Al-Aqsa Mosque raid: How a night of worship became a night of Israeli brutality
Footage of heavily armed Israeli soldiers smashing their batons and guns down Palestinian worshipers in the Al-Qibli Al-Aqsa Mosque prayer hall during Ramadan on Wednesday morning sparked worldwide outrage.
The reality, said Abdullah Jaber, a teenager from Jerusalem who was attacked in the prayer hall and was being held by Israeli forces on Tuesday night, was much worse.
“They kept us on the ground, handcuffed, for a long time, and hit anyone who raised his head with a gun,” Jaber told Middle East Eye.
“My leg hurt, so I told a soldier about it, but he hit me on the chest and cursed me.”
Speaking after his release, Jaber described the terrifying moment the Israelis forced their way into the holy site in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians were practicing the meditative Itikaf prayer.
Stun grenades and tear gas were fired into the thousand-year-old building, before soldiers threw the Palestinians to the ground, stamped on them, and tied their hands tightly behind their backs.
Jaber said the beatings did not stop when they were removed from the prayer hall. The Israelis beat the detained Palestinians with batons as they were led out of the hall and crammed into a space near the mosque. About 400 Palestinians were detained on Tuesday night.
Even after they were taken to the police station, the attacks and insults continued, Jaber said. Now free, the teenager is nonetheless shaken and bruised after a night of worship turned into a night of brutality.
Many of the detainees were forced to sign papers banning them from the Al-Aqsa Mosque for a week, as a condition of their release.
Mothers were afraid of their sons
For the mothers of young men like Jaber who were caught up in the attack, Tuesday night was filled with anxiety and tension.
Sanaa Al-Rajabi was in constant contact with her son Ammar and the Israelis storming the mosque – until the line went dead. He was arrested and taken to an interrogation center with scores of other worshippers.
“I was worried to death for my son. At first, the worshipers were in the Al-Qibli prayer hall and refused to leave it; then the brutal attack on them by dozens of Israeli police officers began, using all forms of repression,” she told MEE.
‘The last thing he told me was that the soldiers teared them inside the prayer hall and beat them with rifles and metal chairs’
– Sanaa Al-Rajabi, worshiping mother in detention
“They were bombarded with sound bombs and tear gas while they were trapped inside the prayer hall, and then the rubber bullets that hit many of them.”
Israeli forces began removing Palestinians from the Al-Aqsa compound at around 10pm. Earlier, tens of thousands attended the Taraweeh prayers, as is customary during Ramadan, while some people stayed behind to practice Itikaf.
Itikaf is a non-compulsory religious practice common in Ramadan, where worshipers stay inside mosques overnight to pray, meditate and recite the Quran.
Although Israel refused to allow Palestinians to perform Itikaf this year and cleared people from the mosque after Taraweeh prayers, it did not use such excessive violence before Tuesday’s attack.
The Jewish holiday of Passover began on Wednesday, where Jewish Israelis are expected to gather at the Western Wall near Al-Aqsa.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society and local media said dozens of Palestinians were injured in the crackdown. The injured doctors were denied access and one person was attacked outside the mosque.
Although the violence of the Israelites increased, cries for help came over Jerusalem from the miniarets. Palestinians gathered in protest across the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian town of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel. Rockets were fired from Gaza, prompting Israeli air strikes on the besieged enclave.
As the situation at the mosque worsened, Rajabi and other Palestinians went to Al-Aqsa, trying to protect their loved ones and the holy site itself, but were hit by stun grenades and batons at one of the mosque’s gates.
Rajabi has heard nothing from Ammar since last night. He is still believed to be in Israeli custody, but his mother was able to identify him in the violent footage from the mosque.
“The last thing he told me was that the soldiers sprayed them with tears inside the prayer hall and beat them with rifles and metal chairs. Then they handed them over and took them out,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, many of the detainees’ families gathered outside Jerusalem’s Atarot police station. Israeli police tried to barter with the relatives for their release, witnesses said.
Khalid Zabarqa, a lawyer representing some of the detained worshippers, told MEE that he expects most of the Palestinians to be released but that some may be transferred elsewhere.
“They transferred them to this center in buses and numbered them,” he said, showing how the Palestinians were marked with a pen on their shoulders. “This is something new.”