Deaths of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli “defence” forces are all too frequent. Israeli soldiers continue to murder Palestinians (including non-violent resistance activists) with impunity. Any attempt to fight back on the part of the occupied Palestinian population is dealt with swiftly, severely and collectively by the Israeli state.
In the wake of a Palestinian attack on two Israeli police officers, which also resulted in the deaths of the Palestinians, Israel attempted to exert greater control over Haram al Sharif (also known as the Temple Mount), which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most holy site of the Islamic faith, by installing metal detectors at the entrance.
Rather than be humiliated by Israel’s searches, mosque custodians the Waqf chose to close the site. In an act of defiance, prayers took place in front of where the metal detectors stood.
The metal detectors have nothing to do with security and are the latest in an extensive line of attempts by Israeli authorities to claim Haram al Sharif. The most notorious incident occurred in 2000, when soon to be Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon entered the compound with hundreds of Israeli riot police.
This year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to reject Israel’s claim to the site. Israel responded to the vote by cutting a million dollars in funding to the international body.
Amid international outrage against the thinly veiled attempt to seize control, Israel has since dismantled the metal detectors, vowing to replace the devices with CCTV cameras. Despite this partial backdown, protests have continued internationally.
On 26 July, 200 people gathered in the rain on the streets of Melbourne in support of the Palestinians and their resistance to the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.
The rally, chaired by Palestinian refugee Nasser Mashni, included speakers from the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network, Australians for Palestine, Al Quds Melbourne and Casey Friends of Palestine. Many speakers spoke about the importance of the mosque as a symbol of occupied Palestine and the need to continue the resistance to Israel’s colonialism.
A group of 20 Israel supporters rallied nearby, attempting to confront the demonstration. The group included Avi Yemini, a former Israeli soldier and outspoken Islamophobe who invited senator Pauline Hanson to speak in Melbourne, and Steven Skinner from the Patriotic Defence League, a local fascist group.
The significantly larger Palestine action chose to turn their backs on these far right bigots. Palestinian rally organisers were quick to point out that it said a lot that people advocating for racism in Australia were also keen to back the racist Israeli state.
Since the removal of the metal detectors, Israel has tried several other methods of retaining control over Al-Aqsa – including announcing its intention to ban all men under the age of 50 from entering the site.
However, with protests continuing, including a protest in Jerusalem in which at least 113 people were injured, such measures were not able to be implemented. While it is unclear what comes next, the Palestinians will continue to resist any further attempts by their occupier to hinder access to their holy sites.
Sheikh Raed Dana from the Waqf told the Guardian: “This movement is a movement of the street … if the street says no to the measures, we will say no”.