Israeli police and military heavily guarded every entrance into the Old City of Jerusalem, especially entrances into the Muslim Quarter. Today is Friday. It is the Holy day in Islam and Palestinian Muslims were making their way to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Forty and up,” the police and military officers repeated as they denied every male that did not get old enough yet. The men were not just denied entrance into the Mosque, but into the whole city.
The officers did not give a clear explanation as to why men were being denied entrance, but one can assume it is related to the heightened political tensions after the attack on the flotilla to Gaza.
I made my way to the Damascus Gate—the main entrance into the Muslim Quarter—hoping my American passport will grant me access. “Not today. Go to Jaffar Gate. This gate is closed,” an officer tells me as non-Muslim tourists continue to flow freely thru.
I then entered inside the Old City thru the New Gate—in the Christian Quarter—where there was much less security presence. I was hoping the detour will eventually get me inside Al-Aqsa where Muslims believe is the third holiest place on Earth. Unfortunately, every possible way into Al-Aqsa was blocked. A soldier signals to see my ID. I show him my passport.
“Come back tomorrow. No tourists now.”
I pleaded with him that I am not a tourist. I am Muslim and I want to pray.
“Where does it say your are Muslim?”
“It doesn’t. In America, we don’t put our religion on our IDs.”
“Well, I don’t believe you. Show me you are Muslim and I let you go.”
He was the only Israeli officer that was giving me a hard time for not being Muslim. Unfortunately for me, I never had a document to prove my faith.
After many attempts into numerous gates, I decided to give up for the day. Just outside Damascus Gate, I rejoined with hundreds of other young Palestinian men who were also denied entrance. On one side of the street were dozens of Israeli riot police and soldiers. On the other side, we lined up shoulder-to-shoulder blocking off the sidewalk. The sidewalk became our makeshift Al-Aqsa Mosque this Friday.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar…
The call to prayer. In front of riot gear, horses, and guns, we prayed. Tourists looked curiously and snapped photos.
As-salaamu alaikum wa rahmatulla, As-salaamu alaikum wa rahmatulla…
And the struggle for justice continues…