Among the speakers at the press conference, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace – Chicago, were Rabbi Michael Davis from the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Rabbinical Council, G. Abdullah Mitchell, Executive Director of CIOGC, Don Wagner from the Friends of Sabeel North America (Palestinian Christian solidarity organization), Martin Levine, Former Director of the Chicago Jewish Community Centers (JCC), Izabella Banka, Chicago Coordinator for American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and Rev. Lisa Lopez of Christ Presbyterian Church.
Israeli authorities’ removal of Muslim custodians from Al Aqsa Mosque and restricting access to the mosque for Muslim worshippers is illegal and suppresses the free exercise of religion. CIOGC condemns the crackdown on religious freedom in the Holy Land and the aggressive occupation of this important Islamic sanctuary.
As one of the three holiest places for Muslims, Al Aqsa Mosque holds great historical significance in the Islamic faith. Muslims were first commanded to turn towards Al Aqsa for prayer, before the Kaaba in Mecca was declared as the qiblah (the direction in which Muslims pray).
Currently, Masjid Al Aqsa is militarized with the presence of Israeli soldiers with high-powered weapons. Although metal detectors and security cameras have been removed, the Holy site has been occupied through the implementation of police orders restricting or denying who is allowed to come and pray, including the barring of male worshippers under the age of 50. CIOGC calls for these restrictions on access and daily movement from worshipping in the mosque come to an immediate end.
Usurping the control and autonomy of the Muslim custodians of this religious compound violates international law, restricts freedom of religion, and contravenes the internationally agreed upon status of the Al Aqsa compound.
CIOGC encourages people of faith and conscience to urge their religious leaders and political representatives to join the call for the return of control of the Al Aqsa compound to its Muslim custodians and for the elimination of all imposed rules banning or regulating who may worship at this Holy site.