The right to pray does not have an age limit

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by EA Ebba, Yanoun team,

“Teargas burns in my throat and nose. My eyes sting. I lift up the scarf over my nose and I start to breathe through the blue velvet fabric. Around me, people are fleeing in all directions. Smoke from teargas-canisters settles like a fog over the crowd, of men women and children. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! It sounds as if weapons are being fired, but the sound comes from sound bombs thrown into the crowd.”  

Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) monitor access to holy sites for Palestinians of all faiths across occupied Palestine. During Ramadan our EAs monitor the checkpoints every Friday to ensure that those with permits are able to go to Jerusalem and report on any human rights abuses that occur during crossing. Continue reading

Closure of Al Aqsa Mosque limits Access to Worship & Education

by Debbie & Nkosi, Jerusalem team

EA outside Old City of Jerusalem

An EA stands outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/D. Hubbard.

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

Zarifa at Bab Hutta in Old City Jerusalem

Zarifa waits to enter Al Aqsa mosque compound. Photo EAPPI.

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.

On November 5, girls going to Al Sharim Sharif girls school are waiting to access the Al Aqsa mosque compound for the school day. Photo EAPPI/D. Hubbard.

On November 5, girls going to Al Sharim Sharif girls school are waiting to access the Al Aqsa mosque compound for the school day. Photo EAPPI/D. Hubbard.

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.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR), Article 18, states:

“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

Clashes as Passover, Friday Prayer and Easter collide

Our EAs this year provided protective presence and monitored the human rights situation throughout the Easter celebrations. In the coming days, we’ll share with you accounts of Easter 2014 in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

by David, Lindsey, Sandra, and Lynn, Jerusalem team

This year Jewish Passover, and both the Orthodox and Western Christian Easters fell on the same week. On Good Friday, tensions rose as Christian processions along the Via Dolorosa and Muslims going on their way to Al Aqsa mosque occurred at the same time. Unrest primarily occurred near Al Aqsa when Israeli authorities restricted access to the compound to worshippers under the age of 50.

Additionally, earlier in the week, the leader of The Temple Movement, a Jewish extremist movement that wants to build a new temple, encouraged their followers to flow in and celebrate Passover at the al-Aqsa compound. When the Jewish extremists heard their call and came into the compound, violence broke out between Muslims and Israeli police. As a result, the gates leading to the mosque were closed denying men, women, and schoolchildren from entering the area. As a result of these clashes, twenty-five people were injured.

The following is a Photo Essay of Good Friday Easter 2014.

As tensions rise, when will the international community say enough is enough?

In recent weeks, tensions have risen in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Six Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. Palestinians mourned the deaths. Violence between Gaza and southern Israel renewed. At the same time, tension increased at Al-Aqsa mosque as Israeli forces closed access for worshippers.

by Jerusalem team

Worshippers pray outside an Israeli military flying checkpoint in the Old City streets when not allowed access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Worshippers pray outside an Israeli military flying checkpoint in the Old City streets when not allowed access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

In recent months Israeli settlers have continuously harrassed the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third most holy site for Muslims. In one instance, Israeli settlers entered into the mosque area with the support of Israeli forces and tried to take an Israeli flag inside the mosque, which then turned into clashes with Palestinians.

As EAPPI monitors we have witnessed heavy military and police presence in the Old City of Jerusalem especially during Friday prayers; a presence that contributes to an atmosphere of tension.

On Friday February 28 Israeli military closed access to pray in the Al-Aqsa mosque for thousands of men under 50 years old. In a peaceful response, worshippers lined the streets of the Old City to pray, despite heavy military presence.

Israeli forces closed access to Al Aqsa mosque for men under the age of 50. 28 February 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Israeli forces closed access to Al Aqsa mosque for men under the age of 50. 28 February 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Again, on Friday March 14 men under 40 were blocked from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers. Israeli forces set up flying checkpoints within and outside of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Israeli military inspected the IDs of Palestinians and turned many away, forcing them to pray in the streets.

Israeli soldiers set up a flying checkpoint in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday. They check the IDs of Palestinians before granting access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Israeli soldiers set up a flying checkpoint in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday. They check the IDs of Palestinians before granting access to pray at Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

In the past week, Palestinians mourned after six people were killed in the West Bank and three in Gaza. Many of the demonstrations turned into clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces. On Tuesday March 11, EAPPI monitors witnessed a peaceful protest in front of the Damascus Gate in memory of the killed Palestinians and for the right to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Israel’s Military Order 101, dating back to 1967, prohibits all gatherings of 10 or more persons “for a political purpose” unless they have received authorization in advance under a permit issued by the Israeli military commander in the area. Without this, there is a threat of imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a grave fine, according to a recent Amnesty report.

Soldiers position outside Damascus gate during a demonstration against the killing of Palestinians and for the right for access to pray in Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Soldiers position outside Damascus gate during a demonstration against the killing of Palestinians and for the right for access to pray in Al Aqsa mosque. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Tuesday’s events reflected this military order. After 10 minutes of the demonstration minutes, Israeli riot police started to shoot sound grenades into the middle of the crowd. Israeli riot police also injured several people with rubber bullets and batons by Israeli forces. EAs eyewitnessed brutal maltreatment of two arrested young men in the middle of the street. We wondered, if this is what happens when we are here to witness, what is happening to Palestinians when hidden from the public eye?

On 27th of February Amnesty International published a new report Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank about human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. According to the report there were 27 Palestinians killed in 2013, 8 in 2012, and 10 in 2011. So far in 2014, 5 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.

We thought of the Palestinians killed. We thought of the renewed violence in Gaza and southern Israel.  We wondered, how many will have to die this year?And when will the international community say enough is enough?