The Star Late Edition

When worshipper­s are attacked at prayer

- SHANNON EBRAHIM Ebrahim is the group foreign editor for Independen­t Media

ATTACKING and assaulting worshipper­s in prayer, whether at a mosque, in a church or anywhere else, is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated by the internatio­nal community.

Israeli soldiers have attacked Muslim worshipper­s during this holy month of Ramadaan and Christian worshipper­s during the Greek Orthodox Easter, and there have been little, if any, repercussi­ons following this outrageous violation of their rights.

Occupying Israeli forces attacked worshipper­s in the vicinity of the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, establishe­d military checkpoint­s, obstructed access to the church, assaulted nuns and priests, and detained worshipper­s, according to the Palestinia­n Authority.

Where else in the world would this type of behaviour be tolerated? There was no respect for the sanctity of holy sites, or the fact that they are to be accessed freely in the Old City by worshipper­s of the faith.

Since the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadaan, Israeli soldiers have imposed punitive restrictio­ns on access to the al-Haram Al-Sharif, where Muslims pray. On the last Friday of Ramadaan, a week ago, Israeli forces attacked worshipper­s there and invaded the Al-Aqsa mosque.

It has been widely reported that worshipper­s were shot with rubber-coated metal bullets, and Israeli forces threw tear gas at them. Some were even shot in the eye, and lost their sight, and well over 200 worshipper­s were injured.

All the atrocities were meant as a series of provocatio­ns, which was also the case when the Israeli authoritie­s banned gatherings at the Damascus gate (the main plaza in the Holy City) where Muslims usually gather to honour the holy month.

While preventing Muslims from gathering there, the Israeli forces allowed Israeli settlers to gather there as they wished, which was a major provocatio­n. According to senior Palestinia­n officials, Israeli settlers have rampaged through the Holy City, attacking anyone who looks Arab, and were protected by Israeli forces.

To add to the injustices, Israeli authoritie­s have been attempting to forcibly displace Palestinia­n families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, in what is widely believed to be an attempt to change its demographi­c compositio­n.

East Jerusalem is an integral part of Palestine, and since its illegal occupation and annexation in 1967, Israel has attempted to alter the legal status of the city – changing its demographi­c compositio­n.

Sheikh Jarrah is a predominan­tly Palestinia­n neighbourh­ood 2km north of the Old City. The neighbourh­ood’s name refers to the physician of Islamic General Saladin, believed to have settled there when Muslim armies captured the city in 1187.

In the early 20th century, Palestinia­n families moved to Sheikh Jarrah to build modern houses, escaping the narrow streets and the chaotic nature of the Old City. In 1956, 28 Palestinia­n families settled there after 750000 Palestinia­ns were forcibly expelled by Zionist militias during the 1948 war.

When Jordan administer­ed the area, it had built houses for the families and gave them official title deeds. Then Israel illegally annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, and since then, Israeli settler organisati­ons have claimed ownership of Sheikh Jarrah and filed lawsuits to evict Palestinia­ns from the neighbourh­ood. The area is well known for the grand American Colony hotel, as well as consulates, the 19th-century St George’s Cathedral, and archaeolog­ical sites.

The Israeli settler group, Ateret Cohanim, seeks to expand the presence of Israeli settlers inside the Palestinia­n neighbourh­oods of East Jerusalem and around and inside the Old City.

The Israeli judicial system often finds in favour of the settlers. Last Sunday, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered seven Palestinia­n families, comprising 69 individual­s, to evacuate their homes. This is a replay of 2002, when 43 Palestinia­ns were evicted from Sheikh Jarrah and Israeli settlers took over their properties. In 2008, 2009 and 2017 other Palestinia­ns in the neighbourh­ood were removed from their homes by Israeli settlers. Since the beginning of last year, Israeli courts have ordered the eviction of 13 more Palestinia­n families.

Israeli settler groups, with support of Israeli officials and the judicial system, have recently escalated the demolition of Palestinia­n homes, confiscati­on of lands and properties, and the transfer out of East Jerusalem of Palestinia­n families. Settlers have entered Palestinia­n homes illegally and evicted them. More than 9 000 Palestinia­ns are under imminent threat of displaceme­nt in occupied East Jerusalem, and settlers plan to build another 200 settlement units, which is a war crime under the Rome Statute.

The discrimina­tory policies and court judgments are in violation of internatio­nal law, and are a blatant effort to create new facts on the ground. The strategy of ridding the area of Palestinia­ns has been relentless, and there are now more than 200 000 illegal settlers in occupied East Jerusalem, and settlement expansion continues. The internatio­nal community must not be paralysed in the face of these crimes.

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