Opinion: Waking up under foreign occupation is a loss beyond description

A friend of mine has a very peculiar gift: he can relate any incident in his life, be it his marriage, his children’s birthdays, his graduation date, the time he lost his job; he can even remember many painful incidents in Palestinian history. For example, he will tell you that his daughter was born on the same day that Mahmoud Abu Hannoud was assassinated by the Israeli occupation authorities; or that he did not want to start his new business on a certain date because it was the anniversary of the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, or the demise of Yasser Arafat, and that would not be appropriate.

It sometimes crosses my mind to list all of the wars in our region in my lifetime, but it is a tiresome task. I am not sure which is the earliest that I can remember; perhaps the 1973 October War with Israel, or the Lebanese civil war which started in 1976, or maybe Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. There are many to choose from, but it is those incidents which affect one’s life directly which usually figure more prominently in the memory. It is the personal aspects which give the occupation its worse face, and my problem with the Israeli occupation is indeed personal, as the well-known Palestinian poet Samih Al-Qasim used to say.

Earlier this month, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday. A few days after I was born, the third holiest place in Islam and the holiest place in Palestine, Al-Aqsa Mosque, was set ablaze by an Australian called Denis Michael Rohan. An Israeli court proved that Rohan, who lived on an Israeli kibbutz at the time, was neither Israeli nor a Jew. Moreover, it declared him to be insane. None of this is a real surprise if you are acquainted with how the “legal system” works in Israel.

Hence, whenever the anniversary of the arson attack on Al-Aqsa comes around, I tend to feel down, especially with the latest events taking place. When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 after taking over most of Palestine in 1948, it tightened its grip on the holy city of Jerusalem, especially the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa. Although the sanctuary remains under Jordanian custodianship — the West Bank was administered by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 —Israel has never stopped showing us all who the boss is. Even after Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1993, the Israeli occupation worked systematically to undermine the Muslim presence in, and control of, Al-Aqsa. The occupation authorities have allowed Jewish settlers to trespass in the mosque under the eye and protection of Israeli police.

Although UN Resolutions state clearly that the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa is an Islamic site, the Israelis take full control. The state has made it next to impossible for the Palestinian guards appointed by Al-Aqsa’s administration to operate, by deploying Israeli police at the gates and within the sanctuary. Age restrictions have been imposed on Muslim worshippers barring people under forty years and sometimes fifty years of age from entering Al-Aqsa. Meanwhile, the police allow all Israeli Jews and other non-Muslims in. Jews are even allowed into Al-Aqsa during their festivals to perform religious rites in the mosque. This has led to many incidents with Muslim worshippers, especially with young people when they are allowed in.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sparked off the Second Intifada in 2000 when he challenged the Muslims and entered Al-Aqsa in a defiant move which was backed by the security services. Israeli politicians and official discourse are thus sending a clear message to Muslims that it is only a matter of time before Israel will take over Al-Aqsa completely, then demolish it to build a temple on its ruins.

A video called Magic of Jerusalem produced in 2013 by Israel’s then Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, shows the Dome of the Rock Mosque — an integral part of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa — disappearing to be replaced by a Jewish temple. The negative response to this prompted an edit of the video before it was reposted online. The intention remains clear.

A few days ago, Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan demanded that Jews should be allowed to visit Al-Aqsa and perform their rituals and prayers there. The Israeli security services injured more than 60 Palestinians in clashes when it allowed Jews to enter the sanctuary on the day of Eid Al-Adha, an important Muslim festival. Four Israeli police officers were identified as those responsible for shooting two Palestinian teenagers, 17-year-old Nassim Abu Rumi, who was killed, and 14-year-old Hamoudeh Al-Sheikh, who was seriously injured, after an alleged stabbing incident.

Most Palestinians have either lost at least one of their relatives in encounters with the Israeli occupation forces, have been in prison or have been denied basic healthcare and education. That is the reality of Israel’s occupation. Waking up every day under foreign occupation is a loss beyond description.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author.