Sonic booms and tear gas ruined the spiritual atmosphere for worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, whose numbers notably increase during the holy month of Ramadan. Such Israeli escalation in the occupied city of Jerusalem had not been seen in years.
In the past few days, Israeli army and police have repeatedly stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in large numbers to evacuate it of Palestinians who are in seclusion there, making way for extremist settlers to enter the mosque as part of the Jewish celebrations of Passover on 15-25 April.
However, the entry of settlers into Al-Aqsa Mosque to perform Talmudic prayers was not the most threatening acts against Palestinians. Radical Jewish groups called for “slaughter sacrifices” and sprinkling of blood in Al-Aqsa Mosque. The ritual revives an idea adopted by extremist Jewish groups that Al-Aqsa Mosque was built on the ruins of Solomon’s Temple, and making a slaughter sacrifice would be the start of the temple’s return.
Nasser Al-Hadma, an expert on Jerusalem, explained that for radical Jews, a slaughter sacrifice in Al-Aqsa Mosque is the last step of moral preparation for rebuilding the temple on its ruins.
It has been 31 years since the holy month of Ramadan has coincided with both Jewish Passover and Christian Easter, but tensions in occupied Jerusalem have overshadowed the spiritual and festive atmosphere of these religious occasions.
Jerusalem activist Hanadi Halawani, who along with other Palestinian women habitually go into seclusion at Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and prepare food for visitors to the Temple Mount, was dismayed that she could not reach the mosque this year when the Israeli authorities banned her from entry.
Halawani is one of 47 Palestinians who were recently banned from the mosque by Israel, which accuses them of inciting and instigating havoc. Most Palestinians who were banned try to reach the nearest point in the Old City in Jerusalem to pray and recite the Quran. This challenges Israel, which sends police to assault and disperse them.
The most violent confrontations at Al-Aqsa Mosque were on the second Friday of Ramadan, which marked the first day of Passover. Tens of thousands of Palestinians flocked to pray and go into seclusion at Al-Aqsa Mosque to prevent any attempt of slaughter sacrifices by Jewish settlers.
However, Israeli police said that young Palestinians were armed with firecrackers and stones, and set up barriers and obstacles inside the mosque. In response, the police evacuated the mosque of worshippers, which set off clashes that injured dozens of Palestinians. Several hundred Palestinians were also arrested, some of whom were released and others prosecuted.
These Israeli measures reduced the number of Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque, at a time when Israel allows between 300 to 500 settlers to invade the mosque’s courtyards daily under heavy police protection.
“The Israeli occupation continues its plot to control Al-Aqsa Mosque,” declared the Mufti of Jerusalem Mohamed Hussein. “Everything that is happening at Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of the plan of Judification of the holy city and making it the unified capital of Israel.”
Talking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Hussein warned of Israel trying to change the status quo at Al-Aqsa, adding, “Israel wants to impose a new reality at Al-Aqsa through force of arms.”
Hussein’s statements reference warnings by the Palestinian Authority (PA) that Israel wants to impose a temporal and spatial division at Al-Aqsa Mosque, whereby it is entirely dedicated to Jews at certain times. Israel succeeded in imposing this scheme at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, which is shutdown for days at a time during Jewish holidays.
Successive developments on the ground in occupied Jerusalem and Israeli assaults on worshippers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque area pose a threat to Israel beyond the city boundaries. Armed Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, said they would not stand by and watch Israeli violations.
At the end of Ramadan last year, large-scale military confrontations erupted between Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel due to similar events. The residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem were assaulted and hundreds of Israelis stormed Al-Buraq Wall area as part of the Flags Dance march.
Hamas said it views any attack on Jerusalem as one on Gaza, which puts it in a difficult position if it starts a new military confrontation with Israel. Palestinians are still counting their losses and trying to recover from the previous military confrontation.
Some believe that military confrontation with Israel should not be the first option for Palestinians, because of the high cost of successive wars suffered by the Gaza Strip. Palestinian writer and political analyst Jamil Abdel-Nabi argued that Palestinian factions are paying a high price for limiting their activity to military resistance, while neglecting other aspects of popular resistance that would inspire wide popular participation at a lower cost.
“I understand the indecision, the dilemma of the reisistance,” said Abdel-Nabi. “If it is silent, then it is staying out of the conflict in Palestine. This alone is a disaster. Meanwhile, participation in the only way it knows will force it into a war that no one wants.”
He said Palestinians were resisting without fearing the price they might pay, because it was within tolerable limits. However, after the resistance became paramilitarised and Israel started attacking as if it were fighting an equal power, the price is too high.
Egypt exerted much effort to prevent escalation between Palestinian factions and Israel from spiralling into broad confrontations. However, since Israel continues to allow Jewish settlers to storm the Al-Aqsa courtyard, it is likely these mediation efforts will be met with Israeli intransigence. According to observers, this is due to a desire by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to prove himself as a right-wing leader, on the heels of opposition leader and Likud Party Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bennett’s intent on courting the right-wing bloc, from which he hails, puts the stability of his government in jeopardy. In fact, the United Arab List headed by Mansour Abbas, a partner in Israel’s coalition government, suspended its participation in the ruling coalition and Knesset for two weeks. The United List, which holds four out of 120 Knesset seats and is an Islamic Arab party in Israel, is facing immense pressure due to the events at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
This symbolic protest, which does not impact the coalition right now, may eventually lead to the collapse of the government and new elections in Israel if the Arab List withdraws permanently from the ruling coalition. This means Bennett must strike a delicate balance between appeasing the right and maintaining the stability of his government.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.