There was heavy rain on Friday, July 28, 2017, yet there were more than 350 people of different ethnicities lining International Drive in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. kneeling on the sidewalk —praying Jummah on the streets, in solidarity with their brothers who were praying on the streets of Jerusalem— not allowed to enter Masjid Al Aqsa.
Israeli government had closed the gates of Al Aqsa, one of the holiest sites in Islam, for all men under the age of 50 on July 6, 2017.
Sheikh Mohammad Ahmed Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Al Aqsa, who protested the closure, was taken into custody from the Bab Al-Asbat area (Lion's Gate) after leading an open-air prayer.
Installation of metal detectors and the ban led to mass protests. In addition to the metal detectors, Israel also began installing sophisticated security cameras at one of the entrances to the compound housing the Haram al-Sharif.
In an act of civil disobedience, Palestinians held prayer days and nights outside al-Aqsa compound in protest of Israel's increased surveillance measures and obstacles to free movement at the entrances and gates.
Israel also deployed thousands of extra troops to the West Bank.
A joint statement by the Palestinian grand mufti, the acting Palestinian chief justice and the Jordanian-sponsored Waqf religious trust stated that, “We stress our absolute rejection of the electronic gates, and of all measures by the Occupation (Israel) that would change the historical and religious status in Jerusalem and its sacred sites, foremost the blessed Aqsa mosque.”
After years, Palestinians united and came out in large numbers. Dana El Kurd, a researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, writes that “During the July protests in Jerusalem, the PA and its leadership were always a step behind. They had nothing to do with the coordination of the protests and could do little to stop them. Local religious figures, particularly the Islamic Waqf, took the lead on calls for protest and formulating the Palestinian position.”
On July 17, 2017 a scholar reported, (name withheld for security purposes) that “the occupational forces have exhausted all avenues to deter the Palestinians from making Ribaat at the gates of Al Aqsa. Over the last 2 days, we have seen a huge increase in journalist and child casualties with the aim of keeping cameramen and families away from the gates of Al Aqsa but lo and behold...the numbers at Al Asbaat gate increased from 30,000 to over 50,000 last night!”
“The Ulema of Palestine have taken pledges over the last few nights from the thousands of youth gathered that they will continue the performance of salah by frequenting Masjid al Aqsa and by protecting the honor of Masjid al Aqsa once all is back to normal and they have full access.”
Allah said, O you who have believed, persevere and outlast (your enemy) in patience and perform ribaat and fear Allah that you may be successful [l ‘Imrn: 200].
After 13 days of ribaat, the occupational forces retreated.
On July 28, in D.C., buses from several Islamic Centers brought protesters to the embassy. Muslims from Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland, along with Christian and Jewish supporters, attended the event organized by the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). “We consider the turnout to be a huge success, especially because of the weather,” said Kristin Szremski, AMP national director of media and communications. “We’re here in an act of solidarity. We’re sending a message to Israeli authorities that American Muslims and their allies in the Jewish and Christian communities will continue to engage with our elected officials and we’ll continue to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as peaceful means to pressure Israel to comply with international law and end the occupation.”
“What kind of democracy allows military troops to shoot worshipers with rubber bullets?” extolled Szremski.
“Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar wa lilahil hamd!”
Ayda Yasin and her friends recited the hamd loudly in the back of the crowd. “I am not happy. There is no freedom,” says the Palestinian, who still has a large family in Palestine, who came to protest against the Israelis. “They kill new born to the elderly,” she shared news that she has seen on Arabic media channels, which she says in not shown on mainstream English channels.
“Free, Free Gaza! Free, Free Aqsa! Free, Free Palestine!”
Omer Soltan, one of the 40 vibrant volunteers there from the Dar Al Hijrah community, led the rally’s chants from the tent set up front. He reminded people that Gazans are suffering from the 10-year siege imposed by both Israel and Egypt. He was imprisoned by the regime in Egypt. His brother, Mohamed Soltan, was imprisoned for two years for taking part in Rabaa al-Adawiya square protests in 2013 and spent much of his detention on a hunger strike.
“For us, it is not about the electronic gates. It is not about banning Muslims for two weeks – two Fridays – to pray in their masjid (mosque). For us it is about the occupation,” Osama Abuirshaid, AMP national policy director, who delivered the khutbah, told the assembly. “The occupation is the root of all problems.”
Miko Peled, an anti-Zionist, is an Israeli Jew. He relayed eye witness accounts. “The occupation has been going on for decades and the Palestinian response has been measured. Support the cause of freedom of justice and peace,” he said. He was followed by Rabbi David Feldman, who said he said what is happening in Palestine is a catastrophe. “We lived in peace in the past and we can do it again,” he said.
“I am happy we came out and prayed peacefully when the Palestinians cannot be sure about their safety,” said Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on Islamic Relations (CAIR). “We are grateful that we can come share our views in front of the Israeli embassy without being shot, unlike what happened to protesters in Jordan,” elaborated Awad. He was referring to the murder of two Jordanian protesters by an Israeli embassy guard.
Awad called on American Muslims to contact their elected officials about this issue of faith. He thanked the members of the Jewish community who were attending the protest.
“This is an opportune time for American Muslims to join hands with many Jewish Americans who are actively opposing Israeli policies and putting pressure on the administration to reject Israeli practices and to intensify the BDS movement,” said Nihad Awad. While this was taking place in Al Aqsa, in the United States Maryland Senator Ben Cardin was making effort to promote his Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The American Civil Liberties Union warned that the measure was unconstitutional, ‘punishes people for their political beliefs’, and a serious threat to free speech.
“It is shocking that an American senator would suppress the first amendment rights of citizens over foreign policy,” said Nihad Awad. “Repressing religious freedom is a redline.”
“There is no more just cause to stand for than the Palestinian cause. It is the epitome of justice,” says the 23-year-old Soltan. “Our job here [in DC] is crucial ...to put pressure on our government to end the occupation and the apartheid [which] is not sustainable. It is not good for America, it's not good for Israel and [it] will bring instability to the region,” said Soltan. “Instability there affects us here.”