Israeli Jews dress as Muslims to defy Al-Aqsa prayer ban

Israeli Jews dress as Muslims to defy Al-Aqsa prayer ban
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Israeli Jews dress as Muslims to defy Al-Aqsa prayer ban

Right-wing Israeli Jews dress as Muslims to enter the Al-Aqsa compound in efforts to change the status quo and defy the Al-Aqsa prayer ban.

By Arwa Ibrahim and Rima Mustafa

Published On 16 Mar 2022

Occupied East Jerusalem – Israeli Jewish activist Raphael Morris has a lot to do before his unauthorised visit to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

The 26-year-old swaps his orthodox Jewish clothes with a thobe – a traditional garment also called a dishdasha or jalabiya, worn by many Palestinian men, and his black kippa for a white prayer skullcap. Peering into a mirror, he slicks his long, dark sidelocks back with hair gel to hide them under the cap, mumbling a few Arabic words to refresh his memory.

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Morris is one of a small group of right-wing Israeli Jews who try to circumvent a ban on non-Muslims praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by disguising themselves as Muslims and joining rows of worshippers during communal prayers.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, a delicate status quo was agreed with Jordan – the custodian of Islamic sites in the city – giving Muslims the sole right to pray at Al-Aqsa and Jews at the nearby Western Wall.

The Al-Aqsa compound or al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) is Islam’s third-holiest site. It encompasses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, from where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jews believe the Biblical Jewish temples once stood at the Noble Sanctuary, which they call Temple Mount.

Set up by Morris and his wife nine years ago, his organisation, Returning to the Mount, encourages Jews to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by sneaking in among Muslim worshippers.

They believe their actions will pave the way for “full Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount and building a Jewish temple over the Dome of the Rock,” said Morris, explaining that they also try to keep the Israeli public engaged with the issue by holding demonstrations and working to influence parliament and the media.

According to Morris, tens of Israeli Jews circumvent the ban on a daily basis at times, and the number of people contacting his organisation to seek guidance on entering and praying at the site continues to rise.

The group members go as far as taking Arabic classes, learning enough of the language and verses from the Quran to talk their way through security checkpoints without getting caught by Israeli police or Palestinian security guards at the compound gates.

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“There are tens of thousands of Muslims who pass through these gates every day. Our target is to blend in and not get caught,” Morris told Al Jazeera as he showed some of the “costumes” he wears to enter the site.

While the “professionals” among the group can stand side-by-side with Muslim worshippers by mimicking their movements, he explained, “the less experienced enter when it’s emptier”.

Israeli Jews dress as Muslims to defy Al-Aqsa prayer ban  Al Jazeera English

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