Israeli police stand by and allow young worshippers to proceed to al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan, 2024.


Saeed Qaq/Anadolu via Getty Images

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Surprise and Joy: A Young Jerusalemite Man Returns to al-Aqsa Mosque to Pray after Months of Being Barred

The first Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem proceeded with unexpected calmness, especially given that the Israeli police had turned the city into a military barracks.

The Israeli police who are usually present at the entrances to the mosque and who normally harass everyone who passes through them disappeared from those gates and stationed themselves at the gates of the Old City instead. This took place despite threats issued earlier in the month by Israel’s Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, who urged extreme restrictions, such that only Muslims over the age of 70 would have been allowed in to pray during Ramadan.1

Many Jerusalemites use public transportation to reach the Old City, hoping to be able to enter al-Aqsa Mosque. Uday Nasser, 27, from the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, north of the Old City, took the light rail train, disembarking at the station opposite the Jerusalem Municipality building. From there, he walked to Jaffa Gate, one of the main gates to the Old City, but on the opposite side from the Damascus Gate, to the Muslim Quarter. To his surprise, he did not find any police present at the Jaffa Gate entrance.

He quickly filmed the situation on his phone and uploaded it to his social media. His goal was to alert Palestinian Jerusalemites that this particular entrance to the Old City was unexpectedly easily passable. He urged his network watching from home to come to al-Aqsa and pray in person.

His video spread quickly through the various WhatsApp groups.

Uday continued walking down from Jaffa Gate to Bab al-Silsila road. There he discovered a barrier opposite Bab al-Silsila at the entrance to al-Aqsa Mosque. Again, he was surprised that he was still not stopped, although he is from the gender and age categories that the Israeli police have been preventing from entering al-Aqsa for prayers since the al-Aqsa Flood Operation and Israel’s declaration of war on Gaza on October 7, 2023.

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An elderly Palestinian man from the West Bank flashes a victory sign celebrating having prayed at al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, March 15, 2024, after months of Israeli closure.

An elderly man with a Palestinian Authority ID card flashes a victory sign celebrating having successfully prayed at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on the first Friday of Ramadan, March 15, 2024. Many others were not so lucky; even if they had all their papers in order, they were still turned back.


Saeed Qaq/Anadolu via Getty Images

Uday shared with Jerusalem Story that he experienced indescribable joy the moment he entered al-Aqsa Mosque after such a long absence, saying, “By God, I wanted to kiss every stone, every tile, and every person I found there as an expression of my longing for this place—even the olive and cypress trees of the courtyards. I missed them.”2

“I wanted to kiss every stone, every tile, and every person I found there.”

Uday Nasser, Jerusalem resident, 27

As Uday spoke to Jerusalem Story, he held back his brimming tears. He thanked God for being able to enter the Haram al-Sharif compound and al-Aqsa Mosque, which he said is “our identity.” He continued, “Without al-Aqsa Mosque, we will not have an identity. Even Jerusalem will not have an identity without the religious places in it. Imagine Jerusalem without al-Aqsa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It will become an ordinary city like the rest of the cities in the world. Rather, it will be the least beautiful and splendid city.”

He said these words and then disappeared among the rows of worshippers inside the al-Qibli Mosque.

This calm first Friday prayer is clear proof that when Israel wishes, it can ease the burden on the people and restore calm to the city. Eighty thousand worshippers—from Jerusalem, within Israel, and even from the rest of the occupied West Bank, specifically Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron—all came to pray peacefully on this first Friday of Ramadan, although the numbers were much smaller than in previous years.3 Still, it was the quietest Friday in the Old City since October 7, 2023.4

It was the quietest Friday in the Old City since October 7, 2024.



Uday Nasser, interview by the author, March 15, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Nasser are from this interview.

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