Al-Aqsa violence: Why Israel-Palestinian are clashing at this holy site?


Team Udayavani, May 12, 2021, 2:35 PM IST

Source: BBC

The tension between Israel and Palestine has escalated further with the violent confrontation this month between the Palestinians and Israeli security forces at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Below we talk about the basics of the mosque compound, its importance over the centuries for three major religions.

What is Al-Aqsa Mosque?

Being one of the holiest structures in the Islamic faith, the mosque sits inside a 35-acre site known by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and by Jews as the Temple Mount. This site is part of the Old City of Jerusalem which is sacred to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

The mosque is believed to have been completed early in the eighth century and it can hold up to 5000 worshippers. It faces the Dome of the Rock, the golden-domed Islamic shrine that is a widely recognized symbol of Jerusalem.

On holidays, the mosque is filled with worshippers to pray on holidays as Muslims consider the whole compound to be holy. For Jews, on the other hand, Temple Mount known in Hebrew as Har Habayit is the holiest place because it was the site of two ancient temples. According to Bible, King Solomon built the first temple,  which was later destroyed by the Babylonians and the second one stood for nearly 600 years before the Roman Empire destroyed it in the first century.

UNESCO has classified the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls as a World Heritage Site. This means that it is regarded as “being of outstanding international importance and therefore as a deserving special protection.”

So who exercises control over the mosque?

During the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City from Jordan ad then annexed the area. This followed by Israel later declaring a unified Jerusalem to be its capital, despite the move never being recognized internationally.

An Islamic trust known as the Waqf, funded and controlled by Jordan, continued to administer Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, as it had done for decades, a special role reaffirmed in Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.

Under the status quo arrangement, Israeli security forces maintain a presence on-site and coordinate with the Waqf. Jews and Christians are allowed to visit but are prohibited from praying on the grounds.

According to critics, tensions over the arrangement’s discrimination against non-Muslims have periodically boiled over into violence.

Israel’s annual celebration of Jerusalem Day, an official holiday to commemorate its capture of the entire city added to the tensions, as the celebrations were held recently which is a provocation for many Palestinians.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state — a prospect that seems increasingly remote.

Does this mean that Israel wants to take full control of the site?

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials have said that they do not intend to change the status quo but some Israeli religious groups have long pressed for the right to pray at the site. Jordan’s foreign ministry formally complained about large numbers of Jewish visitors to the site and called it a violation of the status quo, in April.

Current Scenario

Weeks before the outbreak of violence at Al-Aqsa, tensions were building between Jews and Palestinians on issues unrelated to the mosque compound, including violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians that erupted a few weeks ago around the Old City. Following which some Palestinians attacked Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, and an extremist Jewish supremacy group conducted a march in which participants chanted “Death to Arabs.”

As the police had forbidden them to gather at a favorite plaza by the Old City during the first weeks of the holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians were angered.

Further, it is important to note that, Palestinians have battled with the Israeli police over the expected eviction of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to make way for Israeli settlement construction.

Previous clashes have shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. The deadly riots in 1999, after a group of Jewish extremists, sought to lay a cornerstone for a temple to replace the two destroyed in ancient times and in 2000, a visit to the site to assert Jewish claims there, led by right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon — then Israel’s opposition leader acted as a catalyst for Israeli-Palestinian violence that led to the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada.

And in 2017, after three Arab-Israeli citizens at the compound shot and killed two Israeli Druze police officers crisis erupted which led the Israeli authorities to restrict access to the site and install metal detectors and cameras.

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