As tensions rise in the Old City of Jerusalem, hundreds of people gathered on Delmar Boulevard in University City Sunday evening to show their support — some for Palestinians and others for the Israeli government.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) organized the march to protest new Israeli security measures at prayer sites in Jerusalem. Metal detectors and security cameras were installed after the mosque was temporarily closed on July 14, when three Palestinian civilians and two Israeli officers were killed in clashes nearby.
At the St. Louis area march, protesters demanded freedom for Muslims to worship without harassment and extra security measures when entering the Jerusalem compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque. The compound is an area also referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount.
However, for many St. Louisans the gathering was about more than the installation of new metal detectors at the holy site in Jerusalem.
CAIR intern and member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee Neveen Ayesh, a Muslim, is Palestinian-American and spoke to the St. Louis-area crowd about the ongoing conflict.
“It’s what’s going to come after the metal detectors and what’s going to come with the metal detectors,” she said. “It’s just another way to put [Palestinians] on a leash and try to control them.”
Marchers carried signs and chanted “free free Al-Aqsa” and “end the siege on Aqsa now.” In a show of international solidarity, people waved flags from the United States, Palestine, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Jordan.
Sunday’s march was attended by many Muslims, members of the Palestinian-American community, and activists from local social justice organizations including the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace and Progressive Youth Association.
There was also a counter demonstration in support of Israel’s new security measures. Attendees held Israeli flags and signs advocating for Israel’s right to defend itself.
The pro-Palestinian marchers and pro-Israeli demonstrators didn’t cross paths, but Jewish-Israeli Boaz Steiner took it upon himself to walk amongst the pro-Palestinian protesters.
Steiner is an advocate for Israel’s new security measures and said he thinks it’s more useful to speak directly to pro-Palestinians instead of standing at the pro-Israeli demonstration.
“I am a person who lived there and understand the situation on the ground truly,” he said. “Other religious sites around the world have security measures, why can’t Israel?”
But Jewish-American Michael Berg disagrees. As a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace and St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, he’s participated in many demonstrations calling for equal rights for Palestinian citizens. He also gave a speech at the rally.
“The rate of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian inhabitants of the Old City and east Jerusalem is accelerating,” he said. “We’ll continue to be out, fight and advocate until there’s justice,” he said.
After the march, pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered for evening prayers in the parking lot behind Cicero’s on Delmar Boulevard. The imam who lead the prayer recited specific prayers advocating for the end of Israel’s occupation of east Jerusalem.
Many participants also signed a petition organized by CAIR to bring awareness of the military occupation of Palestinian territories to St. Louis-area government officials.
“We’re telling them to speak out and say no and to stop funding [Israel’s military occupation],” Neveen Ayesh said. “We are going to continue to raise awareness, near or far. This is something sacred to our hearts.”