Jerusalem's simmering embers were stoked again Sunday in a confrontation that broke out between Muslims who barricaded themselves in the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and Israeli police who came to remove them. Much to our concern, images of riots on the site have become routine in the past few weeks, and they put us in a dangerous cycle.
The careless conduct of both the Israeli and Palestinian side is liable to cause the situation to deteriorate quickly and easily into violence. Thus, the entry of a group of visitors to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif a month ago, on the eve of Yom Kippur, ignited a wave of violent riots that went on for days and caused injuries among the demonstrators and policemen alike.
As a result, Israel limited the entry of Muslims to the al-Aksa Mosque, causing a wave of additional protests and ongoing arrests of Islamic Movement leaders such as Sheikh Ra'ed Salah, Kamal Khatib and Ali Abu Sheikha. At the same time, the archeological excavations continue in and around the Old City, which are largely financed by extreme right-wing organizations.
These excavations, some of which pass under the homes of Palestinian residents - like the explicit efforts of right-wing organizations to expand the Jewish presence in the heart of the Old City's Muslim Quarter - raise intense fear among Muslims in the area and in the world, a fear that is channeled by radical Islamist organizations in order to stoke the flames and draw the Muslim masses out of their homes for the sake of "defending al-Aksa."
THE SAME dangerous oscillation, in which actions of extremists on one side immediately nourish the actions of extremists on the other, repeated itself this time as well: A conference of the "Joint Headquarters of the Temple Mount organizations," with the participation of Knesset members and rabbis from the extreme Right, whose aim is to "call upon the people of Israel to visit the Temple Mount in holiness and purity," led the Al-Aksa Foundation and the Islamic Movement to call on the Palestinian masses to go to al-Aksa Mosque, and "protect it from the planned invasion."
This is a dynamic of publicly announced escalation, as everyone understands that a mass call by public figures and rabbis for Jews to visit the Temple Mount can be expected to ignite an extreme response from the Muslim public.
In light of this, especially grave was the intention of Kadima MK Otniel Schneller to participate in the conference alongside extremists from the Israeli Right. Although he changed his plans due to pressures exerted upon him, we still should question whether Schneller represents the position of the political party that professes to be a center party. Has Kadima adopted the platform of MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), a disciple of Meir Kahane, on this most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Arab conflict?
Kadima head Tzipi Livni maintains a puzzling silence on this central issue, but also puzzling is the silence of the government given the ongoing provocations by extreme factions, which seek to exacerbate the conflict in Jerusalem and to give it a religious dimension.
Past experience teaches us that strengthening the religious dimension of the conflict in Jerusalem is liable to drag the region into an ongoing cycle of extreme violence, which would place Israel opposite a unified and hostile Arab-Muslim front. Incidents of the past weeks led to rowdy demonstrations even in moderate Muslim countries such as Turkey, while our ambassador in Jordan was called in for a reprimand by the Foreign Ministry.
If the government is not determined to stop the mutual and ongoing provocations that fuel this dangerous conflict, these examples are liable to be only the first signs of what the future may hold.
The writer is an outreach coordinator at Ir Amim. She is a long-time social change activist, and has been involved in editing and hosting a variety of public events on social issues and human rights.