Maureen Clare Murphy
The Electronic Intifada / April 5, 2023
Israeli police stormed Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and forcibly removed worshippers from its prayer hall and surrounding yards for the second night in a row late Wednesday
Tuesday, Israeli occupation forces raided Al-Aqsa Mosque and assaulted worshippers in shocking scenes recorded on video and widely shared on social media, generating international condemnation.
Images of Israeli police standing over Palestinians on the ground and beating them with batons and rifle butts during Ramadan were disturbingly similar to events at al-Aqsa that precipitated a major confrontation between Israel and resistance groups in Gaza during May 2021 that rippled throughout historic Palestine.
Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound late Tuesday – the eve of Passover, a Jewish holiday – following the tarawih evening prayers, evacuating worshippers from the yards of the holy site, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Police attempted to evacuate a communal prayer hall in Al-Aqsa mosque but the hundreds of worshippers there refused and continued to pray in observance of Ramadan customs.
The prayer hall was cordoned off for two hours before being stormed via a mosque clinic, which was ransacked and damaged during the raid.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces fired teargas and rubber coated bullets toward worshippers through the prayer hall’s upper windows, “filling the mosque with smoke,” PCHR added.
Some worshippers tried to fend off the raiding forces by lighting fireworks and throwing plastic chairs and police “responded by firing more teargas canisters and rubber bullets.”
Police forced women out from the prayer hall and detained hundreds of young men.
Confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces ensued around al-Aqsa following the raid and Israeli prevented worshippers under the age of 50 from entering the mosque compound.
Following dawn prayers on Wednesday, Israeli forces raided the compound yards, firing rubber-coated bullets at worshippers.
Police forcibly dispersed worshippers and prevented them from praying before accompanying Israelis to the holy site.
Some 400-500 Palestinians were arrested at al-Aqsa, according to PCHR.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that Israeli forces prevented its paramedics from entering the compound. Twelve injured persons were treated outside of the compound, including a paramedic. The New York Times reported that 37 Palestinians and two Israeli officers were injured during the raid.
Armed resistance groups in Gaza fired several rockets towards Israel following the attack at Al-Aqsa. Israel conducted airstrikes against what it says were weapons production sites and fired artillery shells into the territory.
Both the UN Security Council and the Arab League called for emergency sessions concerning the unprovoked police assault on worshippers, which occurred days after an officer shot and killed a Palestinian at close range near the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Tor Wennesland, the UN secretary-general’s Middle East envoy, condemned the “apparent beating” of Palestinians by Israeli police and the “large number of arrests.”
Without naming Israel as the party responsible, the US Office of Palestinian Affairs said that “violence has no place in a holy site and during a holy season” and called for de-escalation.
The European Union put out an Arabic-language tweet expressing its “deep concern” but has not issued a statement in English or Hebrew.
Sami Abou Shahadeh, the head of a Palestinian political party in Israel, warned that the situation “will become more intense” over coming days “as settlers are planning several incursions” into the al-Aqsa compound during Passover.
So-called Temple activists – extremists who seek the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and its replacement with a Jewish temple – aim to change the fragile status quo at the holy site by performing a Passover animal sacrifice.
The Times of Israel reported that police had detained “a number of people” near Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Wednesday with “lambs or goats that they were suspected of intending to sacrifice at the site for the Passover holiday.”
The publication added that on Sunday, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s ultra-right national security minister, called on Jews to visit the holy site during Passover “but not perform the ritual sacrifice, which he has repeatedly called for allowing in the past and has even attempted to perform himself.”
One of Ben-Gvir’s advisers proclaimed last week that the judicial overhaul put on hold by Netanyahu’s government will lead to a “Davidic monarchy” similar to the United Arab Emirates.
On Monday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak took to Twitter to issue a warning over this theocratic vision held by elements in the ruling coalition who seek a major escalation at Al-Aqsa – referred to as Temple Mount by Jews.
“In conversations between Israelis and Western diplomatic officials, there are deep concerns raised of the possibility that if the coup in Israel succeeds, a messianic dictatorship — that possesses nuclear weapons and fanatically wishes for a confrontation with Islam centered on the Temple Mount — will be established in the heart of the Middle East,” he stated.
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada