The Star Late Edition
When worshippers are attacked at prayer
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.