Israel intent on shutting Jerusalem holy site

Palestinian worshippers gather after Friday prayers at the Bab al-Rahma gate in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on 22 February. 

Afif Amera WAFA/APA images

Israel is intensifying its crackdown on Palestinians in Jerusalem.

The Islamic Waqf – the body responsible for Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem – last month reopened Bab al-Rahma, a gate at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem that had been sealed by Israel since 2003:

The 16-year closure order expired in August. But Israel has been intent on shutting the gate once again.

Israeli police asked a Jerusalem court to close the gate permanently to “keep out protesters … as part of its war against terror,” according to the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz.

In reality, the Muslim holy site is used by Palestinians to pray, as this video shows:

On Monday, an Israeli court said it would order the building shut if the Waqf does not comply with Israel’s demand to close the gate within the week.

The Waqf rejected the court order on Tuesday.

“We will not comply with any threats from the police and occupation authorities. The courts of the occupation do not have jurisdiction over the al-Aqsa mosque, and the Waqf does not recognize nor subject any part of the al-Aqsa to the laws of occupation. This has been the case since the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967.”

Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, the head of the Waqf, called for mass prayer in the al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday, especially inside Bab al-Rahma, in rejection of Israeli attempts to close it.

The Waqf also cancelled a planned meeting with the Israeli police on Wednesday in protest of the court order.

Arrest and banish

Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces also escalated their sweeping arrest and banish campaigns against Palestinian guards and staff of the al-Aqsa mosque compound last week.

Israeli forces summoned several members of the Waqf to the Qishleh police station in Jerusalem’s Old City and ordered them to stay away from the al-Aqsa mosque compound, as well as roads leading to it.

Sheikh Najeh Bkeirat, the Waqf’s deputy director, was ordered to stay away for four months.

“I think this decision is unfair and racist, and it attempts to disrupt our role in the al-Aqsa mosque and reduce our presence,” Bkeirat said in a video.

Israeli forces also ordered Nasser Qous, a leading figure in both Fatah and the Palestinian Prisoners Club, to stay away from the compound for 40 days.
Israel arrested and then released Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab shortly after the reopening of the gate. He was also ordered to stay away from the compound for 40 days.

Israeli forces arrested the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Ghaith, after breaking into his house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan last week.

Ghaith was taken to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, an Israeli detention center synonymous with the torture of Palestinian prisoners.

Destruction of al-Aqsa

Uri Ariel, Israel’s agriculture minister, made an incursion into the al-Aqsa mosque compound, accompanied by Israeli settlers last week.

Ariel is a prominent advocate for the destruction of al-Aqsa.

Settlers regularly storm the al-Aqsa compound escorted by heavily armed occupation soldiers to intimidate Palestinians and assert Israeli control over the site.

This video shows settlers storming the compound on Wednesday morning:

Palestinians view the increasingly aggressive incursions as steps in a gradual takeover by settlers who are backed by the so-called Temple movement.

Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a leader in the Temple movement, broke a ban on public prayer in the compound last month in an effort to intimidate:

Supported by senior politicians and rabbis in Israel and funded by the Israeli authorities, the ultimate aim of the movement – openly declared by many of its adherents – is the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock and their replacement with a Jewish temple.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.