"BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED"

Elizabeth Welliver (Davidson, North Carolina)

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I write from Jerusalem on an interfaith delegation of Muslims, Jews and Christians here to witness to the truths of the occupation. Yesterday, we heard that the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, would be re-opened to Muslims after two weeks time. It closed when the Israeli security  regime imposed restrictive measures following an individual incident of violence, placing restricted entry, security cameras, and metal detectors against the will of the international Mosque authorities with jurisdiction over the compound. Yet after many negotiations, Israel agreed these barriers would come down.

My heart leapt with joy to know my friends would be able to pray in this blessed place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended (peace be upon him). Tears came to my eyes when I learned that against all odds of the occupation, the people of Palestine and the Muslim leadership had their sovereignty acknowledged and the collective punishment for one isolated incident would end. 

I was far from the truth. 

After returning from the occupied West Bank and a day of conversations about Israeli apartheid measures and human rights violations, the radio came on. I will never forget our guide's words: "The news has come in that there has been an incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque..." Blood rushed out of my face as water came to my eyes; I could not believe the translated details as they were spoken.

Soldiers attacked innocent worshipers -- including women, children, and the elderly -- with tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound bombs on the grounds of the mosque. We heard shouting and saw videos of people running for their lives. We drove home behind a massive armed tank ready to release skunk water (damaging and terribly smelling pollutant) to disperse the crowd. From the hotel, we could see the smoke rising from the mosque compound, shots fired in the air as warning to leave.

The Israeli government planned this retaliation, and at the height of prayer, executed revenge on the vulnerable. I stood horrified, paralyzed, unable to comprehend what was happening before me, worried for all of my Muslim friends back home and abroad who would receive this devastating news. 

How can Zionism get away with this act of terrorism in a house of worship, one of the holiest in the world? They claimed that a Palestinian flag hung on the mosque provoked the incident. The real reason is that Israel was ashamed by their loss of control over "security," and therefore traumatized a crowd of thousands and millions of onlookers. One hundred people were injured because Zionism claims total power, total authority, total right to dehumanize and defame a sacred place (for Jews as well as Muslims) at any cost.

It is shameful for me to see this act as an American, knowing the tear gas and rubber bullets were likely made in the USA, that my home news media will not provide adequate coverage of this tragedy, that people will suspect somehow Muslims are at fault for this.

It shames me that 6,000 Palestinians are in jails that treat people like animals and convict them a 99.7% rate. The worst part is that my government is behind this apartheid, and my tax dollars are funding the collective decimation of Palestinian lives. 

My friends could not go to the mosque tonight to pray, and many shared concern about Friday’s events for Jummah prayer. In this moment, I remember the words of Jesus: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).

My prayers are with all those affected by tonight's violence, and all who are keeping watch at the mosque.