Israel bars most Palestinians from praying at Aqsa Mosque

Israel bars most Palestinians from praying at Aqsa Mosque

Consistent with the established Israeli policy of denying non-Jews free access to their respective religious places in East Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation authorities have placed stringent restrictions against the entry of Muslims into occupied East Jerusalem.

 Muslim males below the age of 50 and females below 45 have been turned back at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks. The extreme measures infuriated Palestinian officials who denounced Israel for “religious intolerance” and “assault on religious freedom.”

 “Israel presents itself to the world as a democracy. However, the truth is that Israel behaves like an authoritarian and racist country that practices religious discrimination and denies non-Jews basic religious freedom,” said Muhammed Habbash, Minister of Waqf (Islamic Endowment) in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

 He denounced Israeli justifications for denying hundreds of thousands of Palestinians access to the Aqsa Mosque, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan, as racist and unacceptable.

 “Israel cries out to the seventh heaven whenever Jewish religious or human rights are impinged upon. However, the same IsraeliState feels at ease violating the religious rights of Muslims to worship at the Aqsa Mosque.

 “This is an Islamic place; it has been an Islamic place for close to 1,400 years, and the so-called religious precautions are only a pretext to keep as many Muslims as possible from accessing the Aqsa Mosque.”

 There are two main “entry points,” which the Israelis consider “border terminals” through which “security-safe” Palestinians are allowed to enter Jerusalem.

 The first is the Bethlehem terminal in the south and the second is the Qalandia checkpoint in the north. At both points of entry, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Palestinians of all ages were seen trying, often desperately, to get to Jerusalem.

 The trip is a formidable challenge as most people set out for the trip shortly after dawn in order to get an early slate at the checkpoint.

 People looking “old enough” are allowed to proceed unhindered even without submitting their identity cards for a “security check.” However, for the middle-aged and younger people, they had to go through a special corridor for a meticulous security check. Very often, people whose ages are less than 50 for men and less than 45 for women are turned back.

 Some would plea with the Israelis to allow them to proceed, but the Israelis will not relent “because this is the law.”

 Those turned back are reminded, one more time, that Jerusalem, the would-be capital of their would-be State is still under the Israeli occupation and that they cannot even dream of freely accessing the Aqsa Mosque as long Israel remains in control of one of Islam’s holiest shrines.

 In Jerusalem itself, the city is morphed into a garrison-town as thousands of Israeli soldiers and paramilitary police are deployed in the vicinity of the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. This is an untended reminder that al-Quds (the Arabic name of East Jerusalem) is still an occupied city and that 43 years of heavy-handed Israeli occupation have failed to “normalize” the occupation.

 In addition, cameras installed in every corner and alleyway monitor every movement as a large balloon does the same from above.

 Jerusalem is not what it used to be. The Israeli occupation authorities have encouraged fundamentalist Jewish groups to seize several buildings surrounding the Haram. It is believed that the number of real estate holdings arrogated by Jewish settler groups around the Aqsa Mosque has reached 20-24.

 The quiet seizure of Arab homes and other buildings by Jewish fundamentalists, with clear encouragement and backing of Israeli security and political authorities, has enforced Muslim fears that Israeli is harboring evil designs against the Islamic sanctuary.

 Israel, especially under the current right-wing government, which is by far the most hawkish government in the Jewish State’s history, does not deny that its ultimate goal is to build a Jewish temple on “the former site” of Islamic shrines.

 The prospect generates calamitous anxiety among Muslims, both in Palestine and abroad, who warn that the demolition of the Aqsa Mosque would spark untold violence, encompassing the entire region, which would also put an end to any semblance of peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

 At the al-Aqsa esplanade, there were very few non-Palestinian Muslims present on the second Jumaa or Friday of Ramadan.

 Earlier, a number of Muslim officials, including the New Rector of Al-Azhar, the prominent Sunni-Islam academy in Cairo, called on Muslims to visit and pray at the holy Islamic places in Jerusalem.

 The call was also echoed by Habbash, the above-mentioned PA minister of Waqf and Islamic affairs.

 But the call was strongly rejected by Muslim scholars associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who argued that a visit to the Aqsa Mosque by citizens of Arab States would be a form of humiliating normalization with the Israeli occupiers.

 “I don’t think it would be appropriate for our brothers from the Arab and larger Muslim worlds to come and pray in the shadow of Israeli guns. These people should come to Jerusalem as soldiers and fighters to liberate Jerusalem, not as disgraced pilgrims,” said Ahmed Qawasmi, an Islamic cleric from the Hebron region.

 Meanwhile, the Imam of the Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, has called on Palestinians to converge on the Haram al-Sharif “in the hundreds of thousands.”

 “This is the way we demonstrate our commitment and bond to the First Qibla (direction to which Muslims turn during prayer) and the Third holiest sanctuary. Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is mentioned in the Quran, is considered third in sanctity right after the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina in Saudi Arabia.

 Despite all the restrictions, more than 100,000 worshipers were able to make it to the Mosque.

 On similar occasions two decades ago, nearly half a million people would converge on Jerusalem for Friday’s congregational prayers.