During Ramadan, Palestinians Barred From Aqsa Turn to Smugglers

JERUSALEM — Only moonlight reduce via the darkness early one current morning by the point a smuggler led Husam Misk to a ladder propped in opposition to Israel’s concrete separation barrier.

Mr. Misk, a 27-year-old dentist, mentioned he climbed the ladder rapidly however was nonetheless in need of the highest of the 26-foot wall. He grabbed the sting the place the razor wire had been reduce and hoisted himself up, pausing briefly to scan the realm. No signal of any troopers.

He grabbed the rope dangling from the opposite aspect, braced his toes in opposition to the wall and lowered himself.

About an hour later, Mr. Misk mentioned, he walked into Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem simply in time to catch daybreak prayers. Barred from legally crossing into Jerusalem from his dwelling with in the West Bank, he was considered one of many Palestinians who resorted to different means to go to one of the crucial sacred websites in Islam through the holy month of Ramadan.

“I come out of conviction to pray and to stand in solidarity,” mentioned Mr. Misk, sitting within the shade of a tree within the Aqsa compound on a current afternoon. “Because Al Aqsa is the center of the struggle between us and the Israelis.”

The Israeli authorities, which typically bars West Bank residents from getting into Jerusalem with out a allow, normally eases restrictions to permit lots of of hundreds to go to Al Aqsa throughout Ramadan. Children as much as age 12, men and women 50 and older are allowed to attend Friday Prayers there with out a allow. Men aged 40 to 50 can enter with an present allow.

But most younger males and people with prison data are turned again at official crossing factors or denied entry permits. While Palestinians argue that such restrictions are discriminatory, Israeli officers, nonetheless reeling from a spate of Palestinian assaults that killed 14 folks beginning simply earlier than Ramadan, insist they’re essential safety measures.

Many Palestinians who’re denied entry — lots of a day, those that cross say — as an alternative climb the controversial separation barrier, stroll via openings reduce the place the barrier is a metallic fence, or hike via mountainous terrain the place there are gaps within the barrier. Others make physician’s appointments to acquire medical permits to enter Jerusalem, or bribe troopers or Jewish settlers to get them via checkpoints, based on individuals who have used these strategies.

Some livestream their journeys to encourage different Palestinians to comply with their path.

While these interviewed who circumvented the principles mentioned that they had come to Aqsa to wish or pay homage to the historic website, Israeli officers mentioned that unmonitored entries introduced a possible safety menace.

Hundreds of Palestinians, principally younger males, had been arrested on the mosque over the previous two weeks, accused of rioting. A police spokesman mentioned that “a handful” of these arrested had been discovered to have entered Israel illegally.

Over the previous two years, through the coronavirus pandemic, safety alongside the 440-mile barrier grew extra lax and openings within the fencing multiplied.

The current Palestinian assaults targeted the federal government’s consideration on the safety lapses. The Israeli authorities recognized one of many attackers, a gunman who killed 5 folks in a Tel Aviv suburb final month, as a West Bank resident who had crossed into Israel illegally.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, talking of the gaps within the barrier at a cupboard assembly this month, acknowledged “that for years it has been completely riddled with holes.”

The Israeli navy has since stepped up safety alongside the fence, repairing breaches, digging trenches to forestall car crossings and deploying extra troopers. And Israel’s safety cupboard accredited greater than $100 million to construct an extra 25 miles of the barrier.

The battle for some Palestinians to succeed in Al Aqsa is a part of a broader confrontation over management of the mosque compound — identified to Jews as Temple Mount, the positioning of an historical temple and the holiest place in Judaism — and the traditional coronary heart of Jerusalem, referred to as the Old City.

Israel captured the Old City from Jordan in 1967, together with the remainder of East Jerusalem. Israel has since annexed the realm as a part of its capital, however a lot of the world, together with the United Nations Security Council, considers it occupied territory.

Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the longer term capital of a Palestinian state. Some concern the mosque compound is beneath menace from growing numbers of Jewish worshipers allowed to enter and pray atop the mount, and from a fringe group of right-wing activists who search to rebuild the Jewish temple there.

Tensions exploded into clashes over the previous two weeks between Palestinians and Israeli paramilitary police. At occasions, the police compelled Palestinians from components of the positioning or confined them inside mosques to safe entry for vacationers and Jewish worshipers.

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Last Friday, the Israeli authorities turned away droves of Palestinians, particularly males, on their approach from the West Bank to attend Friday Prayers at Al Aqsa.

The Israeli authorities didn’t reply to questions on what number of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza had utilized to go to the mosque this Ramadan nor what number of had been rejected.

For younger males, particularly, Aqsa appears out of attain. Ibrahim, a 24-year-old college scholar from Bethlehem, in contrast an Israeli allow to a golden ticket: “It’s like Willy Wonka, very few get it.”

Ibrahim, who didn’t need his final title printed, enters Jerusalem legally with a medical allow, then visits Al Aqsa. For him, the journey isn’t about faith. It’s about visiting a spot vital to Palestinian id and quietly confronting Israel’s occupation.

“You put up police and security guards, but I am able to enter anyway,” he mentioned. “It’s about asserting our existence.”

Mr. Misk utilized for a allow in 2015, when he was in faculty, and was rejected. He mentioned he was instructed solely that his rejection was “for security reasons.”

The subsequent week he went in with a smuggler and has not bothered making use of for an additional allow since.

“Going to Mecca to visit the Kaaba is easier for us than coming here to Al Aqsa,” he mentioned. “If I want to go to Mecca, I apply for a visa and I go. But if I want to come to Al Aqsa, I have to take a risk and go over the wall and I could be shot and killed.”

One day this month, Mr. Misk tried to cross into Israel with some pals via a wooded space and was caught by Israeli troopers. The troopers zip-tied their arms behind their backs and had them lie face down on the bottom for six hours, he mentioned, earlier than marching them again to the West Bank and releasing them.

The subsequent day he paid a smuggler $15 to get him over the barrier.

As Mousa Naser waited his flip lately to scale the wall, dozens of males who had crossed earlier than him had been caught on the opposite aspect. When the troopers took the lads away, Mr. Naser and others made a touch for it.

But getting over the wall isn’t the one hurdle.

On Wednesday, a number of Palestinians suffered damaged bones after falling from the highest of the wall, the Palestinian Red Crescent mentioned.

At checkpoints all through East Jerusalem, the Old City and on the many entrances to the mosque compound, Israeli police routinely cease folks, particularly younger males, and demand to see their IDs. Those missing the correct paperwork could be arrested.

Mr. Naser’s technique is to attempt to mix in.

“There are things that can let the police know if you are from the West Bank or not,” mentioned Mr. Naser, a 25-year-old financial institution worker. “They can tell from your face if there is fear, they can tell from the lines on your forehead. And they know from your shoes.”

In the West Bank younger males favor denims, button-up shirts and don’t put on many model names, he mentioned. In Jerusalem the model is dominated by athleisure, trainers and a cornucopia of brand name names.

“Style of clothes plays a big role in not getting caught,” he mentioned. “It doesn’t protect 100 percent but it helps a lot.”

Jamal Karame, 53, mentioned that 13 years in the past he was convicted of harboring a wished individual and was imprisoned for 2 years. He denies the cost.

Since then he has been unable to get a allow to come back to Jerusalem, and every time he goes to a checkpoint, he’s turned away. So he resorted to sneaking throughout.

“The occupation needs to give people a chance to live their lives so that people don’t have a counterreaction,” Mr. Karame, an electrician from Hebron. “It’s bad enough that we are already living under occupation, but you are also preventing me from praying in Al Aqsa.”

As he walks across the compound, his fingers transfer swiftly via a string of white prayer beads. On every bead is a silver etching of the Kaaba or the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. He recalled how, when he was a toddler, his father would carry him to play within the mosque compound. Back then the journey took lower than an hour and there have been no checkpoints.

He needs he might carry his personal six kids right here with the identical ease.

“If we don’t pray in Al Aqsa,” he mentioned, “who will?”

Myra Noveck and Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.



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