After the US announced to recognise occupied Jerusalem as the so-called capital of Israel, I instantly recalled my visit to the third holiest place in Islam.
In 2014, my long-cherished dream of visiting Masjid Al-Aqsa in occupied Palestine finally came true. Since Kashmir and Palestine share a common story of military occupation, oppression and resistance, I yearned to meet the souls who keep the flame of Palestine resistance burning. After receiving an entry permit from the Israeli authorities with a heavy heart, I kept on gazing at the words ‘State of Israel’ inscribed on it.
As we were travelling through the Jordan, we deleted all conflict-related videos and pictures from our cell phones as a precautionary measure. And kept on reminding each other to not mention that we are from Kashmir. We programmed our brains to forget our identity.
After travelling miles, we entered the world’s oldest city Jericho, the food basket of Palestine, and stayed there for a while.
In the name of security checking, the Israeli occupational forces harass the visitors at every step. And the worst part is that it’s the female security officers who do the checking. I no longer consider the checking at our Srinagar airport as harassment after I saw what Palestinians go through every day at Israeli checkpoints.
The aura of Palestine compels every visitor to think how blessed the holy land is: the olives, the dates, the vegetables, everything that comes in your way is a gift from Almighty. We finally made it to Jerusalem, our Al-Quds, where our accommodation was just a stone’s throw from the mosque. Next day, I left alone to offer the dawn prayers in Al-Aqsa mosque. On way to Al-Aqsa, a car suddenly stopped in front of me and the driver asked me, “Where are you from?” When I told him that I came from Kashmir, he got down from the car, hugged me and kissed my forehead as if a Palestinian was released from the Israeli jail after many years. I was amazed the way Palestinians love and respect Kashmiri people.
The alleys leading to Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem seem to be screaming for justice for every Palestinian who has been killed by Israeli forces.
The first glance at the Dome of the Rock is a magnificent view which can’t be described in words. As I tried to enter the premises of Al-Aqsa mosque, two heavily armed men with face masks and loaded with ammunition bags suddenly appeared at the gates. One could easily recognise them by the ‘Star of David’ on their uniforms and flags which are often burnt in Kashmir on Al-Quds day.
As I entered Al-Aqsa mosque, I offered the prayers and found most of the worshippers old men who told me that the Israeli forces restrict entry of most of the youth to the mosque.
As I moved around Jerusalem, the Israeli forces made it a point to send an unmistakable message: Palestine is an occupied land.
Text and pictures by Faisal Khan
The photo feature appeared in January issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy, contact KashmirNarrator@gmail.com for details