Israeli forces detained at least 30 Palestinians during raids in occupied East Jerusalem overnight Saturday and banned them from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while three Palestinians from northern Israel were also banned from the holy site over a Facebook post related to Passover, amid a security crackdown imposed by Israel leading up to the Jewish holiday.
The majority of the 30 Jerusalemites were later released, after Israeli authorities banned them from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City for at least 15 days, while some were banned for periods between three to six months.
Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) head in Jerusalem Nadi Qaws told Ma’an that the detention raids were launched in the Old City and the neighboring areas of Silwan, al-Tur, and Wadi Joz.
The Palestinians were first verbally notified of the bans, and were later ordered to appear at Israeli police stations for interrogation.
Lawyer Muhammad Mahmoud identified five of the detainees, all from al-Tur, as 16-year-old Farid Iyad Abu al-Hawa, 14-year-old Muhammad Samir Abu al-Hawa, 18-year-old Muhammad Khalil Sbeitan, 19-year-old Ahmad Muhammad Ashayer, and 24-year-old Bahaa Taysir Abu Jumaa.
Qaws identified 22 other detainees as Muhammad al-Rakin, Muhammad Ashour, Yousif Abu Shusha, Muhammad Abu Farha, Khalid Milhis, Ahmad al-Julani, Ahmad al-Shawish, Mahmmoud al-Shawish, Yousif al-Shawish, Ahmad al-Rakin, Uday Sunokrut, Ahmad al-Hashlamoun, Ibrahim al-Natsheh, Jihad Qaws, Muhammad Shawqi Sanduqa, Thaer Zghir, Raghib Abu Sneineh, Khader al-Ajlouni, Muhammad al-Zin, Omar Zaanin, Omar Salama, and Muhammad al-Hashlamoun -- all of whom were released after they were interrogated and issued bans.
Israeli forces also raided the homes of Alaa al-Fakhouri and Muhannad al-Daqaq, who were delivered orders to turn themselves in for interrogation when they were not found in their homes.
“For (Palestinian) Jerusalemites, the Jewish holiday season means an escalation in arbitrary detentions, house raids, and searches -- measures that terrify families. The installation of additional security checkpoints, particularly at Al-Aqsa Mosque’s gates and in the Old City, only increase tensions in Jerusalem,” Qaws said.
He further argued that Israeli police ban certain Palestinians from Al-Aqsa in an effort to give Israelis free rein to tour the holy site. According to Qaws, the majority of Palestinians targeted Saturday night were the same people Israeli forces target every Jewish holiday through the detentions raids and bans.
The PPS official condemned the policy, and expressed outrage over the three- to six-month bans in particular, which will bar the Palestinians from visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins at the end of May.
Qaws noted that five other Jerusalemites had received ban orders in recent days, bringing the total of affected Palestinians to at least 35. Some of them were banned from the entirety of the Old City, not just Al-Aqsa, he said.
Israeli police foreign press spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a written statement Sunday morning that information gathered during “security assessments” prior to Passover uncovered “intentions by extremists both Jews and Arabs to disrupt the festival activities and cause public disorder.”
“Individuals have received a court order keeping them away from the Old City and the Temple Mount,” Rosenfeld said, using the Jewish term for the Al-Aqsa compound, “in order to prevent incidents over the festival.”
He did not provide further details on how many had been banned, but added that “police operations will continue as part of the preparations for the festival of Passover beginning tomorrow and continuing for over a week.”
PPS also said that Israeli police released a Palestinian youth from detention Saturday night, after he was detained over a Facebook post that called upon Palestinians to visit the mosque during the Passover. The week-long holiday, his post reportedly said, had a “dangerous effect” on conditions at Al-Aqsa.
PPS identified the youth as Muhammad Khalaf from the Palestinian city of Tamra in northern Israel.
His brother Islam Khalaf told Ma’an that after Israeli police released Muhammad from detention, Muhammad was placed under a seven-day house arrest, and was also banned from entering Jerusalem and from using Facebook for three months.
Islam said that he and his cousin Issa were also summoned for interrogation on Friday after they both commented on Muhammad’s post. They were released from detention after being banned from Al-Aqsa Mosque for 15 days.
The detentions came after Israeli authorities announced that Israel would impose a military closure on the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip for Passover, to begin on Sunday night at 11:59 p.m., and end on Monday April 17 at 11:59 p.m..
During the period, Palestinians will be prevented from entering Israel for any purpose, including work, with the exception of “special circumstances and humanitarian cases.”
Last month, Israeli authorities sealed the West Bank and tightened the decade-long closure of the Gaza Strip for the Jewish holiday of Purim, preventing movement both in and out of the occupied territory.
Such policies have been strongly criticized by rights groups for amounting to collective punishment, while blocking Palestinians who work in Israel and Jerusalem from accessing their jobs, exacerbating economic suffering in the territory.
Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities during Jewish holidays for alleged security purposes.
The Passover holiday in 2016 was marked by near-daily conflict as right-wing Israelis descended on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to perform religious rituals.
The third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site and carry out religious worship -- often under armed guard.
According to the Islamic Endowment that manages the compound, 2016 saw the highest number of incursions at the site by right-wing Israelis than previously recorded years, with the incursions being often accompanied by assaults on employees of the endowment.
Such visits spark frustration among Palestinians who see the incursions as a direct threat to Palestinian sovereignty and any potential for a future independent Palestinian state, which has been effectively marred by increasing settler presence across Palestinian land.