Analysis: Here's what Erdogan is doing in Jerusalem - and why

Erdogan’s aspirations in Jerusalem are known but few notice that he is working hard to turn the Arab areas of Jerusalem into Islamist hubs.

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Jochanan Visser,

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Senat RP/Polish Senate

Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authored a book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion.

Few people have noticed that Trump’s historic decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem coincided with the commemoration of a centenary since the Ottoman Turks ended their occupation of the holy city.

On December 9 1917 Hussein el-Husseini, the mayor of Jerusalem, together with other local officials offered two soldiers of the British army the surrender of the city after the Turkish army left Jerusalem without setting up a fight.

The British soldiers, who were cooks and wanted to make breakfast for their commander, reportedly rejected the offer and made clear they just wanted some eggs for their chief.

The Turkish army, which had occupied Jerusalem for more than 400 years, never returned to Jerusalem but current Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan aspires to become the city’s sole patron and to restore Turkey’s influence on the Arabs in Israel and Jerusalem in particular.

His aspirations are part of his Ottoman complex and he doesn’t hide it.

During a meeting of his AKP party in 2016, Erdogan told the crowd to remember the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when the Turks defeated the Byzantine Empire and went on to dominate much of the Middle East until Great Britain and France defeated the Ottoman Empire in 1919. During the same gathering he vowed to make Turkey “a great nation” and “a great power” again.

This is also the reason why Erdogan organized an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation after US President Donald Trump announced the United States would move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the city.

At the conference in Istanbul Erdogan, who is currently chairing the OIC, spat fire over Trump’s move and said it constituted the crossing of a red line for Muslims.

The Turkish dictator also called Israel an “occupying power and a terror state” and later announced he would move the Turkish embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to east Jerusalem, an announcement which was met with deafening silence by the international community.

Erdogan also vowed he would “not abandon Jerusalem to the mercy of a state that kills children,” his favorite accusation against Israel.

In 2009, shortly after the end of the first Gaza War, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Erdogan wagged his finger at the late Shimon Peres who was President of Israel at the time.

"When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know very well how you hit and killed children on beaches," Erdogan told a visibly shaken Peres who later debunked Erdogan’s outrageous claims one by one.

The Turkish leader, a Muslim Brotherhood adherent, has now dispatched Mevlut Cavusgoglu, his Minister of Foreign Affairs, to a special UN General Assembly session on Trump’s decision which will be held on Thursday.

Cavusgoglu said he wanted the U.S. to walk back the “wrong and unacceptable decision” and vowed Turkey would work harder “for the international recognition of an independent Palestinian state” and would be “more active in defending Palestinian rights.”

Erdogan’s aspirations in Jerusalem are now on full display but few have noticed that he has been working hard to turn the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem into Islamist hubs which are increasingly driving the outbursts of violence in the city.

Dr. David Koren and Ben Avrahami, two advisers on Arab affairs to the Jerusalem Municipalty, wrote in the Hebrew outlet HaShiloach in May this year that the influence of the veteran mukhtars, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in East Jerusalem was waning and that Islamists were filling the vacuum.

The Erdogan regime is investing tens of millions of dollars per year into so-called dawa (missionary) activities by civic associations, nonprofits and grassroots organizations in Arab Jerusalem.
The Islamic Movement in Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut Tahrir, another Islamist organization are benefiting from Erdogan’s meddling in East Jerusalem affairs and are all gaining influence, according to the two advisers.

The Erdogan regime is investing tens of millions of dollars per year into so-called dawa (missionary) activities by civic associations, nonprofits and grassroots organizations in Arab Jerusalem.

Their goal is to attract young Arabs who are then brainwashed via educational programs financed by the Turkish regime which uses its diplomatic missions to increase its influence among the Arab masses in Jerusalem.

“The Turks fund a great part of the dawa activities in the city, and their representative is Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem and the most prominent representative of the Muslim Brotherhood,” according to Koren and Avrahami.

The two said that the growing involvement of the Erdogan regime in Jerusalem, which has become the main patron of the Muslim Brotherhood across the globe, shows that the Turkish actions in Jerusalem “are part of a wider process of creating regional Turkish hegemony at the expense of other players.”

Erdogan’s Ottoman dreams were again on display in Greece earlier this month.

The Turkish dictator disputes Greece’s sovereignty over some Aegean islands which were once part of the Ottoman empire but were transferred to Greece under the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.

When he visited a Muslim school in Komotini in northern Greece at the beginning of December the Turkish leader’s remarks were recorded on a cell phone by one of the students.

“One flag, one nation, one state. We are all Turkey, there is no discrimination, there are no differences,” Erdogan told the students while adding “We are one, we are strong, we are brothers.”