On the final day of classes before exam week was set to begin, the name Al Aqsa Mosque emerged from a pile of terms my classmates were asked to define. One student outlined its significance in Islamic history, another mentioned its construction date, and another, in a seemingly arrogant tone, explained that she had been yelled at for getting too near to the compound, that although she had not visited during the appropriate tour hours, she felt unwelcome.
My immediate thoughts:
You were yelled at for getting too close to Al Aqsa Mosque? I’m yelled at for even attempting to reach Jerusalem. You missed your tour time? My “tour” ended in the summer of 2004. At age 13, I watched an Israeli soldier arbitrarily force my aunt, who was born and raised under occupation in Palestine, to wait at a checkpoint until she was ultimately denied entry. I returned the very next day, this time with a different relative, and was lucky to be granted permission to visit a limited number of districts in Jerusalem before my permission expired in a matter of hours. I and my family members — immediate and distant — are no longer allowed to pray at the Dome of the Rock or to see Al Aqsa Mosque in the flesh. In fact, we aren’t even allowed in the West Bank. No more tours for me.
Being verbally admonished for standing just a few meters too close to a religious compound is infinitely better than being physically dragged or pushed away from a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers with American accents who assume total authority over whether or not you will be attending congregational Friday prayer that week.
Today, while you complain about feeling unwelcome, hundreds of Palestinians are forced between iron gates. Some will face the butt of a standard issue rifle and many others will be humiliatingly forced to return home. The rest are the “lucky” few, but nowhere near as lucky as you.