Foreign visitors stand by Palestinians as tensions remain high over status of Al-Aqsa

Dozens of Muslim tourists joined prayers held at the entrance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Thursday, in solidarity with Palestinian worshipers who have denounced newly installed Israeli security measures at the holy site following a deadly attack last week — as Israeli police was reportedly considering further restrictions in the Old City ahead of Friday prayers.

Three Palestinian citizens of Israel were shot dead while carrying out a shooting attack in East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday, in which two Israeli border police officers — also Palestinian citizens of Israel — were killed.

In the wake of the attack, Israeli forces shut down the Al-Aqsa compound for two days, only to reopen it after having installed security cameras, metal detectors, and turnstiles at the entrances of the compound.

Palestinians have long accused the Israeli government of using Israeli-Palestinian violence and tensions as a means of furthering control over important sites in the occupied Palestinian territory and normalizing heightened measures by Israeli forces targeting Palestinians.

Hundreds of Palestinians performed prayers outside of the Al-Aqsa compound for the fifth day in a row on Thursday.

Ahead of the noontime dhuhur prayer, demonstrators — who included representatives of different Christian faiths participating in solidarity– marched through the Old City towards Lions’ Gate, holding copies of the Quran and chanting “Determination, determination,” and “No to metal detectors,” as dozens of Israeli police officers looked on.

Israeli forces attempted to coerce participants in a funeral march to enter the Al-Aqsa compound through the metal detectors, but the deceased’s family rejected the security measures, choosing instead to perform funeral prayers in the street.

A number of tourists from Middle Eastern and East Asian countries told Ma’an that they had traveled thousands of kilometers and flown as long as 30 hours to visit the Holy Land and pray at Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam.

However, despite their long journeys, they said that they had chosen to pray alongside Palestinians in the street leading to the compound’s Lions’ Gate, as a show of unity against the recent changes, emphasizing that Israel did not have the right to change the status quo at Al-Aqsa.

A tourist from the United States, who said that she was visiting Jerusalem for the first time in 25 years, told Ma’an that she “felt pain when seeing those metal detectors” and insisted on standing by protesters, even though if it was a dream of hers to pray at Al-Aqsa and visit the compound.

Meanwhile, Israeli news outlet Ynet reported on Wednesday that Israeli police was considering barring entry to the Old City to Muslim citizens of Israel on Friday, when the Waqf, the Islamic endowment administering Al-Aqsa, called on all mosques in Jerusalem to be closed that day and for all Muslim worshipers in the city to head towards Al-Aqsa to pressure Israel to remove the new security measures.

Meanwhile, five additional army battalions are set to be deployed in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday.

The police recommendation claimed that barring Muslims with Israeli citizenship from entering the area could lower the chances of clashes in the Old City of Jerusalem, whereas Palestinian citizens of Israel told Ynet that the move would only further stoke anger.

Rights groups Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) denounced on Thursday the measures taken by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem in the wake of the attack, in a letter sent to Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan, Attorney General Avichai Mandelbit, and Israeli Police Commissioner Roni al-Sheikh, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

Adalah and JLAC highlighted that in addition to the security apparatus installed in Al-Aqsa, Israeli police had imposed large-scale closures in Jerusalem’s Old City and the nearby Sultan Suleiman Street, without any court order authorizing the move.

As a result, most Palestinian businesses in the area have remained closed for a week, while the large number of police forces present in the Old City have repeatedly clashed with Palestinian residents.

“These practices constitute collective punishment to tens of thousands of people living and working in the Old City and surrounding area,” the letter read. “This policy forces business owners to close their operations, results in serious economic hardship, and impinges upon the constitutional right to freedom of occupation.”

“The fact is that (Palestinian) business owners are obligated to close their workplaces while similar demands are not made when such incidents occur in Jewish communities. This increases the fear that this is a discriminatory punitive measure,” Adalah and JLAC went on to say, adding that such closures amounted to a violation of international law regarding the rights of civilians under a military occupation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the metal detectors and new security cameras at the mosque were only the latest example of “Israel’s unbridled violations” that “constitutes a flagrant violation of the rights and freedoms of Palestinian Muslim worshipers.”

“Such intrusive and dehumanizing practices aim to provide Israel with carte blanche to exercise security control over the holy sites of Jerusalem,” she wrote.

She highlighted an Israeli bill that aims to amend Israeli basic law to “prohibit the division of Jerusalem city,” in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. “If passed, this law would destroy the two-state solution by creating an illegal Israeli and Jewish exclusivity over all of Jerusalem,” she said.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.