Al-Aqsa Tensions

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Following a shootout on July 14, new metal detectors were installed at the al-Aqsa compound gates. The move angered Palestinians who feared Israel was attempting to alter the status quo.

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Narration: Occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds - July 30, 2017, Thousands of Palestinian Muslims attended noon prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque after two weeks of protests over Israeli-imposed restrictions on entering the al-Aqsa compound.

Following a shootout on July 14, the compound was closed for two days and reopened with the addition of newly installed metal detectors.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Palestinian Woman: “The al-Aqsa Mosque should never be closed. Muslims are denied entry! No call of prayers, no prayers! We have been denied entry for three days?”

SOUNDBITE [English] Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General, Palestinian National Initiative: “They are closing eight out of ten gates completely. They're opening only two gates that include barriers.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Palestinian Woman: We would all sacrifice our lives for al-Aqsa. It shall not be shut down. God willing, it will be open forever. We have more right than the Jews to be in there.”

Narration: The move angered Palestinians who feared Israel was attempting to alter the status quo and take full control of the holy site.

SOUNDBITE [English] Ohad Hemo, Correspondent, Israeli Channel 2: “I do believe what we've seen these days is the fear of the Palestinians that Israel is intending to change the status quo in Al-Aqsa. And on the ground we've seen during the last few years, we've seen more and more Israelis, members of the Israeli Parliament and so on that goes to Al-Aqsa and make this 'Hr Hybt' (Temple Mount) in Hebrew of course. So I guess that everything has to do with this fear of the people in East Jerusalem, the whole Palestinians actually.”

Narration: According to the “status quo” which was established after the Israeli regime occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, Muslims had a right to pray while non-Muslims, including Jews, could visit the site but not pray or perform other religious rituals there. Palestinian Muslims vowed to protest and pray outside al-Aqsa until the metal detectors and other surveillance equipment were removed.

VOX POP [Arabic] Palestinian People: “They did not refuse but they told us, "You can enter through the metal detector." This cannot be forced on us.”

“These gates are political. Israel, the occupation, wants us to get used to what they want to do, to changing the nature of al-Aqsa Mosque. I will not enter and I refuse to enter and I will keep praying at the closest point until they take these gates away.”

Narration: Over the course of two weeks, Israeli forces met the demonstrators with rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades. In some areas, live rounds were also used. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, at least six Palestinians were killed and more than 1,300 injured. The Prisoners Society Club has also reported that more than 300 Palestinians have been arrested since July 14. Meanwhile, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, warned against "the dangers of such provocations and incitement, and fuelling of yet another cycle of violence which will surely have far-reaching consequences."

The metal detector fiasco at al-Aqsa compound is the latest step in Israel's gradual encroachment on Palestinian land. Over the years, the Israeli government has taken further steps towards controlling the Old City and East Jerusalem al-Quds as a whole. In 1980, Israel passed a law that declared Jerusalem al-Quds the "complete and united" capital of Israel, in violation of international law. Today, no country in the world recognizes Israel's ownership of Jerusalem al-Quds or its attempts to change the geography and demographic makeup of the city. Israel has built at least 12 Jewish-only illegal settlements in East Jerusalem al-Quds, housing some 200,000 Israelis, while rejecting Palestinian building permits and demolishing their homes. Of the three million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, only those over a certain age limit are allowed access to Jerusalem al-Quds on Fridays, while others must apply for a hard-to-obtain permit from Israeli authorities.

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Narration: Although the metal detectors might seem an insignificant issue per se, they should be viewed more broadly, as a tool for the gradual control of Palestinian territory. By adding the metal detectors, experts say, Israel is further changing the status quo of the holy site and restricting freedom of worship. Israel already restricts Palestinian entry to the site through its separation wall, which cuts off the West Bank from Jerusalem al-Quds. As an occupying power, Israel is forbidden from doing so under international law.

Israel claims that the metal detectors are necessary for Israel's "security" following the incident that happened in June. That's while Israel's recent stance towards the Temple Mount Faithful is the most revealing example of the regime's hypocrisy. While openly advocating for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the destruction of Muslim holy sites, the Israeli government continues to allow this fanatic group to enter the al-Aqsa compound under the guise of "freedom of religion".

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is happy to see Jerusalem al-Quds erupt in violence. Facing a corruption investigation for a submarine scandal, Netanyahu wants to ensure that attention is diverted from him.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Wasel Abu Yousef , Member, Palestinian Liberation Organization: “I think that (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu does not need excuses to do everything that he is doing now, like closing al-Aqsa Mosque until now, which happens for the first time (since a long time) and is very dangerous and a crime against the Palestinians and the Arab and Islamic nations. The other thing, is what the (Israeli) occupation is doing regarding the gates and imposing the security (higher security) and everything that they are doing, which is an attempt of forcing fait accompli on the ground.”

Narration: Over the past decades, in the name of "security," Israel has grabbed Palestinian land; built settlements on the stolen land; demolished Palestinian homes and schools. The crisis developed around al-Aqsa mosque has been without precedent in some regards. It’s the first time the mosque has been closed to Friday prayers since 1969; and it's the first time in centuries it has been boycotted by worshippers; But one precedent is outstanding: it’s the first time in their 50-year struggle against occupation that Palestinians are truly alone. With a weak response from Arab and Muslim countries, the defense of al-Aqsa, cherished by 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world, has been left to the 300,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem al-Quds who face a most brutal and merciless occupier. In fact, the overall response from the Arab world ranks amongst the weakest ever recorded.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's Foreign Minister: “Unfortunately, since the Islamic countries have been involved in other issues and due to the success of the Israelis' plot in distracting Islamic countries from real goals to unreal, unnecessary ones… Unfortunately, the Israeli regime's policies have been continuing without being faced with any resistance by the Islamic world.”

Narration: This may be an outcome of the changing political landscape in the Middle East, which was brought about by US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region, with Arab leaders favoring and forging new relations with Israel. In addition, following the Arab uprisings of 2010-2011, the political topography of the region has changed noticeably. Syria, as a staunch supporter of Palestine, has long been gripped by war and instability, while a supportive country like Qatar is currently faced with a crisis created by its fellow Arab states. Moreover, Arab masses are too busy with their own struggles against the despotism of their rulers to call for Palestinian rights.

Peace has been elusive in Palestine for decades and the people of this holy land know from experience that it will not come from the current unelected leaders of the Arab world; nor will it come from a silent international community that only knows how to condemn Israel without annoying it. Now Palestinians know better than before that they should uncompromisingly stand and defend themselves, bowing down only to the God they worship.  


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