PCHR strongly condemns diggings conducted by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the vicinity of the al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Arab Jerusalem. PCHR further denounces the storming of the al-Aqsa Mosque and use of excessive force by IOF against hundreds of Palestinian civilians who attended the Friday Prayer on 9 February 2007. PCHR warns of the continuation of diggings, which pose a serious threat to one of the holiest sites for Arabs and Muslims and agitate the feelings of more than one billion Muslims around the world.
PCHR is concerned over IOF’s challenge to the international law and international legitimacy resolutions related to the Holy City. PCHR is astonished by the silence of the international community, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and Switzerland, the depository of the Geneva Convention, towards crimes and attacks by IOF against holy sites. PCHR believes that such silence encourages IOF to continue their actions to Judaize occupied Arab Jerusalem, undermine its religious and historic character and violate Palestinian rights in the city.
PCHR stresses that the latest diggings in the vicinity of the al-Aqsa Mosque are part of Israeli official actions aimed at the Judaization of the Holy City and remove its Arab-Islamic character. Such actions by IOF have included declaring the annexation of occupied Arab Jerusalem to Israeli territory; confiscating Palestinian civilian property; establishing Israeli settlements and settling Jews in them; constructing the Annexation Wall around it; preventing Palestinian civilians from building houses and demolishing existing ones; taking racial decisions to vacate the city of Palestinians; and isolating the city from the rest of the West Bank. PCHR believes that the forcible migration of the Palestinian population from Jerusalem is one of the methods adopted by Israel to create a new reality under which Jews would constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in the city. Successive Israeli governments have made efforts to ensure that the Palestinian population in the city would not exceed 22% of the total population to change the demographic balance in the city. To achieve this goal, they have used various methods, the latest of which have been the construction of the Annexation Wall around the city, cancellation of permanent residence of Palestinian civilians and the annexation of nearby settlement blocs to the city boundaries.
In a scene reminding of the incidents that led to the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada on 28 September 2000, on Friday noon, 9 February 2007, IOF stormed the yards of the al-Aqsa Mosque in the old city of occupied Arab Jerusalem. IOF used excessive force against worshippers, wounding dozens of them. Storming the al-Aqsa Mosque and imposing restrictions on access to the Mosque aimed to prevent Palestinian peaceful protests against the diggings conducted by IOF in the vicinity of the Mosque, which began on 6 February 2007.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, on Friday morning, IOF deployed thousands of members of the Israeli police and “Border Guard” in the vicinity and at the entrances of the old city of occupied Arab Jerusalem. They stopped and checked Palestinian civilians and prevented those aged under 45 from entering the old city. At the conclusion of the Friday Prayer, the worshippers saw hundreds of members of the Israeli Police and “Border Guard” in the yards of the Mosque, so a number of them started to loudly praise God. Immediately, IOF fired dozens of tear gas canisters, sound bombs and bullets at the worshippers. The worshippers moved back into the Mosque, but members of the Israeli police and “Border Guard” continued to move towards the Mosque, opening fire. They closed the doors of the Mosque with metal chains and held hundreds of worshippers inside until 14:00.
Dozens of worshippers were wounded. IOF prevented ambulances from tending to the wounded, so worshippers were forced to carry the wounded and take them to ambulances which were far from the Mosque. According to sources of the al-Mqassed Hospital in Jerusalem, 24 of the wounded were admitted into the hospital. The others were evacuated to Israeli hospitals.
PCHR strongly condemns diggings in the vicinity of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the storming of the yards of the Mosque by IOF, and recalls similar provocative actions that led to the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, during which thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed, due to the spiritual and symbolic status of the al-Aqsa Mosque for Palestinians and for Muslims in general.
PCHR believes that the failure of the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to take effective steps to stop crimes committed by IOF serves to encourage IOF to commit more of such crimes against Palestinian civilians and property. The legal cover provided by the United States to Israel and the silence of European States towards crimes committed against Palestinian civilians and their religious sites not only place Israel above international humanitarian law, but also encourage Israel to commit more crimes against Palestinian civilians, property and holy sites.
In light of the above:
1) PCHR calls upon the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligation under article 1 to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances.
2) PCHR calls upon the Swiss Government, as the depository of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to take the lead in highlighting grave breaches of the Convention, which are being perpetrated in occupied Arab Jerusalem.
3) PCHR calls upon the United Nations and UNESCO to fulfill their legal responsibilities to protect religious sites in occupied Arab Jerusalem from Israeli crimes, and stop diggings conducted by Israeli occupation authorities in the vicinity of the al-Aqsa Mosque.