At the beginning of Ramadan Israeli police squads forcible removed Muslim worshippers who had gathered to pray at the Haram esh-Sharif (also known as Temple Mount). The police also severed loudspeaker cables that were being used to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer. They did this to ensure that a speech by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, taking place nearby at the Western Wall, would not be disturbed.
This was followed by Israeli forces blocking Muslims from the Damascus Gate and Al-Aqsa Mosque, areas where worshippers would congregate during Ramadan. This increase in tension lead to isolated incidents of Palestinians and Israelis assaulting each other in the streets.
On April 22 the far-right Jewish supremacist group Lehava marched through Jerusalem chanting ‘death to Arabs’. Days later Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of Shiekh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and declared that the houses there belonged to Jews and that police should ‘open fire’ on protesters who think otherwise.
Since then Israeli citizens, supported by police and the Israel Defence Forces, have been forcefully evicting Palestinians from their homes in Shiekh Jarrah. This lead to increased protests in Shiekh Jarrah and clashes between protesters and police/IDF at the al-Aqsa Mosque and other predominantly Arab areas in Israel and the West Bank. These protests were met with heavy handed police tactics and raids on Mosques and homes throughout the region.
After weeks of these incidents, Hamas—a powerful militant organization in Palestine—warned Israel that if they did not remove police and military personnel from Haram al Sharif and Sheikh Jarrah they would strike against them. After the deadline passed Hamas launched approximately 150 rockets into Israel. Israel launched an airstrike against the Gaza Strip that same day.
These attacks have resulted in hundreds of Palestinian civilians (including children) being killed and around a dozen Israeli citizens being killed. Israeli airstrikes have destroyed 6 hospitals, 2 clinics (including one run by Médecins Sans Frontières), 1 health centre and 1 Palestine Red Crescent Soceity facility. An airstrike also destroyed a building in Gaza that housed press outlets Al Jazeera and Associated Press.
Protests have occurred across the world in support of Palestine. Support for Palestine has also been shared by a rare number of public figures and politicians. Among those calling for an end to Israeli airstrikes against Palestinians is UFC welterweight Belal Muhammad, who is Palestinian-American, and kickboxing great Badr Hari, who is Moroccan.
On Twitter Muhammad amplified a message from Hari that pleads that people continue to direct their protests to the state of Israel and not to Jewish people, enforcing that this conflict is not about religion.
In regards to what’s happening in Palestine, please direct your protestation towards the Israeli government. Not the Jewish community as a whole.
As Muslims, we know too well what it feels like to be painted with the same brush as evil. Individuals who do not represent our views and way of life. So let’s not now use that same brush to pair ordinary Jews and the Israeli government in the same box.
There are also Palestinian Christians that are being kicked out of their homes. What that tell you? This is not a religious issue, this is ethnic cleansing.
There are plenty of Jewish people and Israeli people that have voiced and protested against the actions of the Israeli government.
We are pro-Palestine without being anti-Semitic.
This is not the first time Muhammad has spoken out on what is happening in Palestine. His twitter timeline is filled with news and information from individuals on the ground.
My heart breaks for my people all I can do is pray for my people https://t.co/if8nSiVMPK— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) May 15, 2021
Muhammad one of just two fighters (along with Ramsey Nijem) to carry the Palestinian flag into the UFC Octagon. He joined the promotion in 2016 as a short notice-replacement to face Alan Jouban. He lost that fight via unanimous decision, but scooped a Fight of the Night award for his efforts.
After a win over Augusto Montano and a loss to Vincente Luque, Muhammad went on a four fight winning streak with wins over Randy Brown, Jordan Mein, Tim Means and Chance Rencountre.
After a loss to Geoff Neal in 2019, he went on another four fight winning streak, beating Curtis Millender, Takashi Sato, Lyman Good and Dhiego Lima. In March he replaced Khamzat Chimaev, on short notice, to headline against Leon Edwards.
That bout was ruled a no contest after Muhammad was struck with an accidental eye poke that left him unable to compete. Muhammad is expected to face Demian Maia at UFC 263 in June.