Friday Prayers Draw 70,000 Palestinians to Al Aqsa Mosque


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Rabat – Thousands of Palestinian Muslims performed their prayers in front of the iconic Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem on Friday, April 16. Israeli authorities banned most worshippers from entering the mosque, resulting in a spectacle of thousands praying in front of the golden dome of Islam’s third holiest site.

Palestinian Muslims flocked to the Al Aqsa mosque to mark the first Friday of Ramadan after missing out on such traditions during last Ramadan, which took place during lockdown. Roughly 10,000 Palestinians were able to cross into East Jerusalem because they have received the required vaccination. 

Still, for most Palestinians, the required vaccine to travel remains elusive. The occupied territories have not seen a vaccination drive anywhere near as extensive as the campaign within Israel’s borders. 

Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) released a statement on the ongoing restrictions against COVID-19 that are disproportionately affecting Palestinians. “The measures are being taken to allow freedom of worship and religion on one hand, and on the other hand, prevent to the extent possible the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” COGAT stated.

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For many Palestinians, the restricted nature of Ramadan in 2021 is still preferable to 2020 when both Israel and Palestinian authorities introduced lockdowns to stem the spread of COVID-19. 

This Friday, as 70,000 worshippers gathered in front of the golden dome of Al Aqsa, the return of public Ramadan prayers is a sign that slowly life is returning to normal despite the continued presence of COVID-19 worldwide.

A return to normal is still not a situation Palestinians are looking forward to amid continued repression by Israeli forces. Friday’s gathering of worshippers at Al Aqsa was disrupted as security services arrested eight young men after they attempted to enter for prayers. Clashes occurred in several Jerusalem neighborhoods where residents noted a heavy police presence.

The large-scale outpouring for Friday prayers follows days of tensions. Israeli security forces disconnected Al Aqsa’s power supply on Wednesday April 14, in order to stop its broadcast of the Islamic call to prayer amid an Israeli remembrance ceremony.