Haram ash-Sharif in Jerusalem on Thursday night

This beautiful photo was posted on Twitter by “Zalameh” [@BDS4Justice] on Thursday night.  Its caption tells us that it was taken on the Haram ash-Sharif outside al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, and reads: “Aqsa right now #aqsa #palestine”: Al-Aqsa on Thursday evening - photo by Zalameh via Twitter

Palestinian argument about Jewish connection to Western Wall

The Palestinian Deputy Minister of Information, Mutawakkel Taha (a poet who was formerly head of the Palestinian writers union) has apparently published a 5-page document in Arabic on his Ministry’s website presenting an unreformed position arguing Muslim “ownership” of the site.

It was not immediately possible to find this document, or determine what, exactly, it says.

(There is, at the moment, no Palestinian Minister of Information, and the current Palestinian Authority government spokesman Ghassan Khatib is apparently in overall charge of the Information Ministry, though the lines of authority are confusing, and could be considered in flux.)

This position described in the Israeli press as being laid out in this document has been enunciated before by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and by his negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo (now Executive Secretary of the PLO, and head of Palestinian Television), and also by Palestinian officials who have held posts at the Waqf (Islamic trust foundation) that “owns” the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock which are the two religious buildings that now exist on the mosque esplanade that Muslims call the Haram ash-Sharif.

The same site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount — because it is believed that the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temple were built on the esplanade. So far, archeological excavations have found evidence of the Second Temple, but nothing so far from the earlier First Temple.

Some Israelis and Jews are angry that Muslim renovations under the Al-Aqsa Mosque were conducted with disregard for Jewish interests in finding remains that might help clear up the history of the site.

Both Jewish temples were destroyed (the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BC, and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD), centuries before the arrival of Islam.

The Western Wall was built, or expanded, by Herod, to contain an enlarged site for the Second Jewish Temple. Since its destruction, only this Western Wall remains public, and it has been a site of Jewish longing and prayer throughout the centuries (with, it is true, various restrictions at different times). Some of the stones in the lower portion of the Western Wall might have been placed there during the time of the First Temple.

Since the advent of Islam in the latter part of the 6th century AD, the two mosques were built — no Jewish structure was destroyed for their construction. These two buildings have been in continuous use for Muslim prayer for 1400 years.

Muslims now fear that messianic Jewish groups want to destroy these mosques to rebuilt the Jewish Temple.

Tonight, the Israeli Government Press Office sent around this statement attributable to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: “The Palestinian Authority Information Ministry’s denial of the link between the Jewish People and the Western Wall is reprehensible and scandalous. The Western Wall has been the Jewish People’s most sacred place for almost 2,000 years, since the destruction of the Second Temple … When the Palestinian Authority denies the link between the Jewish People and the Western Wall, it calls into serious question its intentions of reaching a peace agreement, the foundations of which are coexistence and mutual recognition. The Government of Israel expects Palestinian Authority leaders to disavow and condemn the aforesaid document, refrain from distorting historical facts and encourage the creation of a bridge to peace that will lead to an historic reconciliation between the two peoples”.

Fervent adherents of both Islam and Judaism have made all kinds of outrageous statements denying each other’s claims. Very few (if any) calls are being made to acknowledge the legitimacy of both sets of claims.

The Western Wall is considered a historic site with religious signifcance. Prayers are performed there, but it is not a synagogue, and in fact there is no synagogue along the Western Wall.

Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are places of worship, with historic significance.

This is a moment when outside help would be useful…

UPDATE: At the end of November, the U.S. commented that the report by Mutawwakal Taha is “factually incorrect, insensitive, and highly provocative”. While that may be true, this U.S. comment is not — NOT— what is needed. Nor is it helpful…

Qalandia – you have to see it to believe it…

…but you still won’t really feel the oppressive heat pounding down under the sun’s rays …

Machsom Watch  [Checkpoint Watch] – a group of Israeli women against the occupation and for human rights, who monitor the situation at Israeli military checkpoints and Israeli military courts in the occupied Palestinian West Bank – have put together this extraordinary video of Palestinian women in an extreme situation, who are being treated as… well, not quite as human beings.

One of the videos they have posted on their site shows the situation in the women’s line — the women’s line: yes, women and men are separated by the Israeli forces even before going into the Checkpoint area — at the disgraceful Qalandia Checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah on a Friday in Ramadan last year, September 2009.

In Ramadan, adults fast — and abstain even from water — from two hours before dawn until sunset.

These women are trying to get from their homes all over the central and northern West Bank, into Jerusalem, to pray at the third holiest site in Islam, which is Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

During Ramadan, the Muslim faithful long to pray in Al-Aqsa.

This documentary is mesmerizing — and horrible to watch.

The crowding, pushing, shoving, and general pandemonium would have been completely unbearable by themselves. But it was also near 100 degrees in the blazing heat.

Because the women are wearing long and heavy clothing, as well as tight headcoverings, the intense heat at midday would be quite unbearable. And, they are fasting, so they will not drink water.

If it is possible to say one part was worse than another, the worst part was at the end, when the women who could not get through Qalandia Checkpoint lined up to pray in the little shade there was, created by The Wall… facing Jerusalem, right up against The Wall.

It’s on the Machsom Watch website, here — scroll down the page to the report dated 17/09/2009.

But, when I tried to watch this video on Youtube, here, to get the correct code to embed it on this page, I found this warning, instead: “This video or group may contain content that is inappropriate for some users, as flagged by YouTube’s user community“…

A Machsom Watch video.
Filmed by Hadass Shuve and Merav Amir.
Edited by Hadass Shuve.
Translation from Arabic by Hasan Masri.

Qalandia on the first Friday of Ramadan (2010)

Since The Wall became a massive presence in the Palestinian West Bank a few years ago, and since Qalandia Checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah (and the rest of the central and northern West Bank) grew to large proportions, it has become a major center of human activity on Fridays during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast for more than half of each day (from two hours before dawn until after sunset, when it is no longer possible to distinguish between a white and a black thread).

Each year, the arrangements have been different. There has been some effort at “improvement” from the Israeli side — and the results illustrate how difficult it is to improve anything through military regulation of human behavior.

For, how can you “improve” measures designed to restrict Palestinians from going to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the esplanade known as Haram ash-Sharif in the Old City of East Jerusalem?

Continue reading “Qalandia on the first Friday of Ramadan (2010)”

Total closure of West Bank for Passover holiday

Another Jewish holiday, another total closure of the West Bank (for Palestinians only — Israeli settlers can come and go as they please…)

Early this morning the Israeli Defense Ministry announced a total closure of the West Bank from Sunday through Tuesday, at the beginning of the Jewish Passover holiday which starts at sundown on Monday.

A few hours later, the total closure was extended until the end of the Passover holiday – on 6 April …

Strict restrictions are being enforced by Israeli police against Palestinians trying to enter not only the Haram ash-Sharif mosque esplanade (the Temple Mount) where Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are situated — but also against Palestinian entry into the entire Old City.

Meanwhile, Palestinian protesters marched through the main Bethlehem checkpoint after surprising the Israeli Border Police, but were stopped and blocked a little bit further up the road to Jerusalem.  It had been previously announced that Palestinian Christians would attempt to reach Christian churches and institutions in Jerusalem — without applying for an Israeli permit.

Some of the arrested Palestinians remain in detention on Sunday night…

A Journalist (find her) looks at excavations with new finds from 10th century B.C.

The caption for this AP photo reads: “A journalist looks over newly excavated fortifications outside the Old City walls in Jerusalem, Monday, Feb. 22 2010. An Israeli archaeologist says the ancient fortifications date back 3,000 years to the time of the Bible’s King Solomon and offer evidence for the accuracy of the biblical narrative”.

A Journalist looks at newly-announced excavation - AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill

Continue reading “A Journalist (find her) looks at excavations with new finds from 10th century B.C.”

After weeks of tensions and provocations – and predictions of trouble today – Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa Mosque COMPOUND

Tensions — and provocations — have risen for weeks.

Jordanian intervention recently defused a days-long sit-in by Muslims who heeded an earlier call, during the recent Jewish holidays, to come to defend Al-Aqsa against a reported call by Jewish settlers for their faithful to come to pray inside Al-Aqsa.  A group of about 200 Palestinians slept and prayed inside, while Israeli forces threatened to arrest them when they came outside.  Then, agreement was reached, and those inside departed quietly.

Today, after yet another call for the Muslim faithful to come to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque, next to the Dome of the Rock on the mosque plateau known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, the third most sacred site in Islam, the situation appears to be blowing up.

For days, it has been reported that preparations were being made (on both sides) in advance of a demonstration that was supposedly planned by Israeli “far-right extremists” to take place at Al-Aqsa on Sunday.

The feeling that there is incitement and provocation is inescapable — from elements on both sides.

Continue reading “After weeks of tensions and provocations – and predictions of trouble today – Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa Mosque COMPOUND”

Jerusalem tensions persist

Tensions continue — among Palestinians, at least — after disturbances the mosque esplanade in the Old City of East Jerusalem on Sunday, despite the imposed calm for the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur observed this year from Sunday night through Monday night.

There were minor disturbances reported in several East Jerusalem neighborhoods and in Bethlehem.

UPDATE: TV reports showed young — very young, perhaps underage — Palestinian men in handcuffs being processed by Israeli authorities after about 50 persons were reportedly detained in and around East Jerusalem’s Old City in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Continue reading “Jerusalem tensions persist”

Tensions flare on mosque esplanade in Old City of East Jerusalem

Clashes are continuing on Sunday afternoon on the mosque esplanade where two mosques Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are situated in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

In the morning, there were reports saying hat Jewish worshippers protected by Israeli police (armed of course) had entered the mosque esplanade — which is called the Temple Mount in Israel — in advance of the very serious Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and annual repentance.

Palestinians had been on alert since Thursday, when Al-Quds newspaper published a report saying (at least according to an SMS summary): “Extremist Jews plan to break into al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday, similar incident occurs in Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron”.

Apparently, Palestinians present on the mosque esplanade began throwing stones at the group that turned up Sunday morning.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police then spread out of the mosque compound and into the streets of the Old City.

There were injuries both to Palestinians and to the Israeli police.

Continue reading “Tensions flare on mosque esplanade in Old City of East Jerusalem”

Palestinian Police deploy up to Qalandia checkpoint for first Friday in Ramadan

For the first time in years, or perhaps ever, Palestinian traffic policemen were allowed to deploy up to the concrete barriers at the entry to the main Qalandia checkpoint today,
which Israeli officials refer to as a “border crossing”, on the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

It was a real departure on the first Friday in Ramadan 2009, as thousands of Palestinian men and women and children endured heat and serial military checks in order to be able to go to pray during this special month at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

(The lunar calendar used by Muslims means that the month of Ramadan starts about 11 days earlier every year. Roughly every 36 years, Ramadan rotates through the hottest and longest days of summer.)

One sunny Palestinian traffic policeman helping pedestrians cross through the constant flow of cars and vans said that the deployment had been done in coordination with the Israeli military, and that for now the Palestinian deployment would be just for Fridays during Ramadan, at least for now. “We hope we can come every Friday, and then every day, and that we can also go into Jerusalem to pray”. He said that he is now 34 years old, and according to current Israeli policy, he will not be free to pray in Jerusalem for another 16 years. He said he came from the Old City of Nablus, and that he was one of between 20-24 Palestinian traffic policemen selected for the special task. “Ukhti” (My sister), he called to beckon one woman to cross the street.

“We are here”, he explained, “but without guns”. However, he said, they did not really need guns, because “many people tell us it’s a great day, and it’s good, that they finally see us on the street here. Some drivers even stopped in surprise”, he reported.

Another Palestinian traffic policeman said that there were about 15 Palestinian policemen on duty at Qalandia. Palestinian security cars were lined up and parked just at the entrance into the Qalandia perimeter — an extremely rare sight.

Precisely because there has been no civilian traffic control allowed anywhere near the Israeli military, Qalandia checkpoint has, until now, been the the site of frequent traffic snarls and intimidating traffic congestion where cars have to fight to advance every single centimeter.
The aggressive young beggars that operate in the areas where cars waiting to pass through Qalandia add another layer of misery and stress for the trapped motorists.

For the four Fridays in Ramadan, vehicular traffic has been banned from just after midnight until 3 pm in the afternoon.

Palestinian mini-vans and buses were surprisingly organized, and dispatchers with neon-green vests and megaphones urged the stream of Palestinians onto transport into Jerusalem. The prayer-goers would face at least one other military check at Damascus Gate in the Old City Wall. It was later reported that five Palestinians were arrested, a few for “carrying knives” and one for being from Gaza but not having a permit.

This year, like last year, only men over 50 years old, and only women over 45 years old, are eligible for entry into Jerusalem for the Friday prayers during Ramadan, a holy month which commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an. For the entire month of Ramadan, adults fast completely (and do not even drink water) from two hours before sunrise until sundown. The idea is to give the body a rest, and to develop solidarity with the poor who are often not able to eat and drink as they need.

Men between 45 and 50 may apply for special permits issued for the four Fridays in Ramadan, and women between 30 and 45 were also eligible to apply — but UN officials said that all the Palestinians all had to be married to qualify for the special permits. Apparently, children under 12 could accompany their parents.

Despite the noticeably better Israeli organization implemented by the Israeli military authorities at Qalandia, there were far fewer Palestinians trying to pass through Qalandia today than during the first Friday of Ramadan last year. “Where are the thousands of Palestinians who cannot get into Jerusalem and who ususally come to protest?”, asked one woman from the Israeli organization Machsom Watch. One Palestinian policeman said that it was only the first Friday of Ramadan, and predicted that the numbers would increase in the coming weeks. However, a UN official noted that the fourth Friday of Ramadan this year coincides with a major Jewish holiday, and predicted that Palestinian traffic into Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank would be reduced to a trickle.

According to a tally from the observers with the Ecumenical Accompaniers program (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches, just over 16,000 Palestinians passed through Qalandia going into Jerusalem between 0600 and 1130 in the morning.  Last year, EAPPI said that 36,000 Palestinians passed through Qalandia in more-or-less the same time period, between 0600 and 1200.

Israeli officials later reported that 90,000 Muslims were at the Friday prayers (the exact same figure as last year) up on the Haram as-Sharif plateau on which Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are both built. Palestinians from East Jerusalem, who are legal residents of Israel, and Israel’s own Arab/Palestinian citizens had free access to Al-Aqsa. (The Haram as-Sharif plateau has a reported capacity of 300,000).