Holy site for Jews and Muslims returns as conflict link

JERUSALEM — Clashes exploded Friday for the seventh time in eight days at Jerusalem’s holiest site, showing how the site – sacred to bo...


JERUSALEM — Clashes exploded Friday for the seventh time in eight days at Jerusalem’s holiest site, showing how the site – sacred to both Jews and Muslims – has become the new focus of a month-long spasm in tensions across Israel and the occupied territories.

Skirmishes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the compound of the Aqsa Mosque, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, followed a deadly wave of Arab attacks in Israel and an Israeli who followed military repression in the West Bank.

The clashes sparked the fiercest exchange of rockets and missiles between Gaza militants and the Israeli armed forces since an 11-day war last May; the militants fired two more rockets on Friday evening.

The clashes have also tested Israel’s budding ties with parts of the Arab world, leading three countries that signed diplomatic agreements with Israel in 2020 to voice rare criticism of the Jewish state, and undermining efforts to improve relations with neighboring Jordan. And they have aggravated a government crisis inside Israel, forcing an Islamist party to suspend its participation in the government coalition and increasing the opposition’s chances of obtaining a majority in Parliament.

Perhaps most strikingly, the clashes illustrated how easily the Aqsa site can be exploited by extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and why it remains one of the most insurmountable obstacles to resolution. of conflict, as well as the ultimate Rorschach of conflict. test.

For many Jews, the site is the holiest in Judaism, the location of two ancient temples where tradition holds that the presence of God was revealed. For the Israelis, it is an essential part of their sovereign territory and capital, and officials have exercised considerable caution in limiting Jewish activity there since the site was captured from Jordan in 1967.

For the government, police interventions over the past week have been necessary policing operations to quell riots sparked by Muslim extremists led by Hamas, the Islamist militant group, and to secure access for Jews, tourists and thousands of peaceful Muslims.

For Muslims, the mosque compound is the third holiest in Islam, a site of Muslim prayer for over a millennium, and the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. For the Palestinians, it is occupied territory, as confirmed by the United Nations Security Council and most foreign governments, and part of what should one day become the capital of a Palestinian state. For many Palestinians, clashes in the compound are an act of legitimate resistance against an occupying power, regardless of who threw the first stone.

Neither perspective is entirely correct, said Michael Koplow, an analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, a New York-based research group. “Everyone needs to understand that both sides not only have real grievances, but feel an emotional and symbolic connection to the site,” he said. “It’s not reserved for anyone.”

Likewise, both sides are right to doubt parts of the other’s narrative, especially this week.

Although Palestinians have presented themselves as the victims of Israeli aggression in the compound this week, some have helped fuel the violence, stockpiling rocks, fireworks and petrol bombs.

On Friday morning, a video uploaded by Palestinian media showed the clashes began after dozens of Palestinian youths threw stones and fired fireworks at a police outpost on the edge of the enclosure. It was only after that that the riot police entered the forecourt of the mosque.

Likewise, on Sunday morning, riot police entered the site after Palestinian youths blocked the path of a road through the site used by Jews and foreign tourists, and stored stones elsewhere on the site. road, raising fears that they might attack non-Muslims there.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group, has praised stone throwers several times this week. Some Palestinians involved in the clashes chanted pro-Hamas slogans and waved the green flags associated with the group, raising the question of whether Hamas members had played a role in premeditating the unrest, knowing that Israel would likely react in a agressive.

“The Palestinian organizations were not only preparing for it, they were advancing it,” said Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister who once proposed bringing the compound and adjacent areas of Jerusalem under shared sovereignty. “They were making Molotov cocktails, on the Temple Mount, and rocks.”

Israeli authorities have taken steps to avoid blatant provocations, arresting several Jewish extremists who allegedly planned a Passover sacrifice at the compound, blocking a far-right Jewish march near the compound this week and, as habit, prohibiting non-Muslims from compounding during the last 10 days of Ramadan.

But those constructive gestures have been diluted by heavy-handed tactics like the use of rubber bullets against rock throwers and the spraying of tear gas from drones, and by breaking long-held conventions banning Jewish worship at the site.

For months, Israeli police protected Jewish worshipers at the site, breaking a decades-old understanding, aimed at preventing conflict, which allowed Jews to go there but not to worship there. This shift has created the impression among Palestinians that Israel is trying to unilaterally change the delicate status quo and further undermine Muslim access to and oversight of one of Islam’s holiest places.

Similarly, during Sunday morning’s clashes, Israeli police went above and beyond guaranteeing equal access to Muslims, Jews and tourists. Instead, police allowed hundreds of Jews to enter while uncharacteristically blocking Muslim access to the site for several hours that morning.

Against the backdrop of this kind of perceived provocation, it’s no surprise that young Palestinians have gone wild this week, said Moayd Abu Mialeh, 22, a Palestinian who was arrested in the clashes.

“We are humans, we react,” said Mr Abu Mialeh, who denied any personal involvement in the clashes and said they erupted spontaneously. “When the settlers claim they will sacrifice a lamb in Al Aqsa,” he added, young Palestinians “cannot just open their arms to the settlers and tell them ‘enter’ our mosque.”

Unsurprisingly, the complexity of the impasse precludes any easy solution.

For some Palestinians, the short-term answer is simple: temporarily close the compound to non-Muslims while all sides discuss how to secure a long-term solution. In the meantime, the site could be placed under the full control of the Waqf – an Islamic trust, funded and supervised by neighboring Jordan, which currently manages the civil affairs of the mosque.

In the meantime, Jews could pray as usual at the nearby Western Wall, one of the last remaining sections of the ancient temple complex, said Waqf board member and hotel owner Aladdin Salhab. the old Town.

Otherwise, Mr Salhab said, “we are adding fuel to the fire”.

For the Israelis, this idea is far-fetched. For religious Jews, such a move would tear apart their spiritual identity. And secular Israelis would also be reluctant to cede temporary control of a site so central to their national identity, as well as the security of the Old City. From the top of the compound, Palestinians can throw stones at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall.

“For much of the wider Jewish world, certainly for observers, you’re asking them to make an almost unacceptable compromise,” said Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser.

Even much smaller concessions, such as reinstating the ban on Jewish prayer at the site, would prove difficult for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to enact. He leads an extremely fragile coalition government which controls only half of the seats in Parliament. Several of Mr. Bennett’s lawmakers are on the religious right. They already feel that he has compromised Israel’s Jewish identity too much. Any other compromise could tempt them to defect.

“I don’t envy Bennett – he’s caught in the middle of two extreme factions,” said Mr Olmert, the former prime minister.

But as prime minister, “sometimes you have to make tough decisions,” Olmert added. “That’s why you’re here.”

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Nazareth, Israel.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Holy site for Jews and Muslims returns as conflict link
Holy site for Jews and Muslims returns as conflict link
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