Today, I left Jerusalem for Amman, where I will be returning to Canada. As I was leaving my hotel to find a taxi to take me to the Jordanian border, I saw a large gathering outside Damascus Gate, one of the largest entrances to the Old City. I asked a bystander what was happening, and he said that the Israeli military had closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Muslims, after rumors that there was going to be a protest over Israel's actions against the Gaza aid flotilla.
For some Palestinians who come to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, they must wait months, or even years, to get a permit from the Israeli government to visit Jerusalem. There were men pleading with Israeli officers to let them enter to Old City to pray. But the military was steadfast. My initial thought was that a denial of people's right to pray might cause more protests, and defeat Israel's intent to quell a protest. This is yet another example of a Israeli policy that exacerbates the opposite of its stated intent.
I heard later (from Anna Baltzer's blog) that when the call to prayer started, the men got as close to the walls as possible, and started praying, some kneeling in the dirt without prayer mats. Calm overcame the area, as the men (young children and elderly alike) bowed down in unison, praying. When the imam began his sermon, everyone listened intently. Some expected the sermon to address the injustices that the Palestinians were experiencing at the moment, but instead it was about compassion in Islam. The imam asked that their prayers be accepted even though they could not be inside the walls of the mosque. He said, "Someday, we will live in a place where it doesn't matter what color your skin is, or where you're from." And the group answered a collective "Amen."
(Above photo: Anna Baltzer)