Listen: “It felt like victory” in Jerusalem

Thousands of Palestinians linked arms and entered the al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem Thursday afternoon, after Palestinians engaged in two weeks of civil disobedience.

Jalal Abukhater, a contributor to The Electronic Intifada, was live-tweeting from outside the al-Aqsa compound. He told the EI podcast that by Wednesday night, the barriers that Israel had installed at the gates “were all removed, so there was a decision that people would go to pray at al-Aqsa.”

People were amassing “in the thousands,” Abukhater said, in front of al-Hutta gate. Israeli forces refused to open the gate, but Palestinians entered en masse as Israeli police “retreated from the scene.”

It was filled “with a sea of people within minutes. Palestinian flags were raised for the first time in [weeks] … it felt like a victory,” he said. “Everyone was chanting, everyone was chanting for al-Aqsa, for Palestine.”

However, “as soon as people filled up al-Aqsa mosque, we heard sound bombs” fired by Israeli forces who began stopping people from coming in the gate.

Abukhater said that the gates to the compound were shut again. Dozens of Palestinians were injured as Israeli forces attacked them with rubber-coated bullets, sound bombs and tear gas.

He explained that the youth-led, grassroots protest movement will continue as long as Israel maintains its measures of control over the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Al-Aqsa, one of the most holy sites for Muslims and a touchstone of Palestinian identity, has been the center of widespread protest over the past two weeks, both in Palestine and abroad.

Five Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,000 injured by Israeli forces since last Friday, during protests against Israeli-installed metal detectors and other control measures.

Israel installed the obstacles after three Palestinians shot and killed two Israeli police near the compound before they were shot dead by occupation forces on 14 July.

But many Palestinians see Israel using the incident as a pretext to advance long-standing plans to take over the compound.

Israeli leaders and government-backed Jewish religious extremists frequently express their intention to replace the existing Muslim holy sites with a Jewish temple.

“Alarm has been raised” over Congress’ anti-BDS bill

US lawmakers appear to be backpedaling on their support for a bill that seeks not only to discourage support for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, but to punish violators with up to $1 million in fines and 20 years in prison.

Last week, as US lawmakers continued to sign on in support of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that the law would violate free speech rights by criminalizing political beliefs.

“Now that the alarm has been raised by the ACLU, everyone is up in arms about this bill,” said Josh Ruebner, policy director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, on The Electronic Intifada podcast.

“Senators who are being confronted and representatives who are being confronted about their support for this bill are backtracking. Because of the concerns raised by the ACLU, the likelihood of the bill going forward is very slim at this point,” he explained.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced by Democratic US Senator Ben Cardin in March and supported by dozens of members of Congress, was designed to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Ruebner reported for The Electronic Intifada in April.

Ruebner showed how the language of the AIPAC-backed bill obscured the severe criminal penalties by making seemingly minor amendments that greatly broadened the scope of an existing law.

The powerful Israel lobby group made the bill one of its top legislative priorities.

Following the ACLU’s statement, The Intercept reported that “some co-sponsors seemed not to have any idea what they co-sponsored – almost as though they reflexively sign whatever comes from AIPAC without having any idea what’s in it.”

Cardin told The Intercept in a follow-up article on Monday that he is open to amending the legislation to address concerns raised by the ACLU, while other lawmakers have faced mounting pressure from constituents to explain their support of the bill.

The ACLU’s opposition to the bill has opened up “an opportunity for Palestine solidarity activists to press this issue now, hard, with their members of Congress,” Ruebner said.

Ruebner added: “Because those members of Congress, and especially the Democratic members of Congress who fancy themselves as being part of the resistance to Trump’s authoritarianism, who have put themselves on as sponsors of this bill – to jail people for expressing their political viewpoints, they are on the defensive right now.”

“My Mother was a Freedom Fighter”

Aja Monet (Haymarket Books)

In her new book of poetry, My Mother was a Freedom Fighter, Aja Monet says each poem is “a journey of me trying to process how [to] get to a place of being more tender, more concerned with the softness of self when often the narrative of resistance is a very volatile image.”

Turning a spotlight toward her hometown of Brooklyn, to the art and activism space she has created in her current community of Little Haiti – a neighborhood in Miami – to the refugee camps and villages in Palestine, Monet told The Electronic Intifada podcast that her writing investigates the ways people are violently silenced and how they resist.

In 2015, Monet traveled on a delegation to Palestine with a group of activists, artists, musicians and journalists representing the Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, the Black Youth Project 100 and Hands Up United.

“For us, there was a lot to be learned when so much of what we hear of Palestine is through the filter of the media and often Zionist propaganda,” she said.

“Just being able to sit down and break bread with people was its own radical act of love and learning,” she added.

“Every day that a person chooses to live and breathe and love one another is a statement.”

The delegation connected with Shoruq, an all-girls hip hop group in Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, and Monet worked with US-based organizations to bring the group to the US to perform earlier this year.

“Seeing how this art form [hip hop] that we take for granted often in the States is still being used as a radical tool for liberation and it’s still being taught with that purpose and intention, that is something that humbled all of us” she said.

Monet explained that the way young Palestinian artists are “remixing” their interpretation of hip hop continues to inspire her. “Seeing practical ways artists are trying to shift the narrative is something we all gain from, we all learn from,” she added.

The artists she met in Palestine, Monet says, told her that “Palestinian existence is resistance – so therefore nothing that we create is without intention or is without understanding of that. Art is political, and that’s just what it is.”

“We’re still living with all the beautiful things that have come out of that trip,” she added.

Listen to the interviews with Jalal Abukhater, Josh Ruebner and Aja Monet, who also reads a poem from her book, via the media player above.

Music: “My Nation” by Shoruq hip hop group

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).