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Khadija Khwes: ‘The Struggle will continue’

Khadija Khwes
AMMAN: A photo that went viral shows a woman squatting in Al-Aqsa Mosque compound turning over the contents of a large pot: The popular Palestinian dish maqlobeh, made up of rice, cauliflower and chicken. The food was being served to worshippers on July 27, the day Palestinians returned en masse to the mosque.
Khadija Khwes has been regularly targeted by the Israelis, and has been banned on many occasions from entering Al-Aqsa. Her contribution to the success of the two-week-long, nonviolent Palestinian protest is certainly not limited to her cooking skills.
Her trouble with Israeli authorities began when she and other women decided to hold prayer sessions just outside Mograbi Gate. They set up plastic tables and chairs, and when Jewish extremists would visit Al-Aqsa, the women would watch the unwelcome visitors to see if they carried out Jewish prayers. If they did, the women would start chanting “Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest) to alert the Waqf guards, who would usually stop such efforts. Khwes and other women were featured in a 2014 documentary by Sawsan Qaoud titled “The Women of Al-Aqsa.”
Arab News met with Khwes during one of her afternoon visits to Al-Aqsa. She listed repeated Israeli restrictions on her: “In the past 10 years, I’ve been arrested seven times, and banned from entering the mosque eight times for a total of 550 days. I’ve also been banned from travel, including to the West Bank, and the Israelis stopped national insurance payments to me and my family, which is a right to all people of Jerusalem.”
During the recent protests over access to Al-Aqsa, “women were side-by-side with women” and supported the protesters “at all levels,” she said. Khwes invites tourists to speak with her so she can “tell people about the discrimination we face.”
The success of the protests has not blinded her to the long-term dangers to Al-Aqsa. “As long as there are Israeli aspirations for the mosque, the danger is present and the struggle will continue. While we believe this struggle will only end when the occupation ends, we still demand that Israel stop interfering in the affairs of Al-Aqsa and end restrictions on entering the mosque. We also want an end to the provocative entry of settlers to the mosque.”
She said: “I dedicated all my hours to Al-Aqsa during the protest period. Al-Aqsa needed all of us and I couldn’t leave it.” Her schedule is also full on regular days, during which “I go to Lions’ Gate in the morning and stand by Bab Hutta to protest my ban on entry to the mosque. At 3 p.m. I’m allowed to enter the mosque... I then go home and carry out chores and duties, including teaching my children and following up on other issues.”
Her career as a Qur’an teacher was cut short by the Israeli ban. “I was a teacher of Qur’an on the premises of the mosque compound, but this came to an end when the Israelis issued a ban denying me entry to the mosque.” Khwes now substitute-teaches at the Nisami school.
Hanadi Hilwani said of her friend: “We’re partners in so many things. We protest together, and we’ve been banned from Al-Aqsa together. We’re banned from travel, and our families have been denied national insurance stipends that are given to all Jerusalemites. But this is nothing to us as we believe Al-Aqsa deserves our attention.”

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