As a Palestinian watching the scenes unfold in my homeland on social media, I have been consumed by a range of conflicting emotions. I have felt pain and despair at these violent restrictions on basic Palestinian rights and freedoms; but I have also noticed a spirit of care and solidarity among Palestinians that has been inspiring.
How did we get here? Over the past week, thousands of Palestinians have been gathering to pray at al-Aqsa compound – one of the holy sites of Islam – in East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. But they have also been standing alongside the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, the neighbourhood from which numerous Palestinian families are facing eviction, in a move by Israel the United Nations has described as a possible war crime, given that it involves the transfer of “an occupying [power’s] civilian population into the territory that it occupies”.
Awaiting the worshippers at al-Aqsa has not been long nights of Qur’anic recitation or peaceful contemplation, as is the tradition during Ramadan, but rather a campaign of state-sanctioned terror. Israeli forces have launched a series of violent assaults on unarmed protesters. Twice in the last four days they have stormed the mosque itself, attacking worshipers inside the structure by firing stun grenades, teargas and rubber bullets, in what the media has too often wrongly described as a set of “clashes” or “skirmishes”.
The storming of al-Aqsa has taken place ahead of the annual Jerusalem Day march, during which thousands of far-right Israelis maraud through the Old City to celebrate their state’s capture of East Jerusalem. Despite facing overwhelming Israeli force, besieged Palestinians have remained steadfast in their refusal to leave. In the past, the settler mob has ended its march by praying in al-Aqsa compound: a provocative assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the site. But this year, as a result of the protests, the route was changed by the authorities, leading the organisers to cancel the entire thing. It is a small, perhaps only temporary, victory for Palestinians, but it is nonetheless a hugely significant one that sends a clear message to Israel and to the world: we will not leave.