The Israeli policy of systematically repressing Palestinians’ right to practice religion was on full display during the month of Ramadan and Easter, as it is every year. These restrictive measures, meant to assert Israeli Jewish dominance and supremacy over occupied East Jerusalem, garner little attention in Western media.
Palestinian Muslims’ right to freely practice their religion at Islam’s third holiest site at the Haram al-Sharif was severely undermined and at times violently supressed by Israeli policies and military intervention. Palestinian boys and men between the ages of 12 and 55 were not allowed to enter East Jerusalem from the West Bank without a special permit for the month of Ramadan. Only around 1,130 Palestinian Christians and Muslims from Gaza (out of a population of 2.2 million) were allowed to travel to East Jerusalem for Ramadan and Easter. Furthermore, Israel closed all the crossings from the West Bank and Gaza to East Jerusalem and Israel, 5–8 April and 11–12 April for the Passover holiday.
At the Haram al-Sharif Compound, Israeli forces continuously conducted raids disrupting worshippers and in many instances forcing worshippers to leave to facilitate Israeli settler tours of the Muslim holy site. Beginning on the eve of 4 April and continuing into the following day, Israeli police violently removed Palestinians from the compound, including from inside al-Aqsa Mosque, injuring 19 and arresting 450; 397 Palestinians were released within 48 hours, but they were banned from entering the holy site until the end of the Ramadan. Al-Aqsa Mosque and its health clinic were damaged by Israeli stun grenades, tear gas, and smoke grenades. Israel subsequently imposed further restrictions on movement to the Haram al-Sharif, barring Palestinian men under the age of 40. A UN Security Council meeting, called by the UAE and China, did not result in a statement on the Israeli attacks.
In the aftermath of the large-scale Israeli aggression at the Haram al-Sharif compound, Israeli forces continued to disrupt worshipers and damage mosque property; they damaged electric panels and loudspeakers at the Bab al-Rahma area, arrested Palestinians for waving Palestinian flags, and allowed settlers access to the compound, including 1,500 on 10 April. On Eid al-Fitr, Israeli forces also closed the majority of checkpoints in the Nablus area and began a siege of Jericho, preventing thousands of Palestinian families from getting together to celebrate .
Palestinian Christians faced new Israeli-imposed restrictions as Israel decided to limit the capacity at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Holy Fire ceremony to 2,200. In the years prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony was typically attended by some 10,000 people. Israel initially capped the attendance at 1,800 but later raised it to 2,200 after international criticism. On the day of the Holy Fire ceremony, 15 April, Israeli police enforced the arbitrary capacity restrictions, severely beating Christians trying to enter the church.
As Israel continues to tighten its control over East Jerusalem, further limiting the freedom of religious practice in the city for Muslims and Christians, Jewish Israelis are allowed in increasing numbers to enter the Haram al-Sharif compound; when that happens, Muslims are forced to leave the area. At the same time, Christian clergy are reporting an increase in harassment from Israeli settlers and soldiers, including verbal abuse and spitting incidents.
This Monthly Highlight focuses on Israel's infringement of Palestinians' right to worship. The Palestine Chronology offers hundreds of entries relating to Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshipers, violations of the right to worship, and attempts to change the status quo of the holy places in East Jerusalem.