Do Muslims and Jews have equal freedom of religion under Israel’s rule?

After a group of settlers attacked a mosque in one of the villages of Ramallah in the West Bank, the Israeli army put checkpoints at the entrances of the closest settlement and checked the identity of every person going in or out of the settlement. On grounds of fear of escalation the police in Jerusalem decided to allow Jewish worshipers entrance to the Western wall only for those above fifty years of age. Many Jewish leaders protested the actions of the police especially as the closure of the Western Wall coincides with the Jewish high holidays. The police pointed out to possible violence from young settlers if they enter the Western Wall plaza and claimed that their decision is essential for security purposes.

Don’t freak out. The above news didn’t happen. But Imagine, if the police did indeed limit Jewish worshipers from entering the Western Wall. There had been terror attacks carried by settlers in the past, but it has never led to any police actions similar to whats mentioned in the paragraph above. If such an action was to be carried by the police, It would be reported on the front page of every newspaper in Israel and perhaps in the world.

Would Israel ever limit Jewish worshipers in high holidays period from entering the Western wall? I doubt it. It could be the start of a civil war. Jews around the world would be enraged by such a decision regardless of any security justification. It would be considered as a collective punishment and a non democratic action.

But when it comes to Muslims, the standards in Israel are a little bit different.

Last week, after the terror attack in Sinai, 300 KM south of Jerusalem, The Israeli police decided to collectively punish the Muslims in Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities imposed tight restrictions on access to the mosque. The police prevented men under the age of fifty years from accessing the Aqsa mosque to pray. The Israeli police set up roadblocks at the entrances of Jerusalem’s old city and checked the identities of the worshipers before being allowed to pass. The feeling of discrimination and humiliation was intense among young Palestinians which led to clashes between thousands of Palestinians and the Israeli policemen. Police used tear gas to disperse the worshipers.

Al Aqsa mosque is the holiest mosque for Muslims in Palestine and is the third holiest mosque for Muslims across the world. In the Month of Ramadan hundreds of thousands of Palestinians come to pray in Al-Aqsa. West Bank Palestinians can come to prayer only if they receive a permit from the Israeli Authorities.  Since the start of the second Intifada, Israel restricted the access to the mosque according to age qualifications. The Israeli decision was justified as a security need.

In the last few weeks, Muslims from Israel, Jerusalem and some west bank residents were allowed to pray in Al-Aqsa mosque without causing any problems. However, after the Sinai attack, the Israeli police decided without presenting any justifications that it was too dangerous to allow young Muslims to pray in the mosque.

Israel’s claim to be a place that guarantees freedom of religion is questionable in light of its treatment of Muslims.  The fact that the state of Israel doesn’t hesitate in limiting Muslim worshipers from entering their holiest place in the country cannot be viewed as a tolerant or democratic action. If Israel is to keep calling itself a democracy, it should behave as one. Israel is failing its democratic values and claims when it comes to its treatment of the minorities.