With two weeks of violent protests by Palestinians in response to security measures taken by the Israeli government in the Mosque, Al-Aqsa highlights the essence of tensions between the two forces.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. Its existence and accessibility for the religious are a crucial matter for those who look to the site as a destination for pilgrimage. But its home in the international city of Jerusalem has been a contested piece of territory going back even before the creation of modern Israel. In 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem and therefore annexed the Mosque into Israeli control, with the Waqf of Jerusalem being granted control and management subsequently. But the Waqf administration of the Mosque and its compound did not include external security matters, which became an Israeli matter (in which non-Muslims would be allowed on the site during visiting hours, but not allowed to pray on the ground).
Problems in this ironic partnership undoubtedly began emerging, of which accusation of Israel attempting to “Judaize” the grounds became the most pronounced. The Mufti of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Fatwa Council claimed that Jewish groups were attempting to invade the area and Institute “Talmudic celebrations” and prayers in an effort to increase Jewish influence on the religious site.
This issue became an important one to those concerned with the Mosque’s affairs and many, including Al-Jazeera, maintain that these so called “temple movements” are attempting to build a Third Jewish Temple on the compound, and that they are funded by the Israeli government itself.
A recurring theme
Throughout the duration of modern tensions regarding the compound, this theme of guarding the Mosque against those outside the Islamic faith became a defining feature of uneasy relations. The protection of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its compound was and is a fundamental concern to Palestinian Muslims in particular and the larger Muslim community in general. Its protection and well-being against a supposed non-Muslim are so important to some, that violence and civil unrest is not just viable, but likely. In fact, an apparent visit of then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque unleashed the second Intifada (uprising), which saw the death of thousands of Palestinians, and hundreds of Israelis. The stated purpose of Sharon’s visit to the compound was to assert Jewish right to the visit the Temple Mount, as well as to show that his party at the time, was willing to keep the Mount under Israeli sovereignty. This mere visit sparked a period of violence and instability that although decreased since became a fixture of Palestinian and Israeli relations since 2000. And even since 2000 issues with the Al-Aqsa Mosque have been ongoing, with many of them involving Jewish efforts to enter and pray inside the facilities.
Al-Aqsa moving forward
The recent issue in Al-Aqsa stems from the fact that the Israeli government put up enhanced security measures in the compound, such as installing metal detectors at Muslim entrances, following the killing of two Israeli police guards at the Temple Mount. All though the measures have since been removed, tensions are still building amidst a changing status quo in the Mosque’s administration. The international Muslim community has since spoken out against perceived Israeli aggression towards the religious compound, with Turks taking to the street of Istanbul to protest, and the Saudi King vowing to protect the site and its pilgrims.
Al-Aqsa epitomizes the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians. Ethnic and religious ties to the land, no matter how abstract and symbolic, become sites of extreme instability and violence in a matter of hours. Religious compounds become crucial strongholds of occupying political powers, meant to either penalize a group or act as a symbol of said groups inferiority. Tensions then rise in that seemingly oppressed group until violence acts as a catalyst for apparent change. Such is the circle of tensions between the two states. Yet the two have no choice but to interact with each other and see to it that the other side is adequately satisfied in such a way that avoids conflict. The administration of Al-Aqsa after 1967 symbolizes this ironic partnership between the Palestinians and Israelis. A partnership that is perpetually unstable, fraught with the crisis, but is nonetheless ongoing.