The Palestinian Authority (PA) recently issued a warning against Israeli attempts to “divide” time and space in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound between Muslims and Jews. It resembles Tel Aviv’s illegitimate arrangement for the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron, where Israel divided the mosque between the vast majority of Muslims who reside there, and a few Jewish extremist settlers who claim they have a religious right to pray at the same place. The warning came in response to the Israeli forces’ raids and violations at the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, where clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians erupted on the second Friday in the holy month of Ramadan, wounding over 150 Palestinians.
Three paramedics, three journalists and 400 other people were arrested during a dawn raid on the mosque to evict 2,000 Muslim peaceful worshippers, with Israeli police officers using gas bombs and rubber bullets as they pushed and beat old and young individuals. Palestinian sources said the Israeli police closed all the mosque doors, prevented Red Crescent crews from entering and impeded the arrival of ambulances to transport the injured from inside the mosque compound to hospitals. It was also alleged that police targeted Al-Aqsa guards, press, medical staff and Red Crescent medics with rubber bullets and deliberately hit them with batons. Besides, they seized ambulance keys and surrounded the Al-Aqsa clinic where first aid was being administered to dozens of wounded people.
Early the following morning on April 17, more than 700 Israeli settlers forced their way into the Al-Aqsa compound under heavy police protection to celebrate the weeklong Jewish Passover (Pesach) holiday. Hundreds of special forces entered the mosque’s courtyard and began striking Palestinians observing Ramadan with batons in a bid to force them out. There were also reports of stun grenades being deployed.
In the mosque’s prayer hall, Israeli forces fired teargas at worshippers and kept them confined indoors for hours. Dozens of people were trapped inside and those who sustained minor injuries could not be evacuated. The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said its medics were also prevented from entering the mosque to provide first aid. People trapped inside the hall pleaded for help using loudspeakers, urging Palestinians to come and protect the mosque. Israeli forces reportedly tried to access the audio room afterward to cut off the sound system, which was later repaired by the mosque’s volunteers.
These incidents continued into the following days as Israeli soldiers arrested and injured hundreds of worshippers including elderly men, women and children. Dozens of Israeli forces continuously stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque assaulting and blockading Muslim worshippers inside prayer halls while clearing the way for Israeli settlers to enter the holy site.
Thousands of heavily armed forces and police soldiers are always on alert to provide maximum protection to a few Jewish extremists who have false claims over the Temple Mount, home to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock while Palestinians are treated with cruelty. Since 2003, Israel has allowed settlers into the compound almost daily. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs, only in 2021, around 34,562 Israeli settlers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound. Besides, last year, Israeli forces raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in Ramadan resulting in an 11-day war with the besieged Gaza Strip.
The hilltop compound housing the mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam, while Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount and have competing claims to the site, which has sparked numerous rounds of violence.
Since the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the Christian holy week culminating in Easter Sunday and the weeklong Jewish Passover holiday are all occurring at the same time this year, tens of thousands of Israeli settlers are flocking to the city while most Palestinians from the West Bank are prevented from entering East Jerusalem and praying at the Al-Aqsa compound.
Palestinians in Gaza have simply been banned from praying in Al-Aqsa or visiting Jerusalem for more than 15 years. Only a few thousand permits have been issued to those coming from the West Bank, and only those over the age of 50 are allowed to enter. Even after the long, humiliating journey through the many checkpoints on the way to East Jerusalem from the nearby West Bank, Palestinians can still not be sure whether they will be able to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, as it could be closed by Israeli forces at any minute for no reason.
Far-right Israeli activists and settler groups had recently announced plans to storm Al-Aqsa to mark the Passover holiday. Besides, far-right groups who organize the raids on the Al-Aqsa compound in coordination with the police, call on Israel to assert full Jewish sovereignty over the site and allow Jewish worship and ritual sacrifice to take place. Some also advocate for the destruction of the mosque, where they believe two ancient Jewish temples once stood, to make way for a third temple.
Violation of religious rights
As part of an understanding between Jordan – the custodian of Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem – and Israel, non-Muslims can visit Al-Aqsa but they aren’t allowed to pray there.
However, Israel has long ignored this delicate arrangement, often referred to as the “status quo,” and bypassed the Palestinian Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs. In recent years, Israeli forces, settlers and high-profile politicians raided the mosque almost on a daily basis without Palestinian permission. The raids were often scaled-down and at times canceled during Muslim holidays and Ramadan. However, this has changed in recent years and settlers began to perform prayers inside the mosque during their incursions, which is a violation of the internationally agreed status quo.
The number of settlers entering the mosque has grown steadily over the years, causing alarm to Palestinians. While in 2009, 5,658 settlers entered the mosque, in 2019 the number rose to more than 30,000.
Israel’s control of occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, violates several principles under international law, which stipulates that an occupying power has no sovereignty in the territory it occupies and cannot make any permanent changes there.
However, Israel’s violence against innocent Palestinian worshipers at Al-Aqsa, watched by more than a billion Muslims worldwide, cannot be but a reminder to the whole world of the occupation and violation of all basic Palestinian rights – an ongoing crime against humanity for more than 52 years.
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