by Debbie & Nkosi, Jerusalem team
Why should we not be able to pray?
This is the question asked of us by Zarifa Ibrahim, a Muslim woman who is standing with other women outside Bab Hutta (the gate leading to a Muslim neighborhood bordering the Al Aqsa mosque compound) on November 5. She along with all other Muslims, including the students from the schools are locked out of the Al Aqsa mosque compound
The Al Aqsa mosque compound, which lies in the Israeli-occupied Old City of Jerusalem is the third most Holy site in the world for Muslims . It is has been a site that has seen much conflict over who should have access.
Each morning as the EAPPI Jerusalem Team, we monitor access to worship at the gates to the Mosque to see which gates are open and to which people. On October 30, Israeli security forces completely closed the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem. It was the first time in more than a decade that Al-Aqsa was closed to this extent.
Since the October 30th closure, all women and men under 50 have had reduced or no access to the mosque. Needless to say the increased restrictions to the Al Aqsa have also resulted in increased clashes between Israeli Security Forces and Palestinians both in the Old City and several neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. To those of us monitoring the situation, Jerusalem is not the city of peace that we had imagined in our minds.
The clashes have also been fueled by the discussion in the Israeli parliament about dividing Al Aqsa mosque both in terms of the physical space and the hours of prayer for the two groups. Moreover, it seems to us, that the clashes are a chain reaction to all the restrictions and denial of basic human rights that Palestinians living in Jerusalem experience on a daily basis.
Mousa Hijazi, is an engineer who works inside the compound each day. Like the others, he is waiting to be let in and says to us:
“All of the time the European people say they want a democracy but where is the democracy here. Why aren’t they asking for a democracy here?”
President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech to mark the 10th Anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, noted that the closure of the Al Aqsa is tantamount to a ‘declaration of war,’ which is turning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict into a religious war, rather than a political war.
When the Al Aqsa mosque is closed, it not only denies Muslims access to prayer in their place of worship but also denies children access to education. The Al Aqsa mosque does not only serve religious purposes, but inside the mosque there are two schools; one for boys and another for girls. So these frequent closures affect the students at these schools, along with Muslim worshipers.
“This is our Holy place where we pray. I don’t understand why they closing us out. What is a man without God?”
Says another man who has been waiting for two hours for the soldiers to grant access to the Mosque.
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
This right to worship individually or in community on a daily basis at the Al Aqsa mosque remains a dream for many Palestinians. Physical barriers, ID checks checks, soldiers saying, ‘not until 10:00’ prevent them entering for prayers and schools.
*Read our previous post about Who is allowed on the Al Aqsa mosque compound.