong opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood and especially from their main preacher Sheikh al-Qaradawi, who lives in Qatar. He accused Abbas’ call for Muslim tourism to Jerusalem of being a call for normalization with Israel.16
When looking at how the hotels in Jerusalem prepared for the arrival of the Muslim tourists who never came, it is easy to see that they were not peaceful pilgrims, but visitors with extreme emotions. The hotels in east Jerusalem hung up pictures expressing the spirit of this kind of tourism, and these images speak for themselves.
Despite Turkey’s decision to send pilgrims to Jerusalem, the Muslim Brotherhood, including Hamas, is stepping up its opposition to this move. For this reason, there are no other passionate religious Muslim tourists apart from the pilgrims from Turkey. However, many Muslim tourists to Jerusalem are seen free and happy, enjoying their vacation, and are not mobilized as Muslim troublemakers.
What is the point of this religious tourism? Since the IHH terror organization is probably behind the Turkish organizations operating in Jerusalem, it can be deduced that the ultimate goal of this religious tourism is something along the lines of the Mavi Marmara flotilla episode. In other words, it may be to “conquer” the Temple Mount from Israel by overrunning it with masses of pilgrims who will declare that they have restored it to Muslim rule.
This assessment is not baseless conjecture. It is based upon signs that appeared on a platform at a conference of mosque prayer leaders held in Istanbul on July 14, 2017. It was called the “al-Aqsa platform.”17 The signs show pilgrims taking over the Temple Mount compound with Turkish flags and tents in which the pilgrims hold a sit-down strike. Furthermore, at the conference, it was declared that its purpose was to teach prayer leaders throughout the Muslim world about the importance of Jerusalem and the necessity of liberating it. This way, the work of taking over the Temple Mount will occur after a training period at mosques around the Muslim world, accompanying this act of gaining control with supportive events in the Muslim world and also in Europe.
In the picture above, you can see the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount (on the left) opposite al-Aqsa (on the right). The Turks want to show the threat of Jews seeking to restore the Jewish Temple to rally the Islamic world and save al-Aqsa.
Who Implements Turkish Policy?
Aside from the Turkish organizations representing Turkey’s interests, local figures are also involved. Prominent among them is the leader of the northern Islamic Movement in Israel, Raed Salah, and the leader of the Supreme Muslim Council on the Temple Mount, Sheikh Ikrimah Sabri.
This advertisement for an event in honor of Jerusalem called “Evening of Resurrection 2” describes the leader of the Islamic Movement Sheikh Raed Salah as the “governor” or Muhafiz of Jerusalem, and his assistant named Husam Abu Leil.
Sheikh Husam Abu Leil is an extreme Muslim cleric from Ein Mahil in the Galilee. According to his Facebook page,18 he is deeply involved in what is happening on the Temple Mount and is known to the security services in Israel.
Has Turkey already secretly set up its own administration in east Jerusalem? What does it mean that the role of “governor” of the city has been assigned to an Israeli citizen?
With this in mind, it should be noted that its main representative, Sheikh Ikrimah Sabri, already wears white priestly clothing representing the Turkish religious establishment. Is he supposed to serve as the Mufti of Turkey on the Temple Mount?
According to sources in east Jerusalem, he is very close to Erdogan and has a direct telephone line to him. Many people in east Jerusalem use his services to liaise with the Turkish ruler.
The official flyer for the Supreme Muslim Council, Voice of the Council. Erdogan and the Turkish flag appear on the front page (bottom).
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