This Tuesday marked the start of the Holy month of Ramadan, in the Islamic faith, with many Palestinians choosing to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in order to perform prayers. However, this year, Israel is not making the occasion so pleasant and has been slammed for its racist actions.
Drawing staunch criticism, called out as Islamophobic and racist, Israeli forces decided to cut off the loudspeakers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam. The loudspeakers were cutoff, reportedly preventing Imams from being heard. Israel’s reasoning behind this was that they were holding a memorial for dead occupation forces at the nearby Western Wall and did not want to hear anything in the background to disrupt this.
Hazem Qassem, Hamas spokesman addressing the issue, said the following: “The occupation police cut off the loudspeaker wires in Al-Aqsa Mosque and forbade raising the evening call to prayer on the first day of the month of Ramadan. This is a racist aggression against religious sanctities and a violation of freedom of worship. These actions reveal the extent of the Zionist disdain for the feelings of Muslims everywhere.”
Later that same night, Israel had also reportedly arrested three young Palestinians near the Damascus Gate, in the old city of Jerusalem, after clashes had erupted.
Palestinian Authority (PA) Religious Advisor, Mahmoud al-Habbash, stated that Israel “cutting off the loudspeakers of the call to prayer and the continued attacks by the occupation on Al-Aqsa will lead to a religious war that is now at its doorstep,” with the PA itself putting out a written condemnation of the event.
Israel has also set forth a policy that limits the capacity at the Al-Aqsa compound to 10,000 and all of those who enter are supposed to be vaccinated. This presents a huge problem when it comes to Palestinians who have no access to vaccinations, if being vaccinated is a precondition to entering the holy site, then those from the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel has denied vaccines, cannot enter.
Already for Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, living in the occupied territories, they are prevented from travelling to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem. Palestinians in the West Bank, some which live minutes away from Jerusalem are banned from entering without a special permit. For elderly Palestinians from the West Bank, they are more frequently granted access to their holy sites than others, yet still endure constant let downs as well as harassment at checkpoints.
For the occasions of Christmas and Easter, Palestinian Christians from the West Bank are each year regularly sent back and refused entry to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other sites. Even when they have permits, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip can be arbitrarily deported and barred from entering holy sites, based solely on the mood of given occupation soldiers/police.
Each year, around 500 Palestinian Christians from the besieged Gaza Strip apply to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas and are denied entry on “security grounds”. In 2019, prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus Pandemic, not a single Christian from Gaza was allowed into Jerusalem on Christmas.
The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Atallah Hanna, who regularly speaks out against Israel’s measures against Palestinians, has said on the issue that “The Israeli occupation has built these racist fences and military barriers to prevent Christians and Muslims from visiting their holy sites and places of worship.”
This year, due to the ongoing global Pandemic, gatherings have been restricted in most cases, but the above mentioned incidents are not due to public health concerns. Israel is using the Pandemic in an insidious way. For instance, some 100,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories who work inside Israeli settlements or Israel itself have been offered to be inoculated – this did take a 2 month delay and come after widespread criticism. So why is it that for Palestinians that come into contact with settlers, who despite living in West Bank illegal settlements are vaccinated by Israel, that they are vaccinated but not anyone else?
The answer is, that Israel’s racist ‘apartheid regime’, as top Israeli human rights group B’Tselem calls it, is built on the superiority of Jews over Palestinians. Israel’s practices back the belief that its attitude is that if Palestinians come in contact with Israelis, then they must be vaccinated, but if they are around each other and don’t need to be near Israelis then they shouldn’t have access. Then if those non-vaccinated Palestinians want to see their holy sites in their own country, they can’t because they are unvaccinated and allegedly pose a risk to Israelis. But if Israel can vaccinate those who work in settlements, why not those who want to go to Jerusalem for religious reasons?