Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 April 2004
Issue No. 685
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Looking for trouble

Israel this week upped the ante at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque when hundreds of policemen indiscriminately attacked thousands of Muslim worshippers, reports Khaled Amayreh

Click to view caption
Israeli riot police attack Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The police fired tear gas, stun grenades and plastic bullets at the worshippers who were defending themselves by throwing shoes and stones

Muslim Wakf officials and many witnesses told Al-Ahram Weekly that hundreds of heavily armed paramilitary troops stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque esplanade as more than 30,000 Muslims were finishing their Friday's congregational prayers.

"They were firing rubber-bullets and tear gas canisters in all directions. It happened suddenly and without any prior warning," said Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, one of the highest-ranking Muslim officials in Jerusalem.

As a result, as many as 70 worshippers, many of them elderly people and women, were injured, with some requiring urgent hospitalisation.

The esplanade of the mosque, Islam's third holiest religious place, looked like a battleground, with tear-gas pillowing all over the area and with old worshippers fleeing for their lives. Some worshipers tried to resist the rampaging police forces by hurling stones and shoes on them. Eventually, Muslim Wakf officials succeeded in calming down outraged worshippers, in order to deny Israel pretext to spill more blood, as Hussein said.

"The Israelis are always seeking to make trouble for the purpose of gaining a foothold in this Islamic place. Their ultimate aim is to take over this holy Islamic site," insists Hussein.

Seeking to justify the provocation, Israeli police officials claimed that police were responding to "hundreds" of stone- throwing Palestinians who endangered the lives of policemen and Jewish worshippers at the Wailing Wall.

However, it was clear that these claims were utterly mendacious.

The Ha'aretz newspaper on Friday quoted the Wailing Wall rabbi, Shmeul Rabinovitz, as saying that "only a single stone was thrown at Jewish worshippers down at the wall." The rabbi stressed that Jewish services were not disrupted at all and "nobody noticed anything".

Indeed, surveillance video footage showed no more than three Palestinian boys throwing stones at the police, proving that the story about "hundreds of stone throwers" was completely baseless.

Moreover, the footage showed that within exactly seven seconds, dozens of Israeli riot police rushed on worshippers, who had not yet completed their prayers, shooting tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.

It was obvious that the police could easily have subdued and arrested three young boys, but apparently chose not to. According to Adnan Husseini, head of the Wakf Islamic Trust in Jerusalem. "The Israeli police try every week to provoke our worshippers and intimidate them into not coming to Al-Aqsa Mosque."

Husseini said Israel consistently tries to provoke worshippers by stationing large numbers of soldiers and paramilitary policemen at the gates of the Haram Al-Sharif compound and also by using excessive and disproportionate force to quell the slightest protest.

"These so-called riot police actually create riots not merely quell them."

Another Wakf official, Ishaq Abdul-Jawad, accused Israel of seeking a pretext "to make this place insecure and problematic" for Muslims. "The reason the police attacked worshippers is because they do not like to see thousands of Muslims come to this place. It is as simple as that."

Jawad accused Israel of seeking to engineer disturbances for the purpose of finding an excuse to limit Muslim access to Al- Aqsa Mosque. "It seems to me they are thinking of allowing only the middle aged and the elderly to pray at the Mosque. And this would be the first step towards barring Muslims completely from the sanctuary and destroying Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock."

Tellingly, it was Sharon's infamous "visit" to the site in September 2000 that sparked off the second Palestinian Intifada. Now it seems Israel is seeking to ignite another powder keg.

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