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Al-Aqsa protests unified us and showed us a new way to resist occupation

We have found a turning point in our struggle: it's time to let go of the factionalism that has divided our movement and replicate the unity we have had at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM - It’s been two weeks since three young men from Umm Al-Fahm fired their guns inside the Al-Aqsa compound, killing two police officers, and since, consequently, the mosque was closed and prayers were prevented.

Soon after the attack, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the attack and stated his “rejection of any violent incidents from any side, especially in places of worship”.

Now is the moment to win back our rights, regardless of the positions of our leaders, who have repeatedly let us down

His comments provoked anger among many Palestinians who believe he should not have condemned what happened, especially in light of the daily killing of Jerusalemites by Israeli soldiers and security forces.

Some even worried that Abbas’ comments gave Israel a green light to kill and abuse Palestinians and undertake humiliating measures against them and their sanctities.

Given the abuse it's practices against Jerusalemites, its repeated intrusions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the daily provocation of worshipers by the armed police inside the compound, couldn’t Abbas have blamed Israel for what happened?

Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian woman during a demonstration outside the Lions Gate on 17 July 2017 (AFP)
Is there any place of worship, anywhere in the world that allows heavily armed soldiers to roam freely and provoke the feelings of worshipers like this?

This whirlwind of events have driven us in Jerusalem to rethink and revive our struggle as Palestinians. Now is the moment to win back our rights, regardless of the positions of our leaders, who have repeatedly let us down.

With the latest incidents at Al-Aqsa, we have found an important turning point in our struggle as one people, away from the factionalism that has divided our movement.

Continuing to stand

Theon-going prayers, protests and peaceful non-violent sit-ins at the gates of the Haram al-Sharif (the Al-Aqsa compound) were another turning point for the Palestinian people.

From the very first day that Al-Aqsa was closed and prayers were halted, we Jerusalemites began our actions. We continued our sit-in as worshippers and soldiers clashed, leading to the deaths of seven people, many of whom were university students who did not belong to any faction or any party. What united them was their right to this land and the freedom to enter and pray in the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Was the aim to get us used to being searched just as we are at checkpoints, hospitals, shopping centres, national insurance offices and post offices – and now at the Al-Aqsa mosque?

It is the first time in nearly 50 years that the Al-Aqsa mosque was closed to worshipers who were barred from performing their prayers. We appealed to Arabs, Muslims and the wider international community to take a firm position to protect Al-Aqsa and prevent an escalation. But Israel continued to apply stricter measures, all in violation of the status quo agreement. 

The same night they occupied and closed Al-Aqsa, Israeli military vehicles entered sometime between 1 and 3am, in the absence of Al-Aqsa’s guardians. No one knows what manuscripts or documents they took from the libraries, or what they planted in it? This was followed by the installation of electronic gates at the entrances to Al-Aqsa on 17 July.

During that phase, Israel systematically tried to create divisions between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and beyond through erroneous and provocative statements on social media, suggesting that the electronic gates were put in place as a result of an arrangement with Palestinian or Arab parties or countries.

A Palestinian woman holds up the Koran and chants slogans outside the Lion's Gate on 16 July 2017 (AFP)
Was forcing worshipers to enter Al-Aqsa through these gates the beginning of a temporal and spatial division of the Haram? Or was the aim to get us used to being searched just as we are at checkpoints, hospitals, shopping centres, national insurance offices and post offices – and now at the Al-Aqsa mosque?

We will continue to stand at the gates of Al-Aqsa from fajr (dawn) prayer until dhuhr (afternoon) prayer. We will stand as the funeral procession for Abu Wajdi - a local man who died of natural causes - is stopped at the electronic gates at the Haram. It would not be surprising if the guards stopped the deceased for a thorough search.

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We will stand at the gates of Al-Aqsa as we stand at the entrances to detention centres to visit our families. Take off your shoes, take off your belt, take off your hijab, they tell us before we see our relatives, before we go to pray.

They want us to give up going to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Are these the final stages of the conspiracy against Al-Aqsa?

A new model for resistance

Perhaps the experience of the sit-in at the gates of Jerusalem and the degree of solidarity shown during the two weeks of standing outside the gates of Al-Aqsa and sitting in the roads of Jerusalem nearby are an indicator of the unity of the Palestinian public.

The Palestinian people do not need an interim government or a government of any kind. Jerusalemites came together to protect Al-Aqsa without the need for external support.

Meals, drinks and water reached all those who were stationed at the gates of the Haram. No one knows who distributed them, nor how.

The people of Jerusalem did not need emergency meetings of the Legislative Council or the Council of Ministers to study the situation and to come up with recommendations and develop a procedural plan to resolve the problem. The street has gone beyond all existing leaders and raised its voice.

In the street, in front of the gates and during Friday prayers, I stood to pray. When I finished praying, I found rows of worshipers of men and women, side-by-side. There were several Christians among the worshipers whose photos circulated on social media.

Palestinian Christians join protesters outside Al-Aqsa (Twitter/@A_Ozkok)
Jerusalem’s mission to defend Al-Aqsa did not distinguish between Muslims and Christians, nor between religious and atheist. It did not distinguish between one faction and another. We did not hear, in the chants of worshipers, any statement referring to any faction. There were no calls for Hamas, nor for Fatah. We stood united in defense of Jerusalem.

If we win this conflict over Al-Aqsa and manage to shed the fear that Israel has imposed on use for all these years, how can we use this new model of Palestinian struggle more widely and achieve other victories against the occupation? 

Dr Inas Abad is a political science researcher and lecturer and a political activist from East Jerusalem. Her brother, who has been held in an Israeli prison for the past 16 years, is one of the leaders of the hunger strike.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Image: Israeli security forces stand by as Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside Lions' Gate, a main entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on 24 July 2017, in protest against new Israeli security measures implemented at the holy site following an attack that killed two Israeli policemen the previous week. (AFP)

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