Palestinians and Their Religious Sites Under Attack

Joint Statement by Human Rights Organisations

17 April, 2022

”We will die strong with our heads up around Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. We will never hand over the keys of these holy sites at any price.” -Father Manuel Musallam

Israeli occupation forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday during morning prayers, creating havoc, injuring at least 152 Palestinians, and arresting over 450 others during Ramadan. This savage attack was a brazen display of unbridled colonial power, and an expression of a culture of hate by Israel in the ongoing war against Palestinians. Journalists with visible identification were deliberately shot in their line of duty, while ambulances and medical staff were prevented from entering the mosque compound. The aim of the Israeli assault is to erase the presence, identity, memory, and any sign or symbol of a Palestinian relationship to their native land in the attempts by Zionist forces to Judaize Palestine.

Zionist groups, shielded by the Israeli occupation forces issued provocative and illegal calls to desecrate Al-Aqsa by slaughtering animals in its courtyards during the Jewish Passover holiday which coincides with Ramadan and Easter this year. Palestinians have issued a call for global solidarity and unity to defend Al-Aqsa and Palestine from a cruel system of domination and crime of apartheid perpetrated by Israel The demand of Palestinians includes the right to life and liberty as well as the freedom of conscience, expression, association, movement, the press, access for medical staff, sanctity of places of worship which are violated.

The ongoing Palestinian resistance has intensified with recent spikes in Israeli killings of Palestinians across the West Bank, especially in Jenin. Israel has killed at least 16 Palestinians in the past three weeks, including a partially-blind mother of six and several minors. This takes place as part of the ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and includes the expropriation of Palestinian property, house demolitions, and expulsion from their homeland. Israelis have also enlisted despotic Arab rulers and local collaborators to quell any uprising during the current month of Ramadan.

Despite the odds, Palestinians continue to exercise their legitimate right to resist in terms of the United Nations resolution 37/43, dated 3 December 1982, which “reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, by all available means, including armed struggle. We salute the Christian and Muslim Palestinians who have come together to defend Al-Aqsa. The solidarity shown across religious lines highlights the importance of this historical site.

Christians who are celebrating Easter in Jerusalem’s Old City have also been under increased harassment with rising attacks against priests and restrictions on worshippers. Father Manuel Musallam, a Christian leader and head of the World Popular Organisation for Jerusalem Justice and Peace, vowed to protect the Old City against Zionist aggression at all costs. “Al-Aqsa is calling on you and its eyes are weeping,” he said, “so do not fail it.” We will die strong with our heads up around Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City,” he vowed. “We will never hand over the keys of these holy sites at any price.”

The dominant narrative depicting Israeli occupation forces rampaging and desecrating places of worship, gassing worshippers, trouncing civilians, shooting defenceless demonstrators, attacking paramedics and cracking down on journalists dilutes the culpability of the Israeli occupying forces by describing it as “clashes” or that Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem are “contested” which they are not. The Palestinians are under illegal occupation and are victims of the crime of Apartheid perpetrated by Israeli settlers. There is absolutely no excuse for the media to perpetuate such biased, unfair, and untrue reporting where Israeli aggression and state violence against civilians are described as “clashes,” as if it is an engagement between two equal sides.

There is also clearly a need for consistency in the approach of the international community to countries that violate international law. The duplicity cannot be starker when comparing the war in Ukraine and the ongoing Nakba (catastrophe) in Palestine. The Israelis backed by the United States of America, Europe, and their allies, are conducting war with impunity in Palestine, like what is happening in Ukraine, where countries of the world are doing everything to stop the aggression, displacement, occupation, and military rule. Israel needs to be held accountable for systematic oppression of and ongoing war on Palestinians.

As South Africans, we need to escalate our support for Palestinians and in their defence of Al-Aqsa. The feeble South African government’s condemnation of Israel has rarely moved beyond rhetoric. Zionist hate-groups, like the Jewish National Fund, raise funds for ethnic cleansing and promote the propaganda of an apartheid state. There should be no place for organisations like these in our constitutional democracy. We have spent decades fighting against institutionalised racism in South Africa. The attacks on Al-Aqsa are a stark reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Palestinian Solidarity Organisations are mobilising across the country against Israel’s attacks on Al-Aqsa. We call on all progressive forces to join us at our demonstrations, marches, and pickets next week as we raise our voice against the oppressive Zionist ideology. Palestinians across Jerusalem are working tirelessly to defend Al-Aqsa. Legal institutions, emergency healthcare providers, and charity organisations are stretched for resources in this time of need. To offer support, please be certain that your donations are going to Jerusalem-based, Palestinian organisations.

This statement has been endorsed by:

  • SA BDS Coalition
  • Palestine Solidarity Alliance
  • Palestine Solidarity Alliance Youth League
  • Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee
  • UKZN Decoloniality Action Group
  • Waterberg Women Advocacy Organisation
  • Palestine Solidarity Campaign Cape Town
  • Palestine Solidarity Campaign Gauteng
  • Makause Community Development Forum
  • UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum
  • Congress of South African Trade Unions
  • NUPSAW Education Sector
  • Kairos South Africa
  • Kairos Palestine South Africa Working Group
  • Palestine Solidarity Organisation @ NMU
  • Youth for Al-Quds South Africa
  • Stellenbosch Palestine Solidarity Forum
  • South African Jews for Free Palestine
  • Sofasonke
  • Keep Left
  • Socialism from Below
  • Media Review Network
  • Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia
  • Progressive Organisations Forum
  • Movement Against Illegitimate Leaders
  • Socialist Youth Movement
  • Muslim Youth Movement Western Cape

Contact: Mahfouz Raffee +27 72 060 2276 

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