The cold weather and proliferation of military checkpoints in the city of Jerusalem did not prevent hundreds of citizens from reaching Al Aqsa Mosque to stand in the face of Israeli demolition plans. Sunday’s scheme included destruction at the Moroccan Gate to make a Jewish-only road. Israeli forces are adding settlements in East Jerusalem and a synagogue near the entrance to the Mosque.
This morning Israeli police, border guards and special forces were at the doors of Al Aqsa with barricades throughout the Old City stopping Palestinians and checking identification. Only men over 45 years of age and women were allowed to get near the Muslim holy site.
At the Moroccan Gate the Israeli procedures were more prohibitive with all nonviolent demonstrators carrying flags and placards being forced to change course and stand in the rain about three kilometers away at Damascus Gate. Israeli police arrested a 16 year old for attempting to enter the Mosque.
Among demonstrators were Chief Palestinian Justice Sheikh Taysir Tamimi, the head of the Islamic Waqf Sheikh Abdel A Salhab and dozens more clerics, young men and women. During the sit-in several Islamic scholars spoke directly to the threats against the Mosque and the plans to overtake the area.
Sheikh Tamimi said that the destruction at Moroccan Gate made clear the political and religious dimensions of the Israeli plans. “The Israeli government issued an order to demolish ancient buildings in the Arab and Islamic Gate of the Moroccans, exploiting this time of internal strife.”
He demanded that as many people who can make it through the barriers come daily to pray in the Mosque in order to have the maximum presence possible. He also issued an official condemnation against the Israelis today for preventing worshipers from praying.
The Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, described current events as, “ugly crimes against Al Aqsa Mosque and Muslims.” He said that since the 1980s Israeli forces have been trying to implement the scheme at the Moroccan Gate, but that they were always prevented from doing so by world-wide religious and historical outcry. Sheikh Hussein appealed to Arab and Muslim leaders on an international scale to intervene to save the Gate and the Mosque before it is too late.
Chair of the Supreme Islamic Council, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, said that the scheme to install a bridge and expand the Western Wall is a direct affront to the city’s heritage in its entirety. He has been warning of the bid to overtake the Al Aqsa area throughout the past two years of preparation and less noticeable work.
The head of the Department of Information of the Islamic Movement, Khalid Muhanna, who at the age of 45 was prevented from entering the Mosque, said, “This is to be expected, that we will be kept out of our mosque as we have uncovered the biggest conspiracy yet in the takeover of Jerusalem.”
Muhanna warned against attempts to destroy Al Aqsa, stressing that the Islamic Movement would keep a presence in the city around the clock to stop the takeover.
He called on President Abbas and Prime Minister Haniya to close ranks and serve the Al Aqsa Mosque.