A veteran human rights activist has described the decision of the Israeli High Court to ban Palestinian children from playing in the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem as yet another form of Israeli “arrogance” with regard to Muslim and Christian religious sites.
Speaking in his role as head of human rights group Transparency, Essam Youssef condemned the court’s decision, pointing out that it comes within the context of the Israeli occupation authority’s attempts to prove its hegemony over the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa through its judicial and security institutions. This, he pointed out, is especially true following the steadfastness of the Palestinian Jerusalemites and their success in preventing the Israelis from installing electronic gates and surveillance cameras at the entrances to Al-Aqsa in July.
The court issued an order on 4 October for police to prevent Palestinian children from playing in Al-Aqsa Mosque’s courtyards, following a complaint made by extremist Jewish organisations that “children’s play violates the sanctity of holy sites.” According to Youssef, the Israeli government is always seeking to appease Jewish extremists who control its political decisions, even at the expense of Muslims’ freedom to practice their religion.
Through its control over Al-Aqsa Mosque and courtyard, he explained, Israel is working to allow extremist Jewish organisations to take over the mosque in order to remove any Islamic presence and build a temple. “Even simple things like children’s games are not acceptable to the Israeli government when those children are Palestinians,” he pointed out. “Israel basically wants no witnesses to its takeover of the Islamic site.”
The court’s claim that it is “respecting” the sanctity of the site by banning activities such as football and picnics is ironic, said Youssef, given the disrespect shown to Al-Aqsa and Palestinian Muslim worshippers by Israeli settlers and security services. “Jewish settlers have no right to go into Al-Aqsa and determine anything that affects the sanctity of the mosque,” he insisted. “Does the court not agree that armed incursions and the desecration of Muslim and Christian sites is also ‘inappropriate’ behaviour?”
The head of Transparency called for the international community and Palestinian Authority to take a stand against Israel’s attempts to impose itself on the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa.