At Al Aqsa Mosque, Shards of Stained Glass Inform a Story of Battle

JERUSALEM — At a workshop on the sting of the Aqsa Mosque compound, Muhammad Rowidy spends hours hunched over panes of stained glass, painstakingly carving via white plaster to disclose geometric designs. Whereas he works, there’s a thought he can’t shake.

“You see this,” he stated, pausing and leaning again, “this takes months to complete, and in a single minute, in a single kick, all this tough work goes.”

Mr. Rowidy and dozens of different Palestinian artisans and staff keep and restore the historic mosques and different buildings within the 35-acre Aqsa Mosque compound revered by Muslims because the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews because the Temple Mount. They’re bracing for extra unrest.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on Wednesday and overlaps with the Jewish vacation of Passover in early April, elevating worries that the bigger numbers of worshipers and guests to the contested website will improve the opportunity of clashes.

The artisans there — together with a gold-leaf specialist, coppersmiths and wooden carvers — worry that their meticulous work might be destroyed, as has occurred in years previous. Their frustrations have been intensified by the tighter management Israel has exerted over the compound in recent times, making repairs tougher.

The employees on the mosque, the third holiest website in Islam, want approval from the Israeli authorities for repairs or replacements, down to each damaged window or smashed tile, based on the employees, directors of the location, and Israeli rights teams.

Jews consider that the compound is the placement of two historic temples and think about it the holiest website in Judaism. Lately, Jewish worshipers have prayed contained in the compound, a violation of an settlement that has been in place since 1967.

With the overlapping holidays this yr, there are issues that elevated visits and unauthorized prayers might provoke additional clashes between the Israeli police and Palestinians, as has been the case in earlier years.

The ambiance is already tense amid an escalation of violence within the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution. It has been the deadliest begin of a yr for Palestinians within the territory in additional than 20 years as settler violence will increase and as Israel steps up deadly raids in response to a collection of assaults by Palestinian armed teams.

Clashes on the Aqsa compound between baton-wielding riot police capturing tear fuel and sponge-tipped bullets and Palestinians throwing stones and fireworks have left a path of damaged home windows and different harm in recent times. After the violence, Mr. Rowidy and his colleagues are left to select up the items.

Damaged stained-glass home windows line the highest of the Qibli Mosque, certainly one of two major buildings contained in the Aqsa compound, together with the Dome of the Rock, a gold-domed prayer corridor.

The artisans say it will probably typically take years to safe approvals for repairs.

Bassam al-Hallaq, an architect who has labored at Al Aqsa Mosque for greater than 40 years, overseeing artisans and staff, stated that in 2019, the Israeli police detained and handcuffed him for hours after he tried to switch a tile with out approval. He retains newspaper clippings about his expertise taped to a submitting cupboard in his workplace as a reminder.

“The occupation desires to say that it’s in management and nothing occurs with out their approval,” Mr. al-Hallaq stated, referring to Israel’s maintain on East Jerusalem. “They don’t seem to be working based on the settlement” governing the compound, he added.

The Israeli police stated that upkeep on the website was “not below the duty” of officers. However, to keep up safety and order, the police stated, “coordination and escort are required.”

Incidents on the compound have typically served as a spark within the broader Palestinian-Israeli battle.

In 2000, a visit to the location by Ariel Sharon, who later grew to become Israel’s prime minister, surrounded by a whole bunch of law enforcement officials, set off the second intifada, or Palestinian rebellion. Extra not too long ago, the safety minister in Israel’s right-wing authorities, Itamar Ben-Gvir, angered Palestinians and regional Muslim states by visiting the compound.

Mr. al-Hallaq stated the connection between the compound’s staff and the police started to fray after Mr. Sharon’s go to. However the staff stated that the state of affairs had turn out to be significantly troublesome up to now few years.

The police didn’t reply to a query about why approval to repair all of the home windows on the Qibli Mosque had not been given.

The Jerusalem municipality referred inquiries to the prime minister’s workplace. The prime minister’s workplace didn’t reply to the requests for remark.

The compound’s oversight is dealt with by an Islamic belief referred to as the Waqf, managed and funded by Jordan below an unwritten settlement with Israel, which has general safety authority and maintains a small police station inside.

Israel says that there was no change to the established order that has existed on the website for the reason that nation captured and annexed East Jerusalem, together with the Previous Metropolis and the Aqsa compound, in 1967. A lot of the world sees that annexation as unlawful and doesn’t acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

The police have up to now few years elevated their presence contained in the compound, together with monitoring the artisans’ work and escorting Jewish worshipers, stated Yitzhak Reiter, president of the nonprofit Center East and Islamic Research Affiliation of Israel who focuses on battle decision in holy locations.

The connection between the police, the Waqf directors and the artisans who work on the compound has devolved right into a give-and-take, Mr. Reiter stated.

“In order that they negotiate each small piece of labor and so they anticipate to get one thing in return,” akin to reviewing Friday sermons earlier than they’re delivered, he stated of the Israeli authorities.

Throughout police raids into the compound and clashes final yr, officers barricaded Palestinian worshipers, together with some who had thrown stones, into the Qibli Mosque and padlocked the doorways, damaging handles and wooden, based on witnesses and movies. Officers then climbed onto the roof and broke home windows to fireplace tear fuel and sponge-tipped bullets at these inside. The Palestinians threw rocks again.

Mr. Rowidy, 41, stated it was simple to inform which aspect had damaged which home windows. These fully smashed have been carried out by the Israeli police with batons, he stated. A video posted on Fb throughout the unrest reveals one of many home windows being damaged, with what seems to be a baton, from the roof exterior.

As compared, Palestinians who threw stones had knocked massive holes within the home windows, he stated.

Within the workshop, Bassam Ayesh, 42, watched Mr. Rowidy engaged on a semicircular window from the Qibli. The glass was broken final yr, initially by Palestinians, earlier than being fully destroyed by Israeli officers, who used the opening to shoot tear fuel and sponge-tipped bullets into the mosque, Mr. Rowidy stated.

“As we work on it, we are saying to one another, ‘How lengthy will this final? 5 minutes?’” stated Mr. Ayesh, who attracts the geometric designs for every window.

Mr. al-Hallaq, the architect, studied in Greece earlier than returning to work on the mosque he grew up praying in. Many of the staff study their commerce contained in the compound as older generations go down data and methods, Mr. Rowidy stated.

After Ramadan final yr, the artisans took down the window’s picket body, eliminated the damaged glass and plaster, and commenced a cautious reconstruction.

First, they set a brand new sheet of glass and poured plaster on each side. Mr. Ayesh then drew the geometric design on the plaster in tender charcoal.

Utilizing a small choose, Mr. Rowidy slowly moved alongside the outlines, eradicating plaster little by little to disclose the glass beneath. Within the workshop, the one sounds have been the scratching of choose towards plaster, a fan and a recitation of the Quran taking part in within the background.

Outdoors, within the courtyard subsequent to the Dome of the Rock, a few of their colleagues labored to repair an underground pipe. Two law enforcement officials saved watch.

Close by, closely armed police escorted Jewish worshipers across the compound. A few of them overtly prayed.

Taking a break from engaged on the window, Mr. Rowidy entered the Qibli Mosque and surveyed the damaged home windows, some courting to the Ottoman Empire, that he hopes to restore someday.

“When a window like this will get damaged, God, my coronary heart will get damaged with it,” he stated, pointing at a big pink and blue window. “I’m nervous concerning the days to return.”

Hiba Yazbek and Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.