Israeli police and Jewish settlers have attacked and provoked Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque for the third day in a row. Scores of Palestinians have been injured and the interior of the mosque has become severely damaged following Israeli police’s use of grenades, live and rubber bullets, and tear gas.
Jewish settlers have called for storming the religious site in recent days, in the wake of their celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Whereas in previous years, Israeli police would prevent Jewish settlers from accessing the Al-Aqsa Mosque area, in recent days Israeli forces have accompanied the settlers during their raids into the area and attacks on Palestinian worshippers.
These attacks come only one week after Israel designated the Mourabitoun and Mourabitat, which are groups of Palestinian men and women worshippers who aim to protect the mosque from attacks by Jewish extremists, as illegal organisations.
Al Jazeera spoke with Yousef Mukhaimar, the head of the Mourabitoun committee, about the latest developments.
Mukhaimar said that “the Israeli government could have prevented the latest crisis if they really wanted to by preventing the settlers from coming onto Muslim holy grounds. But the Israeli government wanted the situation between Israel and the Palestinians to flare up and create a crisis in order to achieve their goals of controlling our holy places”.
Al Jazeera: Who are the Mourabitoun?
Yousef Mukhaimar: Mourabitoun is a civic committee that was established seven years ago by a group of Muslims from Jerusalem and [Palestinian] Muslim citizens of Israel to maintain constant Muslim worship and learning seminars at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
We, in line with our Muslim faith, try to increase the scholarly learning of Islamic doctrines inside the mosque and support those who want to perform itikaf [a retreat inside the mosque for the sole purpose of worship and devotion to God].
Al Jazeera: How do you respond to the recent Israeli statements designating the Mourabitoun and Mourabitat illegal, and do you plan any action against this? Have any of the members been arrested by Israeli police?
Mukhaimar: Our response to the Israeli settlers’ and police’s storming of our holy places is to resist them and prevent them from enforcing their intended policy of dividing it between Muslims and Jews … and then eventually destroy it in order to build their alleged temple on the site of Islam’s third holiest shrine.
Although the Israeli government has designated our group illegal, we are not doing anything illegal. We are a group of peaceful and civic Muslim worshippers who want to maintain an active religious presence inside our own mosque.
And yes, they have arrested many of us in the past and scores have been injured as a result of the present Israeli provocations and attacks against us. Israelis made a law that punishes those who throw stones against them punishable by seven to 20 years [imprisonment].
But this, of course, will not deter us from dedicating ourselves to maintain our rightful right to worship peacefully inside our own holy places at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Al Jazeera: What can you tell us about Israel’s blacklist?
Mukhaimar: Israel has blacklisted many of those worshippers from coming to Al-Aqsa in order to decrease and discourage Palestinians from coming to worship. The list includes elderly men and women who regularly come here and worship and stay within the compound.
… we saw them [Israeli soldiers and settlers] moving in as if it was a war zone … armed with weapons and riot gear…
Al Jazeera: What is your group’s strategy to guard and protect Al-Aqsa?
Mukhaimar: Our strategy to protect Al-Aqsa is a peaceful one, which is to continue doing what we do. That is, to keep our presence there active for the purpose of worship and at the same time defend it against Israeli attacks and provocations against us.
We are trying to stand up to the Israeli government’s policies through emphasising our right to our holy places. Our resistance is really about our existence here. We show the Israelis that we are here, we belong to this land, and we are just not going anywhere, period.
Al Jazeera: What do the Israeli soldiers do during their raids?
Mukhaimar: This time around the Israeli government decided to allow groups of Israeli extremist settlers to come inside the mosque’s compound under their protection.
We were alerted to that when we saw them moving in as if it was a war zone. Then, they stormed the Al-Aqsa compound, moving in armed with weapons and riot gear, and started firing live bullets against us, inside the mosque.
Then they started firing tear gas and sound grenades, which burned a large part of the mosque’s carpets. We tried to hold our ground, but we could not face the armed Israeli police. We are unarmed while they use their weapons against us. They pushed us aside in order to allow settlers access to our mosque.