By Miko Peled
In a heroic act of resistance, Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem refuse to go through metal detectors to enter the Holy Sanctuary and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Placed by Israel following the killing of two Israeli soldiers who were manning a checkpoint leading to the Sanctuary, the metal detectors are an act of provocation, challenging the Palestinian Muslim authorities who govern the Sanctuary and Palestinian sovereignty in this holy site.
It should be stated that for anyone who frequents the Old City of Jerusalem regularly, the killing of the two soldiers at the entrance to the Holy Sanctuary came as no surprise, it was an attack waiting to happen. One would be hard pressed to believe that the Israeli authorities did not anticipate the attack, which was an obvious response to the ongoing provocations by the Israeli occupation forces.
Furthermore, in an obvious effort to raise tensions and bring about a major eruption of violence, the Israeli government brought in massive reinforcements of military and police units into the area. But Palestinians remain mostly calm, demonstrating great restraint as they fight - armed with nothing but faith and determination - for their right to pray and maintain control over Palestine’s holiest Muslim site. So while Israel was hoping to provoke Palestinians to engage in armed violence, it is faced with a nation that insists it has the right to pray in peace and dignity, even if it means praying in the alleyways and streets of Jerusalem.
This recent wave of protests by Palestinians and the extreme violence by Israel did not happen in a vacuum. Israel’s move to limit access for worshipers who wish to enter the Sanctuary and increase the number of security forces in the Old City is serious enough, but it comes on the heels of years of daily provocations. Arab East Jerusalem was already being suffocated by the presence of armed soldiers before these reinforcements arrived. Walking through the Old City of Jerusalem was once a pleasant experience but now the natural flow of life is constantly disrupted by Israeli security forces who walk through the streets and alleys fully armed and with a determination of gangs wanting to start a fight. Even during the month of Ramadan, when the nights are festive, the Old City is full of families and people are celebrating, soldiers are everywhere - threatening, humiliating, reminding Palestinians that they are under occupation.
The ongoing Israeli military presence in the Old City in general and particularly along the path to the Holy Sanctuary and Al-Aqsa Mosque, is a humiliation that no nation and no religion should ever have to suffer. Now punitive measures have gone beyond the city of Jerusalem and into other parts of Palestine and as was to be expected, Palestinians everywhere are expressing their rage. Frustration was already at a high in the city since Israel limits access to Palestinians who wish to pray in Jerusalem and now Palestinians from 1948 Palestine, who have a pseudo Israeli citizenship are also prohibited from traveling to Jerusalem for the Friday prayer. In what is a weekly ritual, thousands of Palestinians from all parts of 1948 Palestine come to Jerusalem on Fridays to pray at Al-Aqsa. Buses full of worshippers traveling from as far north as the Galilee and as far south as the Naqab, leave their homes early Friday morning to reach Jerusalem in time for the Friday prayer. The buses typically park in front of Damascus Gate and slowly the worshippers make their way down the large steps leading to the Gate, and then into the Old City. They walk down a road full of street vendors and shops selling food, sweets and clothes. The road eventually becomes narrower, the scents of coffee and fresh bread stronger as the worshippers turn left toward the gate allotted by Israel for Muslims to enter the Haram Elsharif, the Holy Sanctuary. Soon after that the golden dome shines through into the dark ally, one more checkpoint to cross and they arrive.
FROM MASJID AL-HARAM TO MASJID AL-AQSA…
The already invasive presence of military force in East Jerusalem increases on Fridays, supposedly in preparation for the weekly pilgrimage of worshipers coming for the Friday prayer. Quite often local police will block the main roads leading to East Jerusalem as early as Thursday night. On Friday morning, the plaza in front of Damascus Gate, where the busses let the worshipers off - is where the military and the police have the largest presence. It is where they park their vehicles, where the soldiers and police officers gather and where the mounted riot police keep their horses. Barricades are put up and the police block the roads with barriers and soldiers so that thousands of worshippers must walk single file under the watchful eyes of the Israeli forces. Some worshippers are stopped and must show ID, others, usually older people do not.
It is not uncommon to see police deny worshippers entry into the Old City. I have often seen hundreds and hundreds of worshippers who for one reason or another were denied entry remain on the sidewalk outside the Old City. When that happens, prayers are held on the street as armed police and soldiers stand around the worshippers. One of the many racist-fundamentalist Israeli members of Knesset, Bezalel Smotrich posted an image of hundreds of Muslims kneeling in prayer and the soldiers standing in front of them and interpreted this as a prophecy coming true where nations of the world will bow before the Jews. I have been witness to this sight many times, and the resolve, humility and dignity of the Muslims praying stands in stark contrast to the hubris, indignation, disrespect and deep insecurity demonstrated by the armed Israeli soldiers. Without fail, once the prayer ends and the worshippers prepare to stand, the soldiers lift their guns and point them at the worshippers.
Another common provocation practiced by the Israeli authorities is to send small groups of soldiers, three or four at a time to stand amid the crowd. As crowds of countless Palestinians stand preparing for prayer, a group of three soldiers will be sent by their commander to stand in their midst. Not around the peripheries as they usually do, but right in their midst so that every Palestinian that walks by will have to bump into one of the solders, with their large protruding guns and bulky armor. This without fail brings about a reaction either from the soldiers or the Palestinians who always end up paying a heavy price.
Palestinian response to Israeli violence and provocations are always portrayed as excessive and out of proportion. But we must consider the following: Over two million people in the Gaza Strip – some 50 miles from Jerusalem – are dying of thirst and heat because of a siege imposed by Israel. Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners sit in Israeli jails, and Palestinians everywhere must go through a daily routine of humiliation, oppression and violence where young Palestinians are shot almost daily. The current events in Jerusalem are a glaring example of Palestinian restraint and a commitment to freedom and non-violence. Whatever expression of violence we see from the Palestinians are an exception, while Israeli violence is systemic, sponsored and planned by the state.
As I conclude this piece, news broke of the deadly attack in the West Bank settlement of Halamish and so I will add a few words about this unfortunate occurrence. I drive by Halamish very often on my way to visit my friends at the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, upon whose land Halamish sits. One cannot justify the killing of innocent people sitting at their dinner table. At the same time one must point out that Halamish is a particularly violent settlement, and its residents have been involved in acts of terror against many of the surrounding villages. They have taken land and water from local Palestinians and regularly burn their olive trees and attack the villagers. The local Palestinians villages with Nabi Saleh in the lead have for several years been organizing weekly non-violent marches. I have participated in many of these marches and have bene arrested by the Israeli forces there several times. The Palestinians are met with massive military force, arrests beatings and several unarmed young Palestinian have been shot at close range and killed during these protests. Young residents of Nabi Saleh often go in to hiding for months, fearing arrests and many had been arrested and tortured by the Israeli security forces though they have never engaged in violence. The settlers are never arrested or stopped, and the Israeli authorities who act with resolve against Palestinian protests do nothing to curb the violence coming from the settlement.
If there is any finger pointing to be done, it is toward the State of Israel and its racist ideology. It is an ideology which has placed people against people: Settlers against those from whom land was stolen, soldiers against those who seek freedom. Al-Aqsa mosque is a sacred site to all Muslims, and Israel must know that its provocation may lead to severe, irreversible consequences.
About the Author
Miko Peled is a writer and human rights activist. He is an international speaker and the author of “The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”. To book Miko Peled for a lecture please go to his website.
This article was first published at American Herald Tribune.