Palestinians have launched a new campaign called The Great Fajr to protest Israeli presence and measures at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and Tomb of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah) in Hebron.
Some of the organizers on Saturday expressed hope that the campaign, which urges Palestinians to participate in mass dawn prayers in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip mosques, would lead to a new uprising against Israel.A Palestinian Authority security official in Ramallah, meanwhile, warned that Hamas and other extremist groups may be planning to hijack the campaign in order to undermine the PA and destabilize the situation in the West Bank.
“We are watching this campaign very closely,” the official said. “We want to make sure that the organizers don’t exploit it to incite against the Palestinian Authority or carry out violent attacks [against Israel] that would be harmful to the interests of our people.”
In the context of the campaign, which has been endorsed by both Hamas and Fatah, the PA's ruling Fatah faction, thousands of Palestinians have attended the fajr (dawn) prayer, the first of the five daily prayers performed by practicing Muslims, at Aqsa Mosque and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi (Sanctuary of Abraham).
Palestinians have been strongly condemning visits to the Temple Mount by Jewish groups, claiming the tours are designed to pave the way for a Jewish takeover of the holy site.
Palestinians have also accused Israel of imposing various restrictions on Muslims wishing to pray at Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron.
In addition, tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attended the dawn prayer in several mosques during the past week.
Since the launching of the campaign, thousands of Palestinians have converged on the Temple Mount each morning to attend the dawn prayer. The large turnout, notwithstanding the cold and rain, surprised the Jerusalem Police and Arab residents of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Last Friday, the police entered the Temple Mount to disperse thousands of Palestinians who demonstrated immediately after the dawn prayer and chanted slogans against Israel and Jews. Palestinian sources said at least five protesters were lightly wounded.
Among the slogans chanted by the protesters after the dawn prayer: “Khaybar Khaybar, Ya Yahud, Jaish Mohammed Sawfa Ya’ud” – reference to the Battle of Khaybar in the year 628, when Muslims attacked Jews living in the oasis of Khaybar, located 93 miles from Medina, and forced them to surrender. The Jews were permitted to continue living in Khaybar on the condition that they would give one-half of their produce to the Muslims.
Another slogan used by the protesters in Jerusalem, Hebron and Gaza Strip mosques: “O’ Coward Settler, Aqsa [Mosque] Won’t Be Humiliated.”
Palestinians describe all Jews who have been touring the Temple Mount as “extremist settlers” who are “invading” Aqsa Mosque.
The event was covered by the PA's Palestine TV although Israel recently banned the station from operating in Jerusalem.
“The Great Fajr campaign has been very successful, especially in Jerusalem and Hebron,” said Mohammed Ashour, a Palestinian cleric and one of the organizers of the protests. “We have managed to force Israel to recruit hundreds of soldiers and policemen and send them to the holy sites very early in the morning. This is very tough for the policemen and soldiers.”
Eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post that many protesters in Jerusalem and Hebron also chanted slogans denouncing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, Syrian President Bashar Assad and other Arab heads of state.
“The campaign aims to foil Israel’s scheme to take over our holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron,” a Fatah-affiliated organizer told the Post. “The Palestinian Authority has not been able to stop Israel from pursuing its effort to divide Aqsa Mosque between Jews and Muslims.”
He and other east Jerusalem Fatah activists said that the campaign was also aimed at forcing Israel to allow Muslims to reopen the Bab a-Rahma prayer site on the Temple Mount. Also known as the Gate of Mercy or Golden Gate, Bab a-Rahma was last year reopened by the Palestinians for the first time since it was closed by an Israeli court order 16 years ago.
The Jerusalem Police closed the site again a few months ago. However, Palestinians recently again returned to the site, triggering daily skirmishes with police officers stationed at the Temple Mount.
The protests in Hebron, on the other hand, are designed to pressure Israel to end restrictions imposed on Palestinians living in the city, particularly in the area adjacent to the Jewish Community homes.
“Our hope is that the daily prayer will develop into large-scale protests against Israeli occupation,” explained Sheikh Talal Natsheh, an imam from Hebron. “The next intifada will be launched from the mosques. We are very encouraged by the large number of people who are heeding our call to participate in the dawn prayers. We are hoping that the protests will spread to other mosques in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the coming days.”
Khaled Abu Arafeh, a Hamas-affiliated official from east Jerusalem, said on Saturday that the latest campaign “marks the beginning of a new phase in the conflict with Israel.” The campaign, he added, came in response to “recurring assaults by Israel on Islamic holy sites in the past few years.” Abu Arafeh previously served as minister for Jerusalem affairs in a Hamas-run government.