Mohammed Rafik Mhawesh
Mondeoweiss / May 10, 2022
Zionism has fragmented the multi-religious population in Palestine geographically, religiously, socially, and politically. In the process it has denied them one of the simplest rights a human being could ever yearn for — the right to pray in peace.
On Saturday, April 23, a day before Orthodox Easter, Israeli police denied hundreds of Palestinian Christians entry into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to celebrate the “Holy Fire” ceremony, during over two weeks of terrifying levels of attacks and abuses with rubber-coated steel bullets, teargas, and stun grenades against Palestinian Muslim worshipers inside the sacred courtyards and prayer halls of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Meanwhile, Jewish settlers were freely marching and waving flags in blatant disregard of the Muslim and Christian holy days, attacking worshipers, and even ignoring the official – but unenforced – Israeli police prohibition against the rally.
Outrage across Palestine and the world in solidarity with Palestinian worshipers rose up to resist the physical attacks, mass arrests, and moral injustice inflicted by the Israeli settler-police alliance, and signaled real stress in global public opinion that violations of religious freedom are universally taboo.
But since 1948, Israel has pursued a relentless policy of establishing an exclusively Jewish State and maintaining Jewish demographic hegemony throughout historic Palestine. This policy, a human rights violation and blatant apartheid, has meant taking control over more and more Palestinian lands and homes and benefiting Jewish Israelis only, while reducing the Palestinians’ presence and obstructing their capacity for lawful protest and self-determination.
Today’s increased aggressions in Jerusalem, along with Zionist legal enactments such as the 2018 Nation-State Law and the Citizenship Law, boldly foreground a crackdown on the Palestinians’ right to exist and worship, with no regard to Islam or Christianity. They serve to reinforce the labyrinthine settler-colonial system that attempts to displace Palestinians and replace them with Jewish settlers, and strike at the core of any just strategy aimed at the Palestinian people’s rights to religious worship and celebration.
Those restrictions aren’t only racially discriminatory but also demonstrate Israel’s deliberate attempt to exercise unchallenged religious domination across Jerusalem. They go beyond breaking news on TV and social media and even the illegal attempt to claim the international holy city as its political capital, and represent an extension of illegal control over Jerusalem’s diverse spiritual manifestations, catering only to the Jewish segment of the population, with a broader escalation of ethnocentric policies that lessen non-Jewish spiritual practices in the holy city known for hundreds of decades as a center of multi-faith observance.
Zionism has fragmented the multi-religious population in Palestine geographically, religiously, socially, demographically, and politically and denied them one of the simplest rights a human being could ever yearn for—prayer in peace. Jerusalem’s holy sites are central to Israel’s system of domination and segregation. Interference in Palestinian Muslims’ and Christians’ ability to gather for prayer and worship is a particularly egregious violation of one of the most universally recognized human rights—freedom of religion.
Such violations extend not only to Palestinians living in Jerusalem but also to those everywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory. Palestinian Christians living in the Aida Refugee Camp, less than 15 kilometers from Jerusalem, are unlikely ever to visit the city’s holiest places due to restrictions on their mobility. Others living in the West Bank, a few miles from Jerusalem, smuggle over the wall to attend prayers at the most vibrant gathering place and symbol of Palestinian identity.
A Palestinian young man named Ibrahim, who kept his whole name from being publishing, says in an interview with The New York Times’ Raja Abdulrahim that it’s not just about religion but “about asserting our existence.” Another man interviewed: “It’s bad enough that we are already living under occupation, but you are also preventing me from praying in Al-Aqsa.”
Globally, manufactured accusations of ‘terrorism’ and ‘antisemitism’ by Israel’s state propaganda apparatus along with US-based Zionist organizations allow such worship abuses and restrictions on Palestinian spiritual and cultural life.
Similarly, Zionist religious and Biblical claims become a pretext not only for illegal settlements in the West Bank but also for the dispossession of Palestinians from their ancestral homes in Jerusalem. Politicians, billionaire philanthropists, archaeologists, and foreign public servants race to undermine the city’s rich cosmopolitan history, labeling it as eternally and exclusively Jewish and dynamically manipulating the historical city’s topography and ancient subterranean heritage, as well as its demography in pursuit of this fantasy.
One of the most drastic examples is the archaeological excavations and blasting of tunnels in search of the City of David underneath the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, resulting in destroyed foundations, demolitions, disruption of lives, and more displacement for dozens of Palestinian families.
Yet, despite Israel’s violence and the enormous foreign funds invested in its efforts to reinvent Palestine’s Jerusalem historically and culturally, Palestinians of diverse faiths and locations remain steadfast in their struggle against Zionist injustice to regain the freedom of worship alongside the demand for other freedoms and rights, such as the right of return for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and in diaspora.
Mohammed Rafik Mhawesh is a Palestinian journalist and writer based in Gaza