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“Colonial Violence Is the Norm”: Israel Raids Al-Aqsa Mosque, Injuring 160+, Arresting Hundreds

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At least 19 were injured around occupied Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday after a violent crackdown by Israeli police cleared out worshipers from the compound. It was the second raid since Friday, when Israeli police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas on unarmed Palestinians, resulting in the arrest of more than 300 and at least 158 injuries. This latest violence in Jerusalem comes as the holy days of Ramadan and Passover overlap. Meanwhile, Western media has been describing the attacks as “clashes” and using other obfuscatory language “as if there is no imbalance of power here, as if there is no nuclear state using its rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against worshipers at a mosque,” says Palestinian writer Mohammed El-Kurd.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We begin today’s show in occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the second time in three days, clearing worshipers from the third-holiest site in Islam. Nineteen Palestinians were injured. Some were hit by rubber-coated steel bullets. Over 150 Palestinians were injured in another raid at the mosque Friday. On Sunday, Palestinians described how Israeli police blocked their access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

PALESTINIAN MAN: [translated] We were forced out of the Al-Aqsa Mosque after the dawn prayer. Then Jewish settlers started to enter. After we saw two groups of them, we started to chant, and the Israeli forces tried to detain me. They are invading in big numbers. During this holiday, it is known every year that they, the Jewish visitors, invade the Al-Aqsa Mosque. I am calling on everyone who can reach Al-Aqsa gates to come and support us.

AMY GOODMAN: To protest Israel’s violent crackdown, the United Arab List political party has suspended its participation in Israel’s coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who lost his majority last week.

For more, we’re joined by Mohammed El-Kurd. He’s the Palestinian writer and poet, the Palestine correspondent for The Nation magazine.

Mohammed, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you describe the series of events this weekend that have led to, what, almost 170, if not more, Palestinians being injured at Al-Aqsa?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

You know, over the weekend, starting on Friday, almost 500 Palestinians were arrested by the Israeli occupation authorities from Al-Aqsa Mosque, and, as you said, 170 were injured, several of whom were in critical condition and several of whom were journalists, that we saw on video were targeted by design by the Israeli soldiers. And some had their cameras broken. Some had rubber-coated steel bullets hit their heads.

This is not particularly a unique incident. You know, violence, colonial violence, is the norm in occupied Jerusalem. And we see this kind of escalation and violations happen in Al-Aqsa Mosque constantly. What is particularly alarming here is the Israeli occupation authorities’ attempt to install a new status quo, similar to the one in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, where Palestinian Muslims are forced to share their holy site, their mosque, their 980-year-old mosque, with Jewish settlers. And it should raise eyebrows, because the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Damascus Gate are maybe the only remaining public spaces for Palestinians in the entirety of Jerusalem, where Palestinian existence is criminalized, where a Palestinian taking up space is criminalized.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is, yes, the third-holiest site in Islam, but it’s not only that. It is a social site. It’s a political site. It’s a site where I, as a teenager, used to go and study for my tests. And if we are robbed from that, then in our native city we do have any public spaces left.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what led up to what took place this weekend?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Well, you know, there is a bunch of Jewish groups, some of whom have fantasies of demolishing Al-Aqsa and installing a temple on top of it, were calling for invasions of Al-Aqsa, some of which were saying that if you sacrifice a goat on the Temple Mount, you’ll get this sum of money as a reward. And, you know, we understand that the Israeli authorities are in partnership, are in collusion with the Israeli settlers, and so they have made the situation easy for them.

But in no way is this a new thing or — this is, in fact, a routine, and this is something we see all the time. And I believe that since it’s becoming a lot more visible, it is an opportunity for journalists, particularly Western media, to be able to describe this objectively, because we have been seeing — for the past weekend, we have been seeing a lot of describing this as “clashes,” as if there is no imbalance of power here, as if there is no nuclear state using its rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against worshipers at a mosque.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the far-right Jewish group Return to Temple Mount that offered a reward to anyone who sacrificed a goat inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yeah, I mean, I think the adjective here, the proper adjective here, is “fanatic,” right? This is a group with some kind of religious fantasy that they are trying really hard to fulfill. And, to them, it’s an awakening of a ritual. If they are sacrificing this animal on Al-Aqsa compound, or what they call the Temple Mount, then they are resurrecting that temple, or they are starting the resurrection of that temple. But I don’t know much about that group, particularly, but I know that it’s not — I wouldn’t call it far-right. It’s not a fringe group. This is an idea that is shared widely by settlers in Jerusalem, in which they want to dismantle Al-Aqsa, and they want to install a new status quo in which either there’s no more Al-Aqsa or that Muslim Palestinians can only attend it and be in it during certain times of the day.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the media describing what’s taking place as “clashes,” Mohammed?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s as though we are not seeing dozens and dozens of videos of Israeli occupation forces breaking windows of the mosque, as if we’re not seeing videos of them targeting children and beating them with batons or targeting journalists and beating them with batons. To put this — to set up a false equivalence in which we are referring to these raids, these violations, these clear violations as “clashes,” we are not being objective journalists here. We are simply being mouthpieces for the Israeli government. We are parroting the official Israeli narrative. And this has happened also last year. This happens all the time. And I always try to invite journalists to take the opportunity to actually be objective and refer to an internationally recognized occupation as such, to refer to soldiers, dozens of soldiers, using batons and rubber bullets and tear gas against unarmed civilians as such. There are no clashes, in which the powers are not equal.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the numbers of Israelis and Palestinians who have died in the last few weeks?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I’m not aware of the numbers, but I know that in the past three days alone, over a dozen Palestinians were killed. A mother of six, who was partially blind, was shot down in the street for no reason other than, quote, “looking suspicious.” I know that young Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp have been shot and killed in the past few days. I know that a Palestinian lawyer and a member of the Public Committee Against the Wall in Nablus, in Beita, has died, has been killed by the Israeli occupation forces as he took his nephews and nieces to school.

I understand that Palestinian death is a common occurrence that does not raise anybody’s eyebrows in Western media. And that disparity is what needs to be addressed. The statistics show the disparity in the deaths, and the statistics show who is the true victim of systemic material violence, institutional violence, violence backed by legality, by the judicial system. It is the Palestinians, because we continue living under 70 years of Zionist colonization, that murders us in the street, that robs us of our homes, that exiles us, that keeps us in an open-air prison.

AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you can talk more about the Israeli raids throughout the West Bank. I’m looking at a New York Times piece that says, “For the past week, Israeli forces have carried out a widespread campaign of raids into towns and cities across the West Bank, in a response to a wave of recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel that have killed 14 people. … At least 14 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of Ramadan on April 2, including 16-year-old Mohammad Zakarneh, who was shot and killed on Sunday during one of the Israeli raids in Jenin, his mother said.” Mohammed El-Kurd?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: You know, the positioning of these raids as some kind of response or some kind of retaliation is dishonest, because these raids happen whether or not Palestinians commit any acts. These raids are, by design, part of Israel’s colonial violence against Palestinians. I know this because we see every single — every single day. If you look at Palestinian media, if you follow Palestinians on social media, you see every single day the raids, that have never abated for the past 70 years. But it is only when Israelis are affected, it is only when Israelis, the settlers’ sense of peace is disturbed, that we have international eyes looking at the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about Sheikh Jarrah, your community, where you’ve been detained as you fight to prevent homes from being demolished there, including fighting against being forced out of your own. You and your twin sister Muna were arrested and detained last year in the campaign to prevent the forced expulsion of Palestinians there. In February, you wrote about the Israeli Israeli member of parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir, who decided to move his office from the Knesset, from the Israeli parliament, to a yard in Sheikh Jarrah?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yes, absolutely. And this is — you know, it sounds like a bizarre circus act almost. Why would an Israeli politician decide to move his office into somebody’s backyard? But this actually has happened way more many — way so many times, more than I can count, in fact, with many other politicians who have set up office, makeshift offices, on our streets for purely political gain, right? It’s a performance. It’s a spectacle in which they are hoping to attain some kind of political popularity. And this is happening. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the same politician, has now decided to move his, quote-unquote, “office” from our neighbor’s backyard in Sheikh Jarrah to Damascus Gate, where Palestinians are being brutalized and assaulted by the occupation forces for simply taking up a space that has historically been a public space for Palestinians.

I also want to just note that all of this is also happening in response to community organizing, be it in Sheikh Jarrah or in Silwan or in Damascus Gate or in Al-Aqsa Mosque. In fact, over — on Saturday and Friday, we have seen Israeli forces attack and assault Palestinians with batons and tear gas. We have seen people with bruised eyes because of the rubber bullets. We have seen all of that. But what we didn’t see much of is, in fact, you know, the 500 Palestinians that were arrested — Palestinian drivers of Israeli public transportation were summoned to transfer them to detention centers, and many of these Palestinian drivers actually walked away from their buses, declined to do so, fearing not any consequences. We did not see also that there were hundreds of Palestinians waiting outside of the jail cells — waiting outside of the jailhouses and bailing out random Palestinian strangers and taking them back home, sometimes hours away from Jerusalem. This kind of community organizing, this kind of mutual aid is also empowering, and we haven’t been seeing much of it in American media.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask about the journalists that have been attacked covering Al-Aqsa. In Ukraine, we’re hearing about one journalist after another being injured, being killed, and the whole discussion by the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, deeply concerned by what he talks about, the occupied territories. And I was wondering if you could make some comparisons. I’m using the journalists as an example, but the Journalist Support Committee documented Israeli attacks on photojournalist Rami al-Khatib, the journalist Nasreen Salem and a third unnamed female photojournalist by Jewish soldiers at Al-Aqsa. Can you describe what happened and talk about the comparison, as we wrap up, Mohammed?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: The attacks on journalists are as routine as it gets. This is a part of the Israeli colonial establishment, to attack journalists, to let people know that “if you attempt to not only resist, but if you merely attempt to document our violations, our crimes, then you are going to be punished.” This is also echoed outside of the physical realm, outside of just physical attacks on journalists. But we are sitting sanctions on Palestinian journalists in many Western countries and baseless accusations of bigotry. This is the same kind of attacks we are seeing with censoring Palestinian voices on social media and elsewhere.

I’m not particularly interested in making comparisons. I think everybody — you know, anybody with any critical thinking skills is able to look at the bitter contrast in which how Ukrainian resistance has been met, whereas how Palestinian resistance has been vilified. I think anybody is able to look at how rapidly the world responded to the Russian occupation versus the 70 years of ongoing Zionist colonization that no one has batted an eye to almost.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mohammed El-Kurd, I want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian writer and poet, Palestine correspondent for The Nation magazine. He is the author of a volume of poetry titled Rifqa.

Next up, Republican-led states are enacting a wave of new abortion bans, with four more states doing this just last week. Stay with us.

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