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‘The metal detectors are just the first step’: Palestinians say Israeli takeover of Al Aqsa is red line that can’t be crossed

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East Jerusalem, occupied West Bank“You have four minutes to leave,” the Israeli police officer yelled aggressively through the megaphone.

The peaceful atmosphere drastically shifted into one of panic within seconds. Girls who were standing on the ledge scrambled to get down to leave, some tripping and falling down over others.

Last Sunday hundreds of Palestinians had lined up in rows inside the Old City’s walls by Lion’s Gate waiting for the late evening prayer. In the hour prior to the beginning of prayer, they occasionally chanted in support of Al Aqsa and the Sheikh delivered his sermon. It was a calm atmosphere where even the officers themselves were standing with relaxed postures, perhaps bored.

Palestinians line up waiting for the late evening prayer (Photo: Mersiha Gadzo)

However, about ten minutes before the start of the late evening prayer, the mood dramatically changed when the group of officers suddenly straightened their positions and all lowered their visors at the same time.

Once the officer started shouting through the megaphone, panicked voices were heard in the crowd. Some Palestinians started to make their way towards the exit.

Suddenly explosions were heard, causing a stampede towards the exit, but the passageway was too narrow for such a large crowd. A sense of panic and fear ensued as people ran for cover, screaming.

Only a minute had passed from the four-minute deadline, but the officers had already thrown stun grenades and tear gas into the crowd who had been sitting on the ground, waiting to pray. Those who couldn’t make it towards the exit, sought protection behind stone pillars.  

This was a typical scene from the Palestinians’ non-violent prayer protests against the Israeli military takeover of Al Aqsa that has so far resulted in the deaths of four Palestinians and over 900 injured within a week.

The new metal detectors (Photo: Mersiha Gadzo)

Palestinians remain alarmed over Israel’s latest unilateral decision to install metal detectors, security cameras, and turnstiles at all the gates leading to the Al Aqsa compound; they see it as an attempt by Israel to change the status quo and eventually gain complete control over Al Aqsa.

Located in occupied East Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa compound, also known as Haram Al Sharif for Muslims and Temple Mount for Jews, is administered by the Jordanian Islamic Waqf. Under a 150-year agreement, only Muslims can pray at the site, while non-Muslims can visit. According to leading rabbis, it is forbidden for any Jew to enter any part of Al Aqsa.

Up until now, Palestinian guards have controlled the entrances to Al Aqsa and who may enter without any metal detectors and security cameras in place.

Palestinians say they’ll continue praying outside of Al Aqsa’s gates in protest until the security measures are removed. Installing them unilaterally without consulting the Islamic Waqf is seen as a way for the Israeli authorities to assert their dominance and control over the site.

Israeli security set up the metal detectors and security cameras after three Palestinians and two Israeli officers were killed in a gun battle at the Al Aqsa Compound on July 14.

Khatija Khiews (Photo: Mersiha Gadzo)

“This is just the first step. If we accept these metal detectors it will get even worse. The next step will be to stop people who want to pray from even reaching the Al Aqsa mosque,” Khatija Khiews said, who has been praying outside of Al Aqsa everyday in protest.

“The issue is the occupation itself. The solution is to remove the occupation. It’s the only answer to all of our problems.

“These metal detectors were installed at every gate and we don’t accept to be searched in order to go pray at Al Aqsa. Even if we do go through the metal detectors, we won’t accept to get searched by the police. They shouldn’t even be there,” Khiews said.

Sheikh Mustafa Tawil (Photo: Mersiha Gadzo)

Speaking to Mondoweiss from Friday’s prayer at Lion’s Gate, Sheikh Mustafa Tawil fears the latest measure will lead to partitioning the Al Aqsa mosque just like with Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994.

“Muslims aren’t allowed to pray at the Ibrahimi mosque on Israeli weekends and holidays. The occupiers want to do the same thing to Al Aqsa mosque,” Tawil said.

“We refuse these gates because they were set up by the occupiers to force their control over the mosque. We refuse the Israelis’ sovereignty over the mosque at all. The metal detectors are just the first step in dividing Al Aqsa mosque.”

Jerusalem’s Old City has already started to resemble Hebron’s military ghost town. Many stores remain closed while groups of fully armed officers are positioned at every corner and open space and have barricaded many alleys.

Jerusalem’s Old City is starting to look like a ghost town with many stores still closed. (Photo: Mersiha Gadzo)

Unraveling of negotiations by Israel

The negotiations reached in 2014 between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan in order to maintain peace at the holy site have been unraveling in the past year, especially in the last month, largely due to a “change of policy on the Israeli side,” according to Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Among the points agreed upon was to bar all Knesset members from entering the site, to limit entrance for religious Jewish groups and to ban provocative Temple activists and to refrain from imposing age-based restrictions for Palestinian Muslims.

However Israel hasn’t adhered to its commitments.

The prayer ban has been relatively lax following the nomination of the new head of the police’s Jerusalem district Yoram Halevy in January 2016. Since then he has changed the police’s conduct towards Temple activists who seek to change the status quo, Zalzberg explained.

On June 29 when Halevy joined Temple activists visiting the site “he received the priestly benediction from an activist in the group.”

Halevy, a senior official in charge of preserving the ban on non-Muslim worship, “in accordance with a more than 150-year old arrangement” participated in the worship, Zalzberg wrote.

In the last month, police have also imposed age restrictions for Muslims twice in order to protect large groups of Temple activists visiting on those days.

Since the attack, MKs called for closing the Al Aqsa compound for Muslims, threatened with creating a third “nakba” and to build a synagogue on Al Aqsa compound. Likud, Israel’s ruling party launched a petition to raise the Israeli flag over the Al Aqsa compound.

The rise of Temple movements

Once a radical fringe group in politics and religion, since 2000 Temple movements have gained a respectable position within the mainstream right and benefit from close ties with the State of Israel.

The ultimate goal for Temple activists is to eventually destroy the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock to build the Jewish “Third Temple.” The Temple Institute has a blueprint for its construction ready.

According to a 2013 report by Israeli research organization Ir Amim, “The movements’ growing momentum and dangerous provocations to change the status quo are not receiving adequate attention, nor is the disturbing connection between these movements and official Israeli institutions.”

The State of Israel directly funds various Temple movement activities. Along with funding Temple organizations, the Ministry of Education disseminates their ideas through the educational system.

“There is a correlation between the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and around it since 2000 and a parallel increase in the activity of Temple organizations,” the report noted.

The current tension could further spike as the ban preventing members of the Knesset from accessing the Al Aqsa compound were lifted on July 23 for a five day trial period in order to test the reaction.

The ban has been in place since October 2015, with the assumption that visits by MKs might spark violence. In 2000, when Likud leader Ariel Sharon visited the holy site accompanied by a 1000 police officers, it helped trigger the second intifada.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick, a leading figure in the Temple movement overturned the ban after petitioning to the High Court. Earlier this month he called for all MKs to ascend to the Temple Mount.

The rise in Temple movements’ prominence has been accompanied with an increase in violent Israeli incursions at Al Aqsa, including detaining and attacking the Al Aqsa guards.

Al Aqsa Compound director Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani stated to media that over 700 settlers, “an unprecedented amount” raided the compound for Jerusalem Day last May.

Every year Israel’s far-right settlers parade through Palestinian neighbourhoods, celebrating Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlers call out for the Al Aqsa compound to be destroyed and shout “Mohammad is dead,” “Death to the Arabs” and other statements calling for genocide of Palestinians.

This past April, Jews from the far-right also held a ceremony near Temple Mount for the first time, where they slaughtered a lamb just a few hundred metres away from the mount.

Shimshon Elboi, active in the Temple Mount movement, was quoted in Haaretz saying, “We were privileged to get near the Temple Mount, the proper place. The authorities today are more open and the public is more open.

“Ultimately the government wants to serve the people, and the people want the Temple; the people want to offer sacrifices. At this rate the day isn’t far off – just a few more years – when we’ll be privileged to do sacrifices on the Temple Mount itself,” Elboi said.

Having historic Palestine reduced to the Gaza Strip and bantustans in the West Bank, Palestinians see the military takeover of Al Aqsa as a red line that can’t be crossed.

“This is our mosque and the occupation has to retreat so we can pray five times again in the mosque,” Sheikh Tawil said.

“We are going to keep praying by the gates of the masjid, until they remove the humiliating electronic gates.

“The world should pressure the occupation politically and economically and besiege the occupation until it listens to the UN resolutions and withdraws to the 1967 borders. The world shouldn’t abandon the Palestinians while watching them get killed, arrested, beaten, humiliated for 50 years until now.”

The Mourabitat (Al Aqsa’s guardians) chant “With soul and blood we defend you Al Aqsa” after Friday’s prayers in front of Lion’s Gate. (Photo: Mersiha Gadzo)

Mersiha Gadzo

Mersiha Gadzo is a multimedia journalist. Her articles have appeared in Al Jazeera, CBC, Canadian Dimension and the Middle East Eye. She tweets at @MersihaGadzo.

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19 Responses

  1. YoniFalic on July 25, 2017, 3:29 pm

    The RAMBAM was not very enthusiastic about animal sacrifice. Read this passage at the end of Chapter 32 of the Guide for the Perplexed.

    I now return to my theme. As the sacrificial service is not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], whilst supplications, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining it, a great difference was made in the Law between these two kinds of service. The one kind, which consists in offering sacrifices, although the sacrifices are offered to the name of God, has not been made obligatory for us to the same extent as it had been before. We were not commanded to sacrifice in every place, and in every time, or to build a temple in every place, or to permit any one who desires to become priest and to sacrifice. On the contrary, all this is prohibited unto us. Only one temple has been appointed, “in the place which the Lord shall choose” (Deut. xii. 26); in no other place is it allowed to sacrifice: comp. “Take heed to thyself, that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings in every place that thou seest” (ibid. v. 13); and only the members of a particular family were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restrictions served to limit this kind of worship, and keep it within those bounds within which God did not think it necessary to abolish sacrificial service altogether. But prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person. The same is the case with the commandment of ẓiẓit (Num. xv. 38); mezuzah (Deut. vi. 9; xi. 20); tefillin (Exod. xiii. 9, 16); and similar kinds of divine service.

    Because of this principle which I explained to you, the Prophets in their books are frequently found to rebuke their fellow-men for being over-zealous and exerting themselves too much in bringing sacrifices: the prophets thus distinctly declared that the object of the sacrifices is not very essential, and that God does not require them. Samuel therefore said, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord” (1 Sam. xv. 22)? Isaiah exclaimed, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord” (Isa. i. 11); Jeremiah declared: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offering or sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my, voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Jer. vii. 22, 23). This passage has been found difficult in the opinion of all those whose words I read or heard; they ask, How can Jeremiah say that God did not command us about burnt-offering and sacrifice, seeing so many precepts refer to sacrifice? The sense of the passage agrees with what I explained to you. Jeremiah says [in the name of God] the primary object of the precepts is this, Know me, and serve no other being; “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Lev. xxvi. 12). But the commandment that sacrifices shall be brought and that the temple shall be visited has for its object the success of that principle among you; and for its sake I have transferred these modes of worship to my name; idolatry shall thereby be utterly destroyed, and Jewish faith firmly established. You, however, have ignored this object, and taken hold of that which is only the means of obtaining it; you have doubted my existence, “ye have denied the Lord, and said he is not” (Jer. v. 12); ye served idols; “burnt incense unto Baal, and walked after other gods whom ye know not. And come and stand before me in this house” (ibid. vii. 9-10); i.e., you do not go beyond attending the temple of the Lord, and offering sacrifices: but this is not the chief object.–I have another way of explaining this passage with exactly the same result. For it is distinctly stated in Scripture, and handed down by tradition, that the first commandments communicated to us did not include any law at an about burnt-offering and sacrifice. You must not see any difficulty in the Passover which was commanded in Egypt; there was a particular and evident reason for that, as will be explained by me (chap. xlvi.). Besides it was revealed in the land of Egypt; whilst the laws to which Jeremiah alludes in the above passage are those which were revealed after the departure from Egypt. For this reason it is distinctly added, “in the day that I brought them out from the land of Egypt.” The first commandment after the departure from Egypt was given at Marah, in the following words, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments” (Exod. xv. 26).” There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (ibid. ver. 25). According to the true traditional explanation, Sabbath and civil laws were revealed at Marah: “statute” alludes to Sabbath, and “ordinance” to civil laws, which are the means of removing injustice. The chief object of the Law, as has been shown by us, is the teaching of truths; to which the truth of the creatio ex nihilo belongs. It is known that the object of the law of Sabbath is to confirm and to establish this principle, as we have shown in this treatise (Part. II. chap. xxxi.). In addition to the teaching of truths the Law aims at the removal of injustice from mankind. We have thus proved that the first laws do not refer to burnt-offering and sacrifice, which are of secondary importance. The same idea which is contained in the above passage from Jeremiah is also expressed in the Psalms, where the people are rebuked that they ignore the chief object, and make no distinction between chief and subsidiary lessons. The Psalmist says: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, they have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds” (Ps. l. 29).– Wherever this subject is mentioned, this is its meaning. Consider it well, and reflect on it.

    Zios continue to practice the idolatry of racist, chauvinist, and nationalist self-assertion against the natives of Palestine.

    Normally I would consider the total Zionist lack of respect for the superstition of God to be a good thing, but in this case Zionists express perverted worship for the State of Israel and for the fake concept of the “Jewish” people.

    • Naftush on July 27, 2017, 7:21 am

      Um, quoting Maimonides and then terming the Jewish people a “fake concept” in the same post? Breathtaking.

  2. JosephA on July 25, 2017, 10:50 pm

    This is surreal.

  3. Jonathan Ofir on July 26, 2017, 2:49 am

    Thank you Merisha, a highly important article.

  4. Emet on August 2, 2017, 11:32 am

    Want the hard truth? This is the hard truth. Jerusalem cannot be kept as an open city and have two security services. Not going to happen. Israel is and will remain the only party responsible for security. Another hard truth. Anyone thinking that the Sunni Shiite divide will not hit Jerusalem has yet to recover from a bout of drug induced hallucinations. “Let’s imagine that the Arab world is at peace with each other”. Yeah, dream on. Hard truth: Israel understands the fragility of the Arab world and cannot put the security of the Jewish people in the hands of anyone but itself. Hard truth: If the Palestinians are conditioning their future state on Jerusalem and the Old City being under their sovereignty, then there will never be a Palestinian state. Go and pray at Al-Aksa as much as you want but leave your keys at home. The reaction of Muslism to Jews praying on the Temple Mount is very interesting. It is as if they (the Muslims) believe that Allah will listen to Jewish but not to Islamic prayer. I say Allah because Allah and G-d are the same. Yes, Muslims and Jews pray to the same G-d but the Koran leaves no room for non-Muslims.

    • eljay on August 2, 2017, 11:52 am

      || Emet: Want the hard truth? This is the hard truth. … ||

      I don’t know if you’ve taken the time to listen to yourself, but the hard truth is that you’re a Jewish supremacist.

      || … I say Allah because Allah and G-d are the same. Yes, Muslims and Jews pray to the same G-d but the Koran leaves no room for non-Muslims. ||

      But the Torah embraces Muslims? Jews and Muslims are God’s chosen people? That’s interesting. Would you happen to know how many Muslim Jews there are in the world today?

      • Emet on August 2, 2017, 12:45 pm

        eljay, you again spread hate in your words. The Jews are the chosen people but not for the reasons you are implying and encouraging hate. It is not written anywhere that G-d told the Jews they will be or are better than anyone else. The story goes that only the Jews were prepared to accept the word of G-d. There is much written about the covenant between G-d and the Jews. Go to some unbiased sources to study up on this. When the Torah was written there were no Muslims therefor there are no references to Muslims. Yet the Koran is full of references to Jews. Enough with your “supremacist” junk already.

      • eljay on August 2, 2017, 1:16 pm

        || Emet: eljay, you again spread hate in your words. … ||

        Nope, I spread a message of justice, accountability and equality, universally and consistently applied. Zionists like you spread a message of supremacism and hypocrisy.

        || … The Jews are the chosen people but not for the reasons you are implying and encouraging hate. … ||

        The Torah says that Jews are the chosen people. I’m not “implying” that. Are you suggesting that the Torah is wrong and encouraging hate?

        || … When the Torah was written there were no Muslims therefor there are no references to Muslims. … ||

        There may not have been any Muslims but, according to you, there was a Muslim god and surely he would have known that eventually there would be Muslims.

        So either he didn’t bother to tell anyone about this (shame on him), or he did tell people and no-one bothered to write it down (shame on them!) or…*gasp*…he didn’t know there would be Muslims!  8-o

        || … Enough with your “supremacist” junk already. ||

        Enough with your supremacism already.

      • Mooser on August 2, 2017, 1:45 pm

        ” The story goes that only the Jews were prepared to accept the word of G-d.”

        And once you’ve got that, the “word of G-d” you can never lose it for not keeping up your side of the covenants. It’s permanent, no matter what you do.
        That doesn’t make you any better than anybody else, G-d’s unconditional blessing, not at all.

      • Emet on August 2, 2017, 1:46 pm

        eljay, I think you have just lost some of your supporters with your wacky comments. I did not say Muslim G-d. There is just one G-d as the belief goes and Jews believe this is the same G-d worshiped by both Jews and Muslims. I cannot talk for Islam as there are so many different and contradicting beliefs.
        I did say that the Jews are the chosen people. Yes, Jews are the chosen people and G-d gave the land to the Jews long before Islam and Palestinian Muslims walked this earth. Take some Ritalin and read my comments.

      • Mooser on August 2, 2017, 1:52 pm

        “Enough with your supremacism already.”

        Gee, I don’t know, “eljay”, do you think, I mean, I hate to suggest it, that all this ethnic-religious over-compensation and God-pimping and “chosen people” nonsense
        is an attempt to mask terrible feelings of inferiority?

        Nah, that can’t be it. Why would the Jewish passage through history produce anything like that? No trauma ‘long us.

      • eljay on August 2, 2017, 3:32 pm

        || Emet: eljay, I think you have just lost some of your supporters with your wacky comments. … ||

        Wouldn’t be the first time.

        || … I did not say Muslim G-d. There is just one G-d as the belief goes and Jews believe this is the same G-d worshiped by both Jews and Muslims. … ||

        Right, and surely the god of both Jews and Muslims would have known about the future existence of Muslims. If he didn’t know this, either he wasn’t omniscient or he’s not the same god.

        || … I did say that the Jews are the chosen people. … ||

        I know you did.

        || … Yes, Jews are the chosen people … ||

        As long as they keep their covenant with Allah, the god of Jews and Muslims (as you pointed out).

        Qur’an 5:12-18:

        And Allah had already taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and We delegated from among them twelve leaders. And Allah said, “I am with you. If you establish prayer and give zakah and believe in My messengers and support them and loan Allah a goodly loan, I will surely remove from you your misdeeds and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever of you disbelieves after that has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way.”

        So for their breaking of the covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard. They distort words from their [proper] usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them. But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.
        . . .
        But the Jews and the Christians say, “We are the children of Allah and His beloved.” Say, “Then why does He punish you for your sins?” Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created. …

      • RoHa on August 2, 2017, 8:08 pm

        “They distort words from their [proper] usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. ”

        And some of them misuse commas, as well.

        “And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them.”

        So Allah recognizes that they aren’t all bad.

        “But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.”

        I can pardon a lot, but surely Allah would not expect me to pardon misuse of commas.

        “Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created… ”

        Just ordinary human beings like everyone else? Now Allah is going too far.

      • Emet on August 3, 2017, 10:06 am

        eljay, I and I’m sure many others are interested in knowing if there is a clause in the contract that, as you believe, Allah has with Muslims that takes the covenant away from Muslims? Very convenient Surah you have quoted. Maybe one of the missing chapters of the Koran talked about this? If, as you believe, the covenant was taken away from Jews, it can be also be taken away from Muslims. Maybe it has already has. I don’t believe it was ever given to Muslims, but that is besides the point.

      • eljay on August 3, 2017, 10:23 am

        || Emet: eljay, I and I’m sure many others are interested in knowing if there is a clause in the contract that, as you believe, Allah has with Muslims that takes the covenant away from Muslims? … ||

        I don’t believe in gods or mytho-religious covenants – you do – and I don’t know if Allah has either a covenant or a removal clause in the contract with Muslims. But if you find one, please do let us know.

        || … Very convenient Surah you have quoted. … ||

        Not convenient, but relevant.

        || … If, as you believe, the covenant was taken away from Jews … ||

        I don’t believe in gods or mytho-religious covenants – you do – so as far as I’m concerned there wasn’t anything to take away from Jews.

      • gamal on August 3, 2017, 6:14 pm

        ” in knowing if there is a clause in the contract that, as you believe, Allah has with Muslims ”

        No Muslims are pay as you go, no contract, its cool we get roaming, all you can eat slaughter and when we run out of credit Daddy Ibrahim tops us up, no hassle.


    • Emet on August 2, 2017, 3:43 pm

      You know Mooser, maybe you are not getting the message. You tried in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 1991 (sort of), 2000, 2007,2014 and each time you lost more. Islam has conjured up the story that Jews are not worthy any more (your comment “not keeping up your side of the covenants”). Who are you to judge? But very convenient to justify the violence and chaos and the denial of Jewish rights and justice for the Jewish people. Other messages should have been understood by the Arabs and Muslims, but were not. Makes you think no?

      • Mooser on August 2, 2017, 4:29 pm

        “(your comment “not keeping up your side of the covenants”). Who are you to judge?”

        Well, as a Jew, I was taught the quite conventional story that the Israelites were unable to live up to the Covenants ( a process described by the Prophets) with God.

        Why, have we kept all those covenants? If we had I’d expect to see a whole lot more Jewish religious unity and a whole lot less out-marriage.
        And back then, we didn’t just run after foreign girls. Don’t spread this around, but I’ve heard there was a lot of “whoring after false Gods”, too. Face it “Emet”, we got busted.
        That’s a brave ‘front’, that God is on your side and will wade into the fray on behalf of Zionism, but I doubt it.

    • just on August 2, 2017, 5:04 pm

      “…but the Koran leaves no room for non-Muslims.”

      You are completely wrong about that, ‘Emet’. Go get some education, please.

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