Thousands of peace protesters marched in Israel, the West Bank and across the Gaza Strip on Friday in condemnation of the Israeli government’s violations of former agreements related to the Al-Aqsa mosque complex. Additionally, some of the protesters told our reporters, they were rallying against the former and current policies of discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Many of the protesters in Gaza gathered in the Jabaliya refugee camp, where a large group embarked, marched, chanting and holding pictures of Mutaz Hijazi.
Hijazi was a resident of Jerusalem who was killed by an Israeli soldier early on Thursday. The group sang and chanted in support of Palestinian equal rights in Jerusalem.
Fathi Hammad, a Hamas leader in Gaza said that Palestinians cannot be silent in the face of racist violations against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque. The Al-Aqsa mosque is currently closed. This is the first time this pivotal holy site has been closed since 1967.
Many experts in the socio-religious conflict between Israelis and Palestinians note that this is a disturbing move. Mikhah ben David of the Hashlamah Project Foundation, which is active globally and in Jerusalem, notes that “there seems to be a steady escalation that unfortunately which unfortunately seems to be building towards a broader conflict than we have seen in years.”
Palestinian protesters in Gaza City were accompanied by armed al-Quds brigades fighters, which some critics of the march said “sent a mixed message.” But to many of those protesting, they said it was about “self-defense.” Still, Israelis we talked to said that “this is why we cannot support the Palestinian protesters,” Shoshanah Rivqa told us. “Even if I want to support them, I feel like they just want to kill me even if I want to see them have peace with us.”
Perhaps ironically, this was a similar sentiment heard among Palestinian protesters when we asked them about the “Israeli Spring” anti-war protests earlier this year. “I want to support them, but I feel hesitant,” a young man identifying himself to us only as “Jamal” said.
“So I support them and say ‘yes, fine, here is a good Israeli,’ but I feel like if I focus on supporting him,” an Israeli activist in question during our conversation, “then I am taking attention off of the fact that every Israeli who is a human being should be doing the same thing as him. But look how few of them are? We never hear about these protests you are showing.” Jamal was referring to cell phone photos our citizen journalists had with them from earlier protests we covered in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.
Aside from the person-to-person, street level outreach and bridge-building that the current events in Jerusalem are adversely affecting, it would seem that the rhetoric is amping up on both sides. For the first time in a long time, Gaza’s Hamas and the West Bank’s Fatah parties are speaking the same political language related to Al-Aqsa. What happens next seems to depend largely on how long the Israeli government decides to periodically restrict access to the mosque.
By late Friday, after the “Day of Rage” had subsided, more than 1,000 Israeli police flooded the streets around the Old City, and the gates leading to Masjid Al-Aqsa. Undercover anti-riot units were on the scene and worshippers who filed in were kept under the watchful observation balloon drones floating above in the sky.
Our citizen journalists say there is a growing level of resentment on the cobbled streets of the Old City. “Far from defusing tensions by closing the mosque,” a mosque-goer, 26-year-old Ibrahim, told them, “the underlying anger in [Jerusalem] is stronger than it has been in a long time.”
(Article by M.A. Hussein, and R. Abraham)