I was taken on a walk-around tour of the Old City and to visit the al Aqsa mosque and the Wailing Wall yesterday, and learnt that there’s no forgetting or getting away from the occupation here. There is no Peace in Jerusalem, and trying to get to one of the most Holy of Muslim sites proved to be impossible.
After trying three different gates to the compound of al Aqsa Mosque, we failed to get in. I should have known that hanging around with two Palestinian Muslims was going to be a problem...
At first we were turned away by the Israeli Soldiers because I could not enter one particular gate as I am not a Muslim. They advised another gate to try. But there we had all our ID cards and passports checked and phoned in; and I was asked what I was doing here etc. (Funny how ‘tourist’ can sound like ‘terrorist’ if not pronounced correctly).
Why though? Numerous US tourists were sneaking past me with a nod and a wink to the guards, and obviously had no trouble moving around the complex toward the Western Wall. My sin was to be going to the Aqsa Mosque – and with Muslims of all people.
Eventually, after they decided we were technically allowed to do this, they told us to come back at 1.30pm. After trying another gate, this time being given a different story, we returned to politely protest at the ‘1.30 gate’, and (after double checking our ID’s) we finally got in. But this, only to find out at the final final gate we had to pass… it was closed, and it closed at 1.30pm.
“It’s like this in my country” said my friend: “I don’t know why.”
There’s something utterly offensive about being told by an armed man of a different religion and ethnicity that you cannot enter your own Mosque to show your friend the beauty of it. And this was a Jerusalemite, with a Blue ID card; a Palestinian from anywhere else in the West Bank can forget it altogether, for they’re not even aloud into their capital city, let alone the Mosque.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Jerusalem is based on two magic numbers: 72 percent and 28 percent. These were the respective populations of Jews and Arabs when Israel annexed Jerusalem in 1967, and the goal of the Government of Israel has since been to keep it at that ratio. In order to counter-balance the rapid natural growth of Palestinians, threatening the reality of a predominately Jewish city, Israel enforces an intricate system of Settlement building in the East; denial of housing permits to Palestinians; the creation of ‘Green Zones’ on Palestinian land where no building can take place; home demolitions; and discrimination in the provision of services; not to mention The Wall, which cuts off Eastern Arab Neighbourhoods from their City.
To take just one example of the disparity of services for Palestinians; there are 650 km of sewage pipelines in West Jerusalem, but only 76 km in the East. And you’ll notice when you drive at night from the West to the East of the city, suddenly it gets very dark: there’s no street lighting. It’s like driving into the “wrong side of town” in the US and finding yourself in a slum.
If the situation was reversed—if Palestinian gunmen were preventing Jews from going to the Wailing Wall, or Christians to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—what sort of an outcry would there be? Why is Islamophobia tolerated this way?
How long can this crime of ethnic cleansing in the “City of Peace” go on? We were told by the guard to “come back tomorrow morning.” What a joke. Palestinians have been waiting for a lot longer than that.