Israeli forces draw condemnation over ‘barbaric’ raid of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Kenny Stancil

Common Dreams  /  April 5, 2023

‘The army broke the upper windows of the mosque and began throwing stun grenades at us,’ said one Palestinian worshiper who was arrested alongside hundreds of others.

Israeli police brutally attacked Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday night, injuring at least a dozen peaceful worshipers and arresting more than 400 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Dozens of heavily armed officers stormed the site, used stun grenades, and fired tear gas into the Qibli prayer hall—the building with the silver dome—where hundreds of men, women, elderly people, and children were staying overnight to pray,” Middle East Eye reported. “Some eyewitnesses said rubber-coated steel bullets were also fired.”

“Israeli officers then beat worshipers with batons and riot guns, wounding many, before arresting them,” the outlet noted. “Videos from inside the mosque showed Israeli officers repeatedly hitting people with batons while they appeared to lie on the floor. Meanwhile, the cries for help from women and children could be heard in the background.”

The violent raid “continued into the morning when Israeli forces were once again seen assaulting and pushing Palestinians out of the compound and preventing them from praying–before Israelis were allowed in under police protection,” Al Jazeerareported. “At least 400 Palestinians were arrested on Wednesday and remain in Israeli custody… at a police station in Atarot.”

Bakr Owais, a 24-year-old student who was detained, told the outlet: “The army broke the upper windows of the mosque and began throwing stun grenades at us… They made us lay on the ground and they handcuffed us one by one and took us all out. They kept swearing at us during this time. It was very barbaric.”

The Palestinian Commission of Detainees’ Affairs estimates that between 400 and 500 men have been taken into custody.

According to Middle East Eye: “The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said it received multiple reports of injuries at Al-Aqsa Mosque but was unable to estimate the number of casualties as Israeli forces blocked medics from reaching the wounded. One medic was attacked by an Israeli police officer and wounded outside one of the mosque’s gates.”

Al-Jazeera reported that at least 12 Palestinians have suffered injuries—including bruises, fractures, and breathing problems caused by tear gas inhalation—at the hands of Israeli police officers. At least three of the victims have been transported to a hospital.

The Israeli crackdown, which one observer described as a premeditated attack intended “to send a message to the Palestinians that Israel is the sole sovereign over Al-Aqsa that can decide who can enter the site and when,” was widely condemned.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh denounced the latest assault on Islam’s third holiest site as “an unprecedented crime” and urged Palestinians “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it.”

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that “what happened in Jerusalem is a major crime against the worshipers.”

“Prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque is not with the permission of the [Israeli] occupation, but rather it is our right,” said Shtayyeh. “Al-Aqsa is for the Palestinians and for all Arabs and Muslims, and the raiding of it is a spark of revolution against the occupation.”

PA presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh added that “what the occupation is doing right now at holy sites such as in Al-Aqsa, and the attacking of worshipers is an example of the relentless war against Palestinian people and Arab nations, which will ignite fires across the region.”

Following the raid, “local mosques around Jerusalem called on people through speaker phones to rally in support of those assaulted,” Middle East Eye reported. “Confrontations between residents and police broke out in several locations across the city.”

The outlet continued:

In the occupied West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets to condemn the assault and confront Israeli troops at checkpoints and army posts. Rallies also took place in Gaza, Umm al-Fahm (a Palestinian town in Israel), and the Jordanian capital Amman.

Rockets were later fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. At least one rocket landed inside the country and caused damage to a food factory, according to Israeli media.

This was followed by air strikes from the Israeli military targeting several locations in the besieged strip. No casualties were recorded from either side.

The final two weeks of Ramadan overlap with Passover—a weeklong Jewish holiday that begins Wednesday—sparking fears of additional violence in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

According to Middle East Eye: “Israeli authorities have been removing worshippers from Al-Aqsa Mosque every night since the start of Ramadan after the Taraweeh prayer ends around 9:00 pm local time, albeit without this widespread use of violence. They have also been restricting who can enter the site and when, in what Palestinians say is an infringement on their freedom of religious practice. Itikaf at Al-Aqsa Mosque is not allowed by Israeli authorities outside of the last ten days of Ramadan, a ban that Palestinians refuse to comply with.”

“Israeli forces regularly empty the mosque of Palestinians outside the five Muslim prayers, especially overnight and after dawn prayer to ensure a smooth incursion of Israeli settlers which takes place daily around 7:30 am local time,” the outlet noted. “Temple Movement groups, which facilitate the settler incursions and advocate for the destruction of Al-Aqsa, have called for mass stormings throughout the week… They have also called for conducting ritual animal slaughter at the site which could trigger anger from Palestinians and Muslims worldwide. Palestinian groups have urged mass presence at the site this week to prevent the planned animal slaughter and mass incursions.”

On Tuesday night, Jewish Voice for Peace tweeted: “As we approach Passover—a celebration of freedom—the Israeli military is beating Palestinians inside Al-Aqsa Mosque and blockading Palestinian cities across the occupied West Bank. The contradiction speaks volumes. Liberation cannot come at the cost of another people’s freedom.”

Alluding to recent protests against a far-right takeover of Israel’s judiciary, Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal similarly argued that “there cannot be a movement for an exclusive liberal democracy for Jews, and apartheid for Palestinians.”

Numerous human rights groups around the world have condemned Israel as an apartheid state and called on the United States to cease providing $3.8 billion in annual military support to the anti-democratic regime.

According to the Palestinian national committee of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, “Israel has murdered over 90 Palestinians, including at least 17 children, so far this year, and it is only April.”

“The BDS movement calls particularly on our brothers and sisters in the Arab world and on supporters in countries that reject diplomatic relations with Israel to intensify pressure against normalization of any relations with apartheid,” the committee continued. “What ties with Israel normalize is unmasked Islamophobia, colonial violence, and apartheid brutality.”

“Globally we call for pressure on states to impose an immediate military embargo and lawful targeted sanctions on apartheid,” it added. “We call on our supporters worldwide to escalate all BDS campaigns! The time is now to end Israeli apartheid.”

As Haaretz reported: “Jordan and Egypt, both involved in recent U.S.-backed efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, issued separate statements condemning the incident. Saudi Arabia also condemned the Israeli police’s actions, with its foreign ministry putting out a statement saying it undermines peace efforts.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, meanwhile, said in a statement that “the extremist approaches that control the policy of the Israeli government will lead to widespread confrontations with the Palestinians if they are not put to an end.”

Officials from Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine have called for an emergency meeting of the League in the wake of Israel’s latest assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams