Renewed tensions at al-Aqsa mosque
JERUSALEM - Clashes between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police resumed at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound after Israeli authorities allowed Jewish settlers to enter the shrine ten days before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The renewed violence follows a period of relative calm after a wave of violence in which 220 Palestinians had been killed since the autumn of 2015.
For two days, Muslim worshippers and Israeli police clashed, resulting in injuries to dozens of Palestinians and the arrest of at least 15 people. After an emergency meeting, Israeli authorities closed the compound to Jewish settlers and non-Muslim visitors.
The repeated opening of al-Aqsa to Jewish visitors inflamed anti- Israeli sentiments and led Palestinians to suspect that Israel wants to annex the compound, which is also revered by Jews.
According to the Palestinian trust that manages the site, Israeli police allowed Jewish settlers and non-Muslim tourists to enter the compound, which provoked worshippers. Many Muslims prefer privacy as they spend extra time each night reciting holy scripture, which Islamic tradition says was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad during Ramadan.
Witnesses said worshippers were taken aback at seeing Jewish settlers entering the compound and protested their presence before Israeli police intervened and clashed with the Palestinians.
Azzam Khatib, director of the trust, said Israel was attempting to impose unilateral policies by allowing Jewish settlers to enter the mosque’s grounds, an action that Palestinians reject.
“For the last few years, Israel has been suspending visitations of Jews and non-Muslims to the site during the last ten days of Ramadan but this year Israel is trying to provoke Palestinian worshippers,” Khatib said.
Clashes began after Israel allowed settlers into al-Aqsa mosque compound, breaking a custom that only allows Muslim worshippers to enter during the last ten days of Ramadan, a period considered the most special, spiritual and blessed.
Annually, the last days of Ramadan see hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers flocking to al-Aqsa mosque to pray, sleep and break their fast in the compound.
To Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Ramadan is seen as an opportunity to enter Jerusalem and visit al-Aqsa. Israel continues to restrict entry to the area and deny thousands of Palestinians entry permits.
Every year during Ramadan, Israeli authorities ease restrictions on Palestinians’ access to Jerusalem and allow women of all ages and men over 50 years old to enter Jerusalem for Friday prayers.
Despite scorching heat and the hardship of fasting, 250,000 Palestinian worshippers entered Jerusalem and prayed in al-Aqsa mosque compound on June 17th. More Palestinians were expected but Israel revoked entry permits after two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis and wounded six others at a shopping centre in Tel Aviv.
Yasin, 50, a merchant who owns a small shop selling books and CDs in Jerusalem’s souq al-Qattanin, said the city had become a foreign city, except during Ramadan.
“The only time we see and sense the true identity of Jerusalem is during Ramadan,” he said.
Due to the mosque’s special meaning to Muslims, whenever Israeli police raid al-Aqsa, tensions escalate, leading to injuries and arrests.
In September 2015, Israeli police raided the compound prior to the Jewish New Year, leading to an escalation in tensions that swept through the West Bank. More than 220 Palestinians were killed in violence related to the incident in the months that followed.
Although reports from Jerusalem indicated the end of tensions in the compound, Palestinians worry that allowing Jewish settlers to enter the compound and pray at the site is a prelude to dividing the mosque, similar to what happened at Hebron’s al-Ibrahimi mosque.
Waqf and Religious Affairs Minister Sheikh Yousef Adeis warned against the raids into the compound as well as allowing Jewish settlers to enter during the last ten days of Ramadan, which many described as unprecedented.
He said during a meeting with Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Hussein that Israel was seeking to change the status quo in al-Aqsa compound and it is dangerous.