JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — More than a thousand people took to the tense Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Wednesday, when eight Jewish worshipers were evacuated from the holy site, as tens of thousands also gathered at the neighboring Western Wall on the third day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said in a statement that the eight were banned from the site, as witnesses also reported seeing “several Israeli settlers” performing prayers outside of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in violation of long-standing agreements regarding non-Muslim worship at the site.Tens of thousands of people arrived from different parts of Israel and around to world to receive the high priest blessing at the Western Wall for Sukkot, which came after hundreds of worshipers had visited the site the day prior.According to the Islamic Endowment (Waqf) that controls Al-Aqsa, 295 Israelis “raided” the compound through the Moroccan Gate, which is controlled by the Israeli authorities, entering by groups under armed escort.Israel police said that 1,115 visitors entered the compound over the course of the day, which included foreigners, non-Muslims, and 275 Jews.Israeli police also seized the ID cards of Muslim worshipers before allowing them in.Israeli forces were heavily deployed across Jerusalem and occupied East Jerusalem in particular, while several streets were closed in order to secure the celebrations, severely restricting the movement of Palestinians residents as a helicopter circled above the city.
The events took place after Israeli police and intelligence officers carried out overnight raids in east Jerusalem neighborhoods and detained at least 15 Palestinians, including five minors, over alleged rock throwing incidents targeting Israelis around the Old City.Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities during Jewish holidays for alleged security purposes, while tensions around Al-Aqsa Mosque were a main contributor to increasing unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish high holiday season this time last year.
Israeli authorities meanwhile shut down passage between the occupied West Bank and Israel, as well as between the blockaded Gaza Strip and Israel between Saturday night and Monday night, as they had also done for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur earlier this month.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The third holiest site in Islam, it is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, the Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site — often under the protection of armed guards. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions.
Tensions around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound were a main contributor to the increasing unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during a succession of Jewish holidays this time last year.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted on Tuesday a resolution sharply criticizing Israel, focusing on Israeli policies around Al-Aqsa that UNESCO and rights groups have claimed increase tensions between Palestinian worshipers and Jewish visitors, while sparking fears in Palestinians that Israel could further deny their right to access Al-Aqsa.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that the UN agency in effect “denied the over 3,000 year old connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site in Jerusalem,” because the text in the resolution referred to the site only by its Islamic name “Al-Aqsa/Haram al-Sharif,” and did not mention the name “Temple Mount.”
However, as a Palestinian representative to UNESCO explained to reporters
in Paris, the UNESCO vote was “about occupation, not about a name,” asserting that the Geneva Conventions required the site be referred to by the name that predated Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.