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The noose tightens, but Jerusalemites refuse to surrender Open in fullscreen

Joharah Baker

The noose tightens, but Jerusalemites refuse to surrender

A woman lectures Israeli soldiers on November 5 [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 5 November, 2014

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Palestinians in Jerusalem fear for the future of al-Aqsa Mosque. Are the current tensions a foreshadowing of much worse to come?
At the corner of al-Wad Street, leading to one of the Aqsa Mosque compound’s main gates, at least a dozen Israeli soldiers and riot police stood armed and ready on Sunday. With stun grenades and tear gas canisters strapped across their chests, nightsticks by their sides and guns in their holsters, the scene was straight out of a dystopian novel.
 
But this is Jerusalem and this is today's reality. Bayan, a 19-year-old social services student at al-Quds University in Abu Dis, brushes it off as business as usual. She comes to the Aqsa Mosque compound at least once a week, to pray or just to be there, since entry to Islam's third holiest site is no longer a blanket privilege for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Hailing from the Shufat Camp north of Jerusalem's centre, Bayan is no stranger to unrest and Israeli harassment,
     We know exactly what you do and where you live
- Israeli police officer to Zahra Qous, 50
but fears the ever-tightening Israeli restrictions on Muslim entry to al-Aqsa Mosque compound are a foreshadowing of worse to come.
 
"What can we do?" she asks. "We are not armed, we do not have a military. The Arab and Muslim nations are not standing by us either. I am afraid, that in the end, the Jews will succeed in taking over al-Aqsa."  

She is referring to the almost daily incursions into the compound by Israeli military personnel, settlers and right-wing groups, who claim the compound houses the ruins of the second Jewish temple - destroyed in the Roman era - and is the site where the third will eventually be built. 
In tandem with these incursions, Israeli authorities have imposed tighter and tighter restrictions on Muslim entry, a development that has affected more than a few Palestinian lives. 


We know where you live


Zahra Qous lives a mere 20 metres from Bab al-Nather, one of the Aqsa's eight gates. A nurse, she also works at al-Aqsa clinic inside the compound. Because of the location of both her home and workplace, she has been a prime witness to the rising tensions at the site and in the wider Old City, especially settler incursions and Palestinian resistance to them.

 
On 2 October, Qous was summoned to a nearby Israeli police station and handed an order, barring her from entering the Aqsa compound for two months on grounds that she "aids and abets rioting Palestinian youths". Her argument that she must enter the compound to reach her workplace and therefore has no time to join in demonstrations fell on deaf Israeli ears. "We know exactly what you do and where you live," she says the police officer told her nonchalantly, indicating that the information had no impact on their decision.

Israeli military crackdowns in Jerusalem are nothing new. Ever since Israel's occupation of the eastern sector of the city in 1967 and the subsequent unilateral annexation, Jerusalem residents have learned to endure under the strangling yoke of Israeli military rule. The intensity of this oppression has ebbed and flowed according to the political climate, with the Old City acting as a litmus test of sorts for Jerusalem and even Palestine as a whole. It was not for nothing that the second Palestinian intifada was named after this mosque. The people, of course, have always been reminded who cracks the whip.

    
Barakat's shopw is largely empty these days [Baker]
"I have lived through Jordanian and Israeli rule," says Imad Barakat, 60, owner of Barakat Antiquities - Ancient Art of the Holy Land, a souvenir shop in the Old City's Christian Quarter at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. "Never has there been a time worse than this."

He cites Israel's most recent military offensive on Gaza as the starting point for the decline in political and economic conditions in Jerusalem. "There are fewer tourists now and we are regularly raided by Israeli tax employees," he says, quickly adding that he is cautious to meet every stringent regulation Israel imposes so as not to fall victim to the exorbitant fines and violations often meted out by the Israeli-governed Jerusalem municipality. 

Sapling tax

Others have not been as fortunate. Mustapha Abu Rumouz, a Fatah activist from the Qalandiya camp, was fined NIS 4,500 [$1,215] for bringing olive saplings into the Aqsa compound grounds. A friend in Ramallah gave Abu Rumouz 30 saplings as a donation to the Aqsa and, since Abu Rumouz holds a Jerusalem ID card, he was able to bring them in. But on 27 October, at the Hizma checkpoint south of Jerusalem, he was stopped by Israeli soldiers and a customs employee, who impounded his car and interrogated him for two hours before slapping him with the fine. 
 
"When I told the customs' officer that donations to religious organizations are tax free, he said I could donate in Ramallah but not in Israel." Abu Rumouz was also made to issue a clearing bill for the saplings, another NIS 1,500 [$405].
 
Conditions in the city noticeably worsened after this summer's assault on Gaza. The gruesome kidnapping, burning and murder of 17-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir on 2 July sent Jerusalem into a tailspin. The murder was carried out by extremist Israeli settlers, ostensibly in retaliation for the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the Hebron hills the previous month. The boy's picture was plastered throughout the city and Palestinian youths rioted for weeks. A larger-than-life poster still hangs from the side of the main mosque in Shufat, Abu Khdeir's home town.

Israeli authorities recently forced his family to take down a similar poster from the front of their home, warning them that they would be fined for each day it stayed up.

 
Mohammed Abu Khdeir - and more recently Abdel Rahman Shaloudi and Mutaz Hijazi - have paid the ultimate price in this battle for Jerusalem. Shaloudi, who last month rammed his car into a group of Israelis waiting for the light rail train, killing two, was shot dead on the spot by an Israeli security guard. Hijazi, who Israel charged with attempting to assassinate Israeli right-wing Rabbi Yehuda Glick last week, was also reportedly shot and killed on the rooftop of his family's home in Silwan.
 
Israel has always adopted a "shoot now, ask questions later" policy towards Palestinians suspected of carrying out attacks on Israelis. That policy is reversed when it comes to Israelis suspected of attacks against Palestinians. The men suspected of killing the three Israeli settlers in Hebron are dead, their houses demolished: the men who burnt Khdeir alive are in detention awaiting trial.  
 
But again, this is Jerusalem, a beautiful, divided and sad city caught in one of modern history's ugliest battles. While Palestinian residents of Jerusalem continue to fight a seemingly uphill battle against the odds, their prospects for a better future remain bleak. 
 
"Jerusalem needs a great leader to liberate it," says Barakat. "And right now, unfortunately, we have none."

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