09 August 2018

The Murabitaat (defenders, steadfast one’s, garrison soldiers) is the name popularly used to refer to groups of Palestinian women who frequent Masjid al-Aqsa, holding Islamic lessons there and using their presence to oppose incursions by Jewish settlers.

These women, aged from their early twenties to over seventy, come to Jerusalem’s most important Islamic site, the third holiest in the religion, every day. Under the arches of the mosque, or in the shady courtyards of the golden Dome of the Rock, they pray, meet and learn together. Most come from Jerusalem, but some travel hours by bus from towns in Palestine to be present at the masjid several days a week.

The women have organized themselves in three levels of classes: Literacy class for those needing to learn the basics of reading the Quraan, Tajweed and writing, general high-school level classes and university level advanced courses. Some women consider more complex branches of Islamic learning, with special emphasis on the history of al-Aqsa and al Quds. The women believe that it is impossible to counter the narrative of settler groups that claim sovereignty over al-Aqsa, without fully grasping the intricate history of the Masjid.

In addition to keeping Masjid al-Aqsa alive by their presence, the women actively challenge provocative visits by Jewish settlers to the site. They say they are keeping watch against groups of right-wing and religious Israelis who frequently tour the al-Aqsa complex.

When a group of Israeli settlers pass by the mosque, escorted by police, the Murabitat women cry “Allahu Akbar” – God is Great – to unnerve the visitors and to remind them that, despite growing escalations and infringements, the compound is still in Muslim hands.

Many of the women who come to the masjid every day have been arrested, beaten, banned or handed restraining orders from entering the mosque grounds. Israeli police have also used sound bombs against the women, a device usually used as a crowd control tactic, which emits high frequency sound waves that can lead to permanent hearing loss, severe headaches and loss of balance. In August 2015, the activists were banned from al-Aqsa by Israeli Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, from assembling during stipulated Jewish visiting hours. On September 8th 2015, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon signed an order which declared the Murabitat group as an illegal organization. Under these legal conditions, anyone who organizes, finances or participates in the groups’ activities could face trial.

Yet, the women continue to return and insist that they are prepared to continue to pay a heavy price just to be close to al-Aqsa. They call Israel’s “blacklist of troublemakers” the “golden list” and far from it scaring them into submission, the ban bolsters their morale.

Women who are banned, continue to come to the Masjid, and when not allowed entry, assemble in circles outside and maintain their activities. They insist that they are not affiliated with any political group or organization, with their sole affiliation being to Jerusalem and al-Aqsa.

As women, the Murabitat believe they have an especially crucial role: Jerusalemite men, they say, are at greater risk of arrest in the exposed and heavily policed courtyard of al-Aqsa, and they feel women are less likely to be detained, or to lose control and resort to violence.

“Many Muslims have abandoned it, so the women have decided to step in and take on the responsibility of defending it,” says Mourabita, Hanady al Halawani.

For many of the women, the al-Aqsa complex is the central point not just in Jerusalem, but also their lives. It’s the centre of community in the city that most have been visiting since they were children. But it’s more than that, too. The Mubaritaat say that as long as al-Aqsa stays, so does Palestine. This conviction to defend it has compelled them to challenge threats of violence, arrests and restrictions.

The women do not own tanks, firearms, fighter jets, warheads or anything similar. They get their strength from their Islamic religion, their patience and their Islamic, Arabic and Palestinian pride.

“It is everything to me,” activist Zeina Amro says of al-Aqsa. “It is my whole life.”

SOURCE: Various online reports on the Murabitaat