Israel exploiting Jewish holidays to repress Palestinian Jerusalemites

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Israeli security forces stand guard in front of a Palestinian Muslim worshiper performing traditional Friday prayers in a street outside the Old City in east Jerusalem on October 17, 2014. The Israeli government has restricted access to the al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest shrine to men under 50 in an attempt to restrict violent clashes after the Friday prayer. (Photo: AFP- Ahmed Gharabli)

By: Mujahed Bani Mofleh

Published Monday, October 20, 2014

Many Jewish holidays turn into dark moments in the lives of the [Palestinian] residents of Jerusalem as the pace of Judaization and provocations increases. While Palestinians resist with only their bare bodies, the Israeli police does not hesitate to mistreat and oppress them.

Ramallah – Israel does not miss a chance to project its “Jewishness” on occupied Jerusalem, even temporarily. Jewish holidays and their accompanying rituals turn the lives of the residents of Jerusalem into a living hell, especially those who live in the old city.

This past Thursday, October 16, was the last day of the eight-day Jewish holiday Sukkot which saw nonstop biblical chants, Talmudic songs and settler marches that roamed the alleyways and neighborhoods of the old city. In the meantime, not a day went by without raids of the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Fakhri Abu Diab, a Jerusalemite activist from the town of Salwan, said that under the pretext of Jewish holidays Israeli occupation forces sought to wield more control over Jerusalem and “secure an almost permanent presence for their settlers in al-Aqsa Mosque which has been temporally divided. All that is left is to divide it spatially between Muslims and Jews.”

Tight procedures begin with closing most of the roads to and from Jerusalem and deploying a large number of police on the streets. This in turn limits Palestinians’ ability to move around and forces them to take alternative distant roads that are several kilometers long.

The ordeal of the residents of Jerusalem goes beyond these eight days. Jewish holidays are numerous and long. The most important ones are Sukkot, Passover, Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Purim and Tisha B'Av that commemorates the destruction of the temple. During this time, Israeli government offices close down, according to Abu Diab, which obstructs people’s day-to-day business in Jerusalem where a person sometimes finds themselves unable to even have leavened bread or chickpeas. This is what happens during Passover, for example, because Jews do not eat these kinds of foods during their holy days and so they do not allow them in the city during this time.

During the Jewish New Year, Israeli authorities completely encircle the area of Ain Salwan and allow settlers to carry out rituals that last for hours. Residents are not allowed to move until the ceremonies are over.

One Ain Salwan resident said that this year was especially difficult because Yom Kippur coincided with the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. He said he was prevented from going to his sister’s home which is only a few meters away. He added: “Even when we went by foot, they gave us a ticket under the pretext of violating the law... What law are they talking about? Am I supposed to abide by their religious law?”

Palestinian women were not absent from the scenes of defiance. Liwaa Abu Rmeileh, a journalist from Jerusalem, said: “Jerusalemite women have acquired remarkable courage standing up to settlers and the police who do not hesitate to hit and assault them,” as happened recently with Abir Zayyad – an employee at the Endowments in al-Aqsa – whose veil was ripped off by an Israeli policeman.

Abu Rmeileh, who lives in the al-Qurma neighborhood in old Jerusalem, said the Israelis bear down harder on women during Jewish holidays and “most days they are barred from al-Aqsa Mosque under the pretext that they chant “God is Great” in the courtyards during the raids.” She pointed out that most of the friction with settlers takes place near Bab al-Silsila (Chain Gate), especially when the settlers leave the mosque which they enter from the Moroccan Gate as they chant their Jewish hymns in a manner that provokes worshippers.

According to the office of Islamic Endowments in Jerusalem, setters’ assaults on worshipers going to al-Aqsa Mosque were particularly vicious this year during the Jewish holidays, with an increase in arrests and the banning of some individuals from entering the mosque, sometimes for a period of six months. In a dangerous precedent, a number of al-Aqsa guards were arrested while others were denied access to the mosque.

Those encamped inside the mosque have been disconcerted by the dramatic increase in the number of raids, as well as their frenzied and brutal manner. In the latest incident, about 30 people were trapped inside the Qibli Mosque for more than 40 minutes, interspersed by the firing of hundreds of sound and tear bombs as well as rubber bullets after the Israeli police shut the power supply to the mosque.

At dawn that day, the Israeli police had barred men and women under the age of 60 from entering al-Aqsa mosque. Ten of the young men barricaded inside were injured and shocking scenes emerged, the likes of which had not been seen before in the series of attacks on al-Aqsa.

One of the activists said the raid took place earlier than usual. “Journalists weren’t up yet because after it was all over, media outlets started contacting me.”

Even when the raid was over, the battle for the young men barricaded inside was not. Israeli forces carefully examined those leaving through the gates to arrest anyone believed to have been with them. So they resort to deceptive methods such as changing their clothes, but even that does not spare them arrest.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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