Israel attacks Al-Aqsa two nights in a row, beating worshipers at holy site

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  April 5, 2023

Israeli forces conducted violent raids on the Al Aqsa Mosque compound two nights in a row, beating worshipers and forcing Palestinians out of the holy site in order to make way for Jewish pilgrims on Passover.

On Wednesday evening , the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was full of Muslim worshippers praying into the night during the holy month of Ramadan. Earlier that morning, worshipers were beaten, and forced out of the holy mosque’s prayer halls.

In the midst of night prayers Wednesday, Israeli forces stormed the compound again with weapons and riot gear, unleashing a coordinated and organized attack against worshippers for the second time in less than 24 hours.

As Jewish settlers rally for holding Passover animal sacrifices in the mosque’s compound, Muslim worshippers continue to be attacked with teargas, beatings, and extended imprisonment in some of Israel’s most notorious interrogation cells in Jerusalem.

Here is an overview of the last 24 hours in Jerusalem. 

A war wages inside a space of prayer

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 5, just past midnight, armed Israeli forces invaded the compound of Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.  

Palestinian worshippers were attacked inside the compound and the Qibli Mosque, where worshippers pray through the night during the holy month of Ramadan.

Images filmed by worshippers inside the compound and the mosque show Israeli forces firing teargas, beating worshippers, and invading a holy space with weapons. According to eye-witnesses and the Red Crescent in Jerusalem, Israeli forces fired stun grenades, teargas, and rubber bullets at worshippers. 

At approximately 3:00 a.m., reports from inside Qibli mosque showed Israeli forces holding tens of Palestinian men and boys captive inside the Qibli mosque despite appeals for medical attention from injured detainees. During this time, attacks against Palestinians and confrontations from youth against Israeli forces persisted outside the walls of the Old City.

Israeli forces also denied documentation by journalists and impeded or obstructed their entry into the Old City, especially the Aqsa compound. 

By 4:30 a.m. Israeli forces had moved their assault towards Bab Al-Asbat (Lions Gate) in the Old City. Videos and images taken by civilians and worshippers show Israeli forces chasing youth near the Lions Gate to arrest and beat them.

At approximately 5:00 a.m. just one hour before dawn prayers, the first of five Muslim daily prayers, Israeli forces banned entry to Al-Aqsa for all persons under the age of 40, according to residents in the city.

Israeli forces arrested more than 440 Palestinians, most of them Jerusalem residents or holding Israeli citizenship, according to Mohammad Mahmoud, a lawyer from the Wadi Hilweh Information Center. More than 65 of those detained were male children and minors. 379 of the arrested were released on the condition that they would be banished from both the Old City and the al-Aqsa compound for a period that would be later determined by Israeli courts. 

Not all Palestinian worshippers were released, 14 of them remaining in detention until 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Almost 47 Palestinians with West Bank IDs had their detention extended to Friday, April 7, where they will have a court hearing in Ofer Military Court, according to Mahmoud. 

After sunrise, Israeli forces raided the compound again, and were filmed pushing worshipers whilst in prayer.

Wednesday’s assault and mass arrest campaign is part of a larger Israeli assault on Palestinian freedom of movement in the Old City during the holy month. Jerusalem continues to record the highest number of Palestinian political detainees and arrests by Israel, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society. Since the start of the year, more than 2200 arrests have been recorded, more than half of which (1200) were in Jerusalem alone. 

In addition to the arrests, Israeli forces injured dozens of Palestinians during the overnight assault. According to the Red Crescent in Jerusalem, medical personnel were banned by armed Israeli forces from reaching injured persons until at least 3:00 a.m., while some medical personnel were attacked. 

On Wednesday night local time, less than 24 hours after the early morning raids, Israeli forces once again began conducting raids on the mosque. 

Palestinian response to the continued assaults

Palestinians across historic Palestine have mobilized in response to Israel’s attacks on the worshippers at Al-Aqsa, carrying out protests in Palestinian cities inside the Israeli state, including Umm al-Fahm and Shefa Amr, which were brutally quelled by Israeli forces. 

Within the first two hours of the attack, Palestinians mobilized to reach those in Al-Aqsa, amidst pleas from Mosques in Jerusalem for people to go defend the holy site from attack.

At 2:00 a.m. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from Umm ak-Fahm rallied buses to reach Al-Aqsa. Palestinians in the West Bank and besieged Gaza also began to rally for protests near Israeli military and settler spaces. Secular, leftist, and Islamic Palestinian political factions also called for confronting the attack. 

This has all taken place in the context of the increased activity of radical settler groups — such as the Temple Mount Faithful, or Temple Organization — who are committed to asserting Jewish control over the Al-Aqsa Compound and rebuild a “Third Temple” and institute the practice of ritual sacrifice there. On Wednesday, a group of Temple Mount Faithful attempted to carry out the Passover sacrifice of a lamb on the grounds of the mosque. 

“We call on our people across spaces, especially our people in the lands occupied in 1948 who were savagely attacked, as well as our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” a press statement released by Saleh Arouri, the vice president of Hamas’ political department, said on Wednesday at approximately 4:30 a.m.

Early Wednesday morning, a number of rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel in response to the attacks on Al-Aqsa, prompting several Israeli airstrikes that reportedly hit “military” targets in Gaza, according to the Israeli army. 

On Wednesday afternoon, more protests were called for by Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in Haifa, Akka, Sakhnin, Baqa Gharbiyeh, Arrabeh, and others. 

According to footage from protests in Haifa and Arrabeh, Palestinians chanted in support of Abu Obeida, the nome de guerre of the chief of Hamas’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza. Slogans such as these are often used by Palestinians to signal support for armed confrontations.

In the West Bank, 22 instances of Palestinian confrontation with Israeli settlers and soldiers were recorded; this included shooting live ammunition at Israeli military bases, throwing stones at  military vehicles, and disrupting settler movements on roads across the West Bank. 

Three Israeli soldiers were injured in the West Bank, according to the Israeli website, Walla. This included armed confrontation and offensives carried out against soldiers and settlers in Bethlehem, Beit Ummar in Hebron, Nablus city, Jericho, Tulkarem, Ramallah, Al-Bireh, and Tubas in the West Bank. 

New promises, old practices

The overnight raids on Al-Aqsa were conducted following days of increased calls by Israeli settler groups, encouraged by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, for Jewish worshipers to take to the Al-Aqsa compound in large numbers for the Passover holiday on April 5. 

In January, Ben-Gvir vowed violence, saying “Jews will also go up to the Temple Mount, and those who threaten us must be dealt with by an iron fist.”

In the days leading up to Passover, Palestinians called for increased presence at the mosque, to combat plans by settler groups to perform the ritual sacrifice on the mosque grounds — a move viewed as extremely inflammatory when the status quo at Al-Aqsa banned non-Muslim worship at the site. 

Following the attack on the worshipers, Israeli police claimed that its forces were “enforcing a ban” on overnight worship inside the Mosque, and that a number of “agitators” who “barricaded themselves” inside the mosque were violating the ban. 

The worshipers who were inside the mosque were practicing itikaf, the Muslim practice of secluding oneself inside the mosque for worship during the nights of Ramadan. 

Wednesday’s attacks are not the first of their kind on Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. Just last April, in 2022, Israeli forces invaded Al-Aqsa and beat worshippers, injuring more than 150 and arresting more than 400.This repeated in August of the same year. 

In May of 2021, Israeli forces also invaded Al-Aqsa and attacked worshippers, just as Palestinians in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah were fighting against their violent and forced eviction by settlers.  The attacks on Al-Aqsa in 2021, coupled with the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah, further sparked what became dubbed as the Unity Intifada, which was followed by an 11-day Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 250 people.

Defense Minister Yoav Galant held a special assessment of the situation on Wednesday afternoon along with other heads of Israel’s security apparatus, including Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi and the head of the Israeli intelligence unit, the Shin Bet, and head of military intelligence Maj. Gen. Aharon Haleva.

The meeting with Galant concluded that operations between the various security forces, including police, military, and intelligence, would allow for freedom of worship while also preventing confrontations in Al-Aqsa. At the same time, Israeli forces are instructed to remain prepared to face all possibilities across all fronts. 

No mention of settler invasions and violence on the holy place of worship were mentioned. Footage on social media has shown settlers attempting to carry animals- into the compound. 

At the same time, Israeli policy-maker Ben-Gvir released a statement saluting the practices and behaviors of the Israeli police against Palestinians. Ben-Gvir is also in direct control of the Israeli police. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed his willingness to maintain the “status quo”.

Arab leaders response 

The attacks on the Al-Aqsa compound sparked an outcry across the Arab and Muslim world, which reveres the mosque as the third holiest site in Islam. 

At approximately 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Jordanian youth gathered near the Israeli embassy in Jordan in condemnation of the assault in Jerusalem and chanted against the continued Israeli occupation.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Jordanian government called for an emergency meeting with the Arab League to address the continued assault and the violence inflicted on worshippers in Al-Aqsa. 

Since the nineteenth century, a status quo agreement recognizes the administrative authority of the holy space as the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which is under the custodianship of Jordan. A decades-long peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan recognizes the latter’s custodianship of the site, and allows for non-Muslim visitation, but no non-Muslim worship.

The Egyptian foreign ministry also released statements condemning the assault on Jerusalem and the worshippers noting “Egypt holds Israel, the acting authority of the occupation, responsible for this dangerous escalation, which serves to curb the efforts of peace”.

Both the Jordanian and Egyptian governments held summits in the Jordanian city of Aqaba and Egyptian city of Sharm al-Sheikh in February and March of this year along with the heads of the Palestinian and Israeli intelligence and security apparatuses. According to reports made to the media, the aim was to decrease tensions and restore security for Israel amid a rise in armed confrontations in the West Bank.

At approximately 10:00 p.m. Jerusalem time, Israeli forces once again invaded the Muslim space of worship, and began to beat worshipers the same way they did earlier that morning. 

Initial reports show Israeli forces chasing youth through the compound using excessive force and violence. Reports by eyewitnesses said that Israeli forces fired rubber bullets randomly at the crowds of worshippers.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss