Israeli police force Ramadan worshippers out of Al-Aqsa

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  April 3, 2023

Tensions grow as Israeli forces restrict Palestinians’ access to the mosque while settlers prepare for mass incursions and animal slaughter.

Israeli forces removed Palestinian worshippers from Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem as they observed the holy month of Ramadan on Sunday overnight. 

Dozens of worshippers stayed at the Qibli prayer hall – the building with the silver dome – to practise Itikaf after tens of thousands attended the earlier Taraweeh night prayer.

Itikaf is a non-mandatory religious practice that is common in Ramadan whereby worshippers stay at mosques overnight to pray, reflect and recite the Quran.

Videos shared by worshippers showed Israeli officers entering the prayer hall just before 11 pm local time and escorting everyone out.

Israeli forces restrict who can enter Al-Aqsa Mosque – known to Jews as the Temple Mount – 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.

Some 150 worshippers had locked themselves inside the Qibli prayer hall on Saturday to prevent Israeli police from removing them, and were successful at staying overnight. 

Israeli forces regularly empty Al-Aqsa Mosque of Palestinians outside the five Muslim prayers, especially overnight and after dawn prayer to ensure a smooth incursion of Jewish settlers which takes place daily around 7:30 am local time. 

Temple Movement groups, which facilitate the settler incursions and call for the destruction of Al-Aqsa, have called for mass stormings throughout the Passover holiday which starts on Wednesday. 

They have also called for conducting ritual animal slaughter at the site which could trigger anger from Palestinians and Muslims worldwide. 

Ben-Gvir urges storming

The far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said Israelis “must” storm the mosque on Wednesday. 

“Jews must ascend to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is not just for Arabs [Palestinians]. It is the most important place for the State of Israel,” Ben-Gvir said during an interview with Channel 12 over the weekend. 

He avoided answering questions on the calls to slaughter animals. 

Al-Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden according to decades-long international agreements. 

Israeli groups, in coordination with authorities, have long violated the delicate arrangement and facilitated raids of the site and performed prayers and religious rituals. 

Religious Jews believe Al-Aqsa Mosque was the location of two historical Jewish temples. 

‘Jews must ascend to the Temple Mount [Aqsa Mosque]. The Temple Mount is not just for Arabs.’ – Itamar Ben-Gvir

The settlers’ calls have raised tensions in the Old City with Palestinian groups urging widespread presence at the site this week to prevent animal slaughter and mass incursions.

The Sunday incident comes two days after Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian worshipper at one of the mosque’s gates late on Friday in what Palestinians called an “execution”. 

Mohammed al-Osaibi, 26, was shot 10 times by police at the Chain Gate (Bab al-Silsila) after he attempted to prevent them from harassing a woman trying to re-enter the mosque, according to eyewitnesses. 

Israeli police said he tried to grab one of the officer’s guns and attack them, but the family has disputed their account.