It’s almost inevitable for one to harbour a dim outlook on the state of the Muslim World at present. The crushing of popular uprisings, the carte blanche enjoyed by despots, the bloodbaths, sordid imagery of skeletal remains of historic cities, the desperation of refugees – all invoke a deep sense of helplessness and dismay. When one factors in the petty turf wars being peddled by some Arab fiefdoms, the outlook only emerges ever more bleak. Add to this anarchic mess, a brazen killing by Israel inside Islam’s 3rd holiest mosque and its total closure by the Occupiers for over two days – including the prevention of Jummuah Salaah, and one is simply befuddled by the magnitude of the quandary.
But, all of that demanded centre stage before some nitwits in the Zionist woodwork wisecracked with their proposition of metal detectors at the doors of Masjid al Aqsa. What they deemed a paltry ‘security’ measure, was soon to become a game-changer, and the spark for an awakening that may well be glowingly memorialised some day in the annals of heroism.
“Everyone says these gates are metal detectors,” said Murad, a resident of al Quds to Ha’aretz, [but that is] “because they’ve found the steel and gold within Jerusalem’s residents.”
Steel, grit and sheer determination is what characterised the popular movement that graced the streets of al Quds and the surroundings of Masjid al Aqsa for 12 golden days, from the moment it was discovered that entry to the Masjid would be solely by passage through these instruments of domination, until the removal of most of these unsightly edifices last Thursday.
Given direction by a handful of Ulama, Jerusalemites refused to enter the Masjid, even though it was technically open, staging sit-ins outside the Masjid and meticulously observing every passing Salaah in huge congregations at its gates.
The crowds would swell in the evenings, wherein an unmistakeable climax would be the rendition of Qunoot which would be accompanied by an aura of devotion and the reverberation of ‘aameens’.
And whilst, by the time of the protests, the month of Ramadan had long passed, one would be forgiven for mistaking the ambience in al Quds for being that of the Holy Month. Worshippers spent their evenings sleeping on the streets, eager not to be excluded from the next day’s activities. Palestinian medical crews were always on hand to deal with any eventualities, and different groups of Palestinians instinctively took up various roles to ensure the protest’s smooth running. Particularly heart-warming were the scenes of families, and even children, from the Old City of al Quds taking it upon themselves to distribute entire meals with beverages to the assembled protestors, as an impetus for them to keep up their travails.
“Everyone takes care of everyone,” wrote Jerusalem resident Hamdan Abu Shamsia on Facebook, as quoted by Ha’aretz. “The kitchens are full and all the Jerusalemites are invited. I swear it’s a great source of pride. Beforehand I felt alone since I don’t have any brothers, but I discovered that I have more brothers and sisters than anyone.”
The movement against the Israeli control measures imposed on al Aqsa may have routinely been described as a series of ‘protests’; in reality they took the form more of a mass mobilisation centred upon Salaah.
Taking a cue from the Divine injunction of seeking assistance through patience and prayer, it is noteworthy that for a range of observers, images of worshippers in devotion at the gates of al Aqsa formed the locus of the historic movement.
“The protests are more religious than nationalist in nature,” noted the Times of Israel. “Many Palestinians have become tired of politics, but their religion and its symbols remain a force of mass mobilization”.
“The preachers who attend have successfully corralled hundreds of young men into prayer,” observed the Jerusalem Post.
And whilst other modes of resistance did feature, the trend was of ‘prayer-protest’ was most prominent.
According to the Post, the profoundly religious aspect of this protest could be seen in the lack of Palestinian flags or outward political affiliation of the attendees. At some stage, a dozen young men chanted against Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, but in general political speeches had been rare and religious preaching was common.
Through this unique form of protest, it appears, Palestinians in al Quds have carved out a new brand of struggle that is showing great promise in re-energising their encumbered fight against the Occupation.
“Jerusalemite Palestinian society, wrote Ha’aretz’ Nir Hasson during the height of the crisis, “is usually characterized by its weaknesses: the poverty, the lack of leadership, the hardships of the occupation, house demolitions and land confiscations.
“But over the past several days, Jerusalem’s Palestinians have achieved something unprecedented. Through a nonviolent protest that included an exceptional boycott on entering the Al-Aqsa compound, they have forced Israel into a corner from which the government is seriously considering giving in and removing the metal detectors it installed at the Mount’s[Al Aqsa’s] entrances.”
The protestors, as noted by another Israeli correspondent, were fond of saying that they were neither Fatah nor Hamas. They were, rather, they said, “the street, the people, the Jerusalemites”.
As one worshiper put it, “Do we have a leader? Yes. The unified voice of the people.”
In an interview, Palestinian grassroots activist Dr Mustafa Barghouti expressed great optimism in this budding change.
“We are on the threshold of a big shift. What is going on today is not random or transient. It could be the beginning of a third intifada that is different from the others. What is unique about this is that it’s not individual actions, but a popular movement capable of attracting huge numbers of people. This popular momentum could recharge the Palestinian people. It may take time but we are on the way. It will override the PA. They don’t even know it exists. This will bring about a change in leadership,” he told the Middle East Eye.
Ahmed Sub Laban, a researcher for the NGO Ir Amim, agreed.
“For a long time, the occupier tried to separate and isolate is – this one’s Fatah, this one’s Hamas, this one’s Jerusalem and this one’s the territories,” he told Ha’aretz.
“This is the first time in the history of the Palestinian people that we are uniting in this fashion to get our rights; the first time that our people feel the power they have and that’s the power of unity”.
There is unanimity amongst Palestinians that the about-turn by Israel on the imposition of the most odious control features outside al Aqsa represents a significant victory against the Occupation.
The Ramadan-like scenes on the streets of al Quds during the fortnight of protest morphed into Eid-like euphoria last Friday and Saturday when the Masjid was fully opened. Chants of Tahleel and Takbeer floated through the air and there were emotional scenes of Palestinians prostrating to kiss the blessed ground of al Aqsa or simply diving onto the floor to experience a sentimental reconnection with the mosque’s soil.
At the same time, the episode has largely been seen as a disaster in Israel, whose political echelons are now overwhelmed with a war of recriminations. The actions of Netanyahu have come under intense scrutiny and reactions have manifested the fault lines in Israeli society,
A poll released by Israel’s Channel 2 News found that 77% of Israelis polled said the removal of metal detectors outside al Aqsa signalled Israel’s surrender. 67% of the sample expressed dissatisfaction with Netanyahu’s performance.
Opposition leader Naftali Bennett slammed his own government’s decisions regarding the handling of events.
“This is a very painful and upsetting morning,” Bennett told Israel’s Army Radio upon news of the removal of the metal detectors. “Israel has come out of this crisis considerably weakened. Instead of strengthening our sovereignty in Jerusalem, we sent a message that our sovereignty can be questioned – not just on the Temple Mount, but in other areas as well.”
Bennett called the decisions a “surrender” and compared the harm to Israeli security to the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000.
“If Moshe Dayan gave the Waqf the keys to the Temple Mount[al Aqsa] in 1967, then last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave over the sovereignty of the Temple Mount[al Aqsa] to the Waqf,” Asaf Fried, a Zionist representing organisations seeking to implement Jewish worship at al Aqsa said.
It is evident that the metal-detector crises has had a far reaching impact on the current dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflagration.
It has emboldened the cause of Palestinian resistance and underscored the status of the people of al Quds, whom Prophetic Ahadeeth describe as always remaining steadfast on the truth, and for whom betrayal and desertion will not harm them in the least.
Simultaneously, it has made Israel, despite its vast power, appear all the more vulnerable.
It has shone a light on the power of faith and unity in tackling oppression, and above all reaffirmed the special status that al Aqsa has in the hearts of all Palestinians and Muslims.
“On the streets”, wrote the Middle East Eye’s David Hearst, “the crisis has gathered and unified Palestinians irrespective of clan or faction. The cause of Al-Aqsa has done something that years of negotiation over the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas has failed to deliver.”
It is this lead and the unifying nature of al Aqsa that perhaps now need to harnessed more determinedly as a mobiliser by the wider Muslim World, during this hour of internal fracture.
The victory of al Quds was celebrated by all Palestinians from al Quds, to Ramallah, Gaza and even those thrown to the wind in camps such as Ein al Hilweh, in Lebanon. Palestinian Christians, who campaigned alongside Muslims for freedom of worship at al Aqsa, too shared in the joy of its reopening.
“What happened,” said Palestinian leader, “is but one chapter of respect out of many victorious chapters and the beginning of Israel’s defeat.”
Another tweeted: “Today our people celebrated by removing the gates of Occupation. And tomorrow they will celebrate the removal of the Occupation itself, and uprooting it from its roots”.