World Bulletin / News Desk
Wearing the cloak and customary white cloth-encased red Fez of Jerusalem's Muslim clergy, Kiswani tells his rapt listeners -- both young and elderly -- that their presence that night, and every other night of the last week, constituted “the most beautiful worship”.
The crowds had been protesting new security measures at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Kiswani, the mosque's director, had come down to the street below the Old City's Lions' Gate, to lend an air of religious authority to the gathering.
It was he who had first called on worshippers to refrain from entering the mosque some two weeks ago to protest the metal detectors installed at its entrances following an attack that killed two Israeli police officers and the three suspects -- the latter of whom were all Arab citizens of Israel.
Less than a week later, he and other members of the Waqf, the Muslim foundation mandated with managing the holy site, entered the mosque on the shoulders of those they had earlier led in prayers outside its threshold.
The tension, however, was still palpable -- many peeked over their shoulders at the clouds of stun grenades and flying stones behind them -- yet they nevertheless claimed their reentry into the site as a rare Palestinian victory.
They had forced the Israeli government to back down -- not only on the metal detectors, but also on other security measures rolled out during the crisis, including surveillance cameras and metal corridors through which worshippers would have had to pass before entering the holy site.
“We rejected all of Israel's measures, which you challenged with protection from God and with peace in the spirit of this time of resistance,” Grand Mufti Muhammad Hussein declared in the first Friday sermon to be delivered inside the mosque after the draconian measures were reversed.
Claiming victory, Ahmad Tibi, an Arab lawmaker in Israel's parliament, placed blame for the crisis firmly on the shoulders of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu retracted [the security measures]. We called him to retract. He is responsible for the bloodshed,” Tibi told Anadolu Agency following a press conference at which mosque leaders announced they would resume prayers inside the mosque compound.