By Salam Abu Sharar
JERUSALEM (AA) – It was after the dawn prayer during Ramadan in 2016 that Saleh Zighari spoke with Ghassan Younes for the first time while the latter was cleaning the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and he greeted and joked with Zighari and his friends.
Younes, 72, who was from the town of Ara, around 38.5 kilometers south of Haifa, has been going to the sacred mosque on daily basis, from 1971 to 2020.
Palestinians in the courtyards of the mosque always recognized him by his daily activity. He used to feed the birds and cats every morning after finishing his prayers.
“When entering the Al-Aqsa courtyards, the cats and birds were coming together around him. I had been seeing him since I was a child less than 8 years old," said Zighari, 23, a photographer from Jerusalem.
Younes' pockets were always filled with candy he used to distribute for the worshipers at the mosque.
“He was very kind to all people, a benevolent person with the animals and people,” Zighari added.
The elderly Palestinian became well known locally and regionally from the videos that were taken of him over the years at the mosque and spread on social media.
“Many times I was traveling between countries, and once people learned I was from Jerusalem, they asked about him, about his kindness and gifts. They thought he was an official, and they were always surprised that his caring for the animals was completely voluntary,” Zighari added.
The Israeli authorities detained Younes many times and on many occasions issued expulsion orders banning him from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Hanady Halawni recalled that the last time she met Ghassan, he gave her some bracelets for her daughter on his last visit to Jerusalem.
“He was loved by all people. He would always give me gifts for my sons and daughters. Even after my daughter turned 21, he still sent me gifts,” she said.
Halawni was meeting Younes on daily basis when she was a Quran teacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque before she was banned from entering it.
“When he was going back to his town, I met him several times at the bus station, which is near my house. He was buying ice cream for everyone on the bus as a gift to them on their trip from Jerusalem to Haifa."
Younes was infected with COVID-19 around three months ago. His health deteriorated and he died on Jan. 19.