Palestine: Al Aqsa closure, dispute sparks fury

Palestinians celebrate the reopening of the Al Aqsa mosque on July 27.
Saturday, July 29, 2017

Israel’s “security measures”, including installing metal detectors at Haram Al Sharif — which contains the Al Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites — were finally rescinded on July 27 amid growing protests. But Palestinians continue to face unprecedented levels of surveillance and harassment.

On the night of July 27, Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinians who returned to the site to pray for the first time in nearly two weeks since Israel shut down the mosque.

The Guardian reported the next day: “Scenes of jubilation inside one of the city’s most revered sites had greeted the early morning removal of all additional security measures imposed on the site by Israeli security forces, following days of Palestinian street protests over the devices.

“But the celebrations turned to scenes of chaos in the evening as Israeli police threw stun grenades in a narrow lane outside one of the mosque’s main entrances. Israeli police said they responded after stones were thrown at officers at the gates to the site.

“The Palestinian Red Crescent said 100 Palestinians were hurt, including some by rubber bullets and beatings. It said several people suffered broken bones.”

These follow hundreds of injuries in protests across Jerusalem and the West bank, and dozens of arrests, since two Israeli police officers were attacked and killed on July 14. The three Palestinians who carried out the attack were killed.

As usual, the media have reported this violence without context. It came after the Israeli occupation forces, along with deepening illegal settlements and other ongoing attacks on Palestinians, carried out provocations surrounding Haram Al Sharif (also known as the Temple Mount).

One of the most provocative acts in recent months was the decision by the Israeli cabinet to hold a meeting in the tunnels underneath the complex. The archaeological works are a part of a decades-long attempt to find the remains of the first and second Jewish temples, and the works run right underneath Haram Al Sharif.

Israel has long refused to acknowledge the right of Palestinians to access the compound, but the cabinet meeting was viewed as the latest step in Israel’s bid to secure unilateral Israeli sovereignty over a site on which a third temple should be built.

Tightening restrictions on the age and gender of those Palestinians allowed to enter Haram Al Sharif — such as the ban on men under the age of 50 imposed recently — are punitive in the extreme. An expected drop in numbers accessing the site would be a positive step from Israel’s point of view, strengthening its case for a full take-over of the compound.

During Israel’s closure of the mosque, there was an unprecedented police presence across East Jerusalem and in the streets leading to Haram Al Sharif as worshippers gather to pray where they stand, unable to worship at the Al Aqsa mosque. The absence of worshippers  for two consecutive Fridays marked almost 1000 years since the Al Aqsa mosque was last closed.

Roadblocks on highway 443 between Tel Aviv to Jerusalem also meant further pressure on Israeli Arabs (ie Palestinians who remain behind the 1967 borders) to stay exactly where they are and not support Jerusalemite Palestinians.

Mainstream media reporting of the closure of the Al Aqsa mentioned very little apart from the attack on Israeli police. As usual, major news outlets repeated that the reason for the installation of “enhanced” security measures was due to Palestinian “terrorism”.

Australian politicians have either remained silent on the issue or have spoken out in favour of Israel. Victorian opposition Coalition leader Matthew Guy was in Jerusalem on the day of the attack. He had travelled to Israel on a study tour sponsored by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

Guy commented on the day of the attack that he had seen “what Israelis have to live with every day”. The daily harassment and repression suffered by Palestinians was presumably beneath his gaze.

Defending Haram Al Sharif is crucial to Palestinian identity in Jerusalem. Palestinians are already subject to punitively harsh residency rules and need several permits to carry out many basic daily activities.

Palestinians in Jerusalem older than 16 must get an adult residency permit to continue living in the city. One requirement is to prove continuous residency and school attendance. This is increasingly difficult to do, given the difficulties in commuting between home and school via Israeli enforced checkpoints.

School children who forget the pass they have to carry to get through the checkpoints can be refused access and therefore miss school and damage their attendance record. If they complain at their often humiliating treatment, Palestinian children risk being arrested and detained, leading to a criminal record.

Despite the reopening of Haram Al Sharif to Palestinians, tensions remain high as Palestinians continue to face brutal "security" measures.

It is difficult to say whether the situation is as grave as when Ariel Sharon, soon to be elected Israeli prime minister, visited the holy site in September 2000, helping to spark protests that developed into the Second Intifada (uprising). The situation could erupt once more.

Issue