Tags: jerusalem | tense | temple | mount

Jerusalem Tense as Palestinians, Jews Demand Right to Temple Mount

Friday, 07 November 2014 06:50 AM

Shrouded head to toe in black, the women slowly circled the domed mosque in east Jerusalem’s Old City, chanting, “Allahu akbar,” the Muslim declaration of faith.

“This is our home,” said a woman who introduced herself as Oum Mustafa, speaking through a gauze veil that fully covered her eyes. “Nobody can move us from here.”

No place in the Holy Land is as fiercely contested as the 37-acre hilltop compound where the Al-Aqsa mosque stands. The sacred ground has once again become the front line in competing claims to the city, pitting Jews demanding to pray at the shrine they call the Temple Mount against Palestinians who see that demand as an attempt to cement Israel’s grip on a city they hope to make their capital.

Amid a stalemate in peace negotiations, the Palestinian outrage is growing increasingly violent, leading to clashes with police at the compound that have infuriated parts of the Muslim world.

“Jerusalem is among the most sensitive issues in the conflict and it matters to Muslims all over the world,” said Jacob Perry, Israel’s science and technology minister and former head of the Shin Bet intelligence agency. “It is vital for both sides that anything involving the al-Aqsa mosque be handled in the most careful way possible.”

Simmering Unrest

The unrest at the site is feeding off violence that has been simmering in Arab areas of Jerusalem since a Palestinian youth was burned alive in July in suspected retribution for the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish youths in the West Bank. Fanning the unrest, Palestinian leaders say, is the breakdown of U.S.-sponsored peace talks, Israel’s 50-day conflict with Gaza Strip militants and Jewish settlement on land Palestinians claim for a state.

Some analysts warn that the clashes in Jerusalem will explode into a third Palestinian uprising against Israel; others say support for another revolt just isn’t there.

Jews venerate the Temple Mount above all other holy sites, as the location of their ancient biblical temple. For Muslim faithful, the al-Aqsa complex is Islam’s third-holiest shrine, the place they believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

Political narratives collide on the mount, too. Palestinians claim all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City’s holy places, for the capital of a future state; the current Israeli government says it won’t cede Jerusalem’s eastern sector, annexed after the 1967 war in a move that isn’t internationally recognized. Peace negotiations have been tortured by disputes over control of the Old City.

Dueling Claims

The dueling claims have repeatedly touched off unrest. Rumors that Israel sought to destroy al-Aqsa to build a third temple ignited riots in the 1990s that left dozens of Palestinians dead. Ariel Sharon’s visit there in 2000 in a show of Israeli sovereignty touched off a cascade of violence that evolved into the second Palestinian uprising. Confrontations over Israeli excavation and construction at the shrine have sparked protests across the Muslim world.

After Israel captured the site from Jordan in 1967, it banned Jewish prayer there and left an Islamic trust known as the Waqf in charge of its administration. More Jews have begun questioning the ban on Jewish prayer and want to overturn it.

“I call on the public to visit the Temple Mount and on lawmakers to join the call to change the status quo to let Jews go to the Jewish people’s holiest place,” Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely said in a Nov. 4 post on her Facebook page.

Abbas Call

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed Jews’ claims to the shrine. “We must prevent them from entering the shrine in any way,” he said at a meeting of his Fatah party. “They have no right to enter it.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged that the status quo won’t change and accused Abbas of fueling the uproar with his remarks.

“We face an ongoing campaign of hate and slander, as if Israel tries to act against the mosque and change the existing arrangement,” Netanyahu said in a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini today, according to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office. “This is absolutely not our policy.”

Tensions flared further on Oct. 30, when Yehuda Glick, a champion of Jewish prayer rights on the mount, was shot and his suspected Palestinian assailant was killed in a gun-battle with police.

Palestinians have rallied to Abbas’s call. Oum Mustafa and the other women said they came to protect the sacred ground “from desecration” after Israeli forces stormed the mosque last week, firing tear gas inside, where militants were hurling rocks and firecrackers.

Car Attack

A Palestinian who killed two Israelis by ramming his car into pedestrians this week was dispatched “to avenge al-Aqsa,” according to the Hamas militant group to which he belonged. The Palestinian Authority has lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations Security Council about “Israeli aggression at the al-Aqsa mosque.”

The situation has grown so combustible that Israeli authorities closed the shrine twice in the past week, for the first time since 2000.

“The situation is volatile and there’s a real danger of escalation,” said Ghassan al-Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority cabinet member now teaching at Bir-Zeit University, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Abbas is trying to calm things down while conveying the message to Israel that these provocative acts in the mosque won’t be tolerated.”

Concentrated Unrest

The furor has also drawn in other parts of the Muslim world. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel this week to protest the conduct of Israeli forces at the mount, and the secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Ayad Madani, “strongly condemned the incursion perpetrated by the Israeli occupation forces in the holy mosque of Al-Aqsa.”

Counter-terrorism expert Boaz Ganor doesn’t see the Jerusalem violence exploding into a full-scale Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

“At least for the time being, it’s concentrated in Jerusalem, it doesn’t have a spillover or at least an extensive spillover to the West Bank,” said Ganor, co-founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

The number of people involved is “far less then what the intifada used to be,” Ganor said. “We are talking about a few hundred. In the intifada it was thousands and tens of thousands, and we are not there.”

Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said a revolt won’t erupt because Abbas “doesn’t want it and Israel has the force to contain it.”

Perry, the former intelligence agency chief, was more cautious.

“Anyone opposed to a peace agreement knows that Jerusalem is the most effective way of causing trouble,” he said. “Both Jews and Muslims recognize how explosive this issue is.”


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Shrouded head to toe in black, the women slowly circled the domed mosque in east Jerusalem's Old City, chanting, "Allahu akbar," the Muslim declaration of faith. "This is our home," said a woman who introduced herself as Oum Mustafa, speaking through a gauze veil that fully...
jerusalem, tense, temple, mount
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2014-50-07
Friday, 07 November 2014 06:50 AM
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