Navigating Israeli Restrictions, Many Palestinians Find It Hard to Reach Al Aqsa

As the sermon about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sounded over the speakers from Al Aqsa Mosque, 13-year-old Yousef al-Sideeq sat on a bench outside the compound’s gates.

“Most Fridays they prevent me from getting in, for no reason,” the young Jerusalem resident said, referring to the Israeli police.

Every Friday, Yousef visits Jerusalem’s Old City to pray at Al Aqsa, the third holiest site for Muslims and part of the compound sacred to Jewish people, who call it the Temple Mount. But since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks and Israel’s ensuing bombardment of Gaza, heavily armed Israeli police forces who guard many of the Old City’s gates have stopped him from entering the compound, he said.

He has managed to get in only twice.

Muslim access to the mosque has long been a point of contention as Israel has exerted tighter control in recent years over the compound, one of many restrictions Palestinians living under decades of Israeli occupation have had to endure.

As Ramadan begins, many also fear what, if any, additional constraints Israel may impose on the religious site, which can draw 200,000 people in one day from not just Jerusalem but the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel as a whole.

The Israeli police said that people were “entering after enhanced security checks that are conducted due to the current reality, alongside efforts to prevent any disturbances.” But they did not answer specific questions about whether there was a policy preventing certain worshipers, especially young men, from entering the mosque on Friday.

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