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3 Israelis evacuated from Al-Aqsa as thousands celebrate 'Jerusalem Day' in Old City

June 5, 2016 1:23 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 14, 2016 6:49 P.M.)
Israelis enter Al-Aqsa for "Jerusalem Day" celebrations (MaanImages)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- An Israeli court denied on Sunday a petition to bar the "Jerusalem Day" march from passing through the Muslim Quarter in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City, just as 208 right-wing Israelis entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and thousands more gathered around the Western Wall to begin celebrations.

The director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, told Ma'an that 208 settlers entered Al-Aqsa through the Moroccan Gate under heavy protection by Israeli police and special forces.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said in a statement that three “Jewish visitors” were evacuated from the compound for violating regulations regarding non-Muslim prayer on the site, and another was taken in for questioning for being suspected of attacking an Israeli police officer.

Two Palestinian women were detained for chanting and “disturbing the peace,” according to al-Samri.

She added that 761 foreign and non-Muslim visitors, including 556 tourists, entered the Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), using the Muslim term for the compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount.

Al-Kiswani said the Israelis started their tour at the Moroccan Gate, before moving on to the al-Qibli and al-Marwani mosques inside the compound, and then to the Bab al-Rahma area. Some of them attempted to perform religious rituals, but were prevented from doing so by guards.

Although Jewish visitation is permitted on the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

The Waqf (Islamic endowment) denounced the "provocative" actions of the settlers at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Al-Kiswani said Israeli police were responsible for the tension surrounding Al-Aqsa on the eve of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which coincided with the official Israeli holiday that celebrates the “reunification” of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 six-day war.

The same day for Palestinians is remembered as the “Naksa”, meaning "setback," as commemoration of the displacement that accompanied Israel’s victory in 1967. As a result of the war, Israel took control from Jordan and Egypt over the majority Palestinian-populated West Bank and Gaza Strip, which remain illegally occupied and blockaded to this day, respectively.

Around 300,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes, as well as thousands of Syrians from the occupied Golan Heights.

Palestinians believe the war completed the Israeli occupation of historic Palestine that began with the Nakba, or "catastrophe" of 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in what became Israel.

Though the day is not celebrated outside of Israel, and has mostly lost its significance to secular Israelis, it is still very much celebrated by the ultra-right religious Zionist community in the form of prayers and a controversial march throughout the Old City.

The “flag march” as it is called, draws thousands of Israelis donning Israeli flags and chanting nationalist and religious slogans. Traditionally, the women enter through Jaffa Gate near the Jewish and Armenian quarters, while the men enter through Damascus Gate and pass through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

For the past few years, dozens of cases have been documented every year of teens participating in the march banging on doors and windows in the Muslim Quarter with their flagpoles, cursing Palestinian pedestrians and making racist remarks, such as “Death to Arabs.”

Ma'an reporters on the scene said that at least one Israeli youth was arrested during the march for uttering racial slurs.

A Palestinian boy was taken aside by Israeli forces during the march for carrying a Palestinian flag, before an Israeli lawyer who witnessed the situation intervened and convinced the security forces to let him go.

The days leading up to this year’s march have been marked with controversy, as the parade is being held on what is likely to be the first evening of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

On Thursday June 2, the now rejected urgent petition was filed with the Israeli High Court by the Ir Amim non-profit group and Amir Cheshin, a former Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem’s mayor. The petitioners demanded that the court instruct the police to bar the march from the Muslim Quarter.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, human rights attorney Itay Mack filed the petition, writing that “this decision [on the route] is extremely unreasonable and seriously impinges on basic rights that have long been recognized by this honorable court, such as the freedom of worship and the movement of worshipers, of residents and merchants within the Muslim Quarter and outside it.”

Joint List member of Israel’s Knesset Yousef Jabareen condemned the court decision, calling the march “provocative, racist, and violent, whose objective is to threaten the Palestinian vendors in the Muslim Quarter and visitors to the Quarter,” Israeli newspaper Walla quoted him as saying.

He echoed Al-Kiswani’s comments, saying Israeli police bore the responsibility for any attacks that could transpire against Palestinians as a result of the march.

A similar petition that was filed last year was rejected, though the court noted that the police must show “zero tolerance” toward racist calls, particularly “Death to Arabs,” which have been increasingly heard in recent years, something the court reiterated again in today’s ruling.

In an effort to avoid clashes this year, the court approved an agreement between the state and the parade's organizers that the march would start 15 minutes earlier. This way, the ruling said, no Jewish marchers will be present in the Muslim Quarter when a ruling on the beginning of Ramadan, a month of fasting holy in Islam, will take place at 7:43 P.M.
The third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Tensions around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound contributed to a wave of unrest that began in October in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during a succession of Jewish holidays last fall.

Tensions increased at Al-Aqsa yet again as right-wingers toured the site for the Passover holiday in April, which saw the banning of some 70 Palestinians from the site, several Israeli extremists evacuated, and weekly visits for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip suspended for two consecutive weeks.

Israelis enter Al-Aqsa for "Jerusalem Day" celebrations (MaanImages)

Israelis enter Al-Aqsa for "Jerusalem Day" celebrations (MaanImages)

Israelis enter Al-Aqsa for "Jerusalem Day" celebrations (MaanImages)

Thousands of Israelis commemorate "Jerusalem Day" at Western Wall (Photo: Israeli police spokesperson)

Jaclynn Ashly and Yumna Patel contributed reporting from Jerusalem.
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