A Palestinian youth is silhouetted as he holds a toy gun and a Koran during a protest after Friday prayers on Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The tragic death of Alexander Levlovich has galvanized public awareness of the Palestinian violence in and around Jerusalem. However, an urban intifada has been under way on and off in the capital since the summer of 2014, when Israel launched Operation Protective Edge – and its epicenter is the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is seen by Muslims as an important spiritual center for prayer and political agitation.
Palestinian national identity is intimately tied to the plateau they call the Noble Sanctuary or Haram al-Sharif.
Any Palestinian crisis – like the military offensive carried out in Gaza in the summer of 2014 following the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah – reverberates on the Mount.
A number of factors have come together to bring about a spike in violence on the Temple Mount in recent days. Last Tuesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon banned the Murabitun and Murabatat – male and female Islamist activist groups whose members regularly harass Jewish visitors to the Mount.
In addition, the celebration of the Jewish High Holy Day of Rosh Hashana has brought larger numbers of Jews to the Temple Mount for visits. A rise in the number of Jewish visitors triggers misguided suspicions among Palestinians that Israel is attempting to forcibly take control of swathes of the Mount.
Another factor that might have led to the present escalation is the situation in Gaza. For the past few months Hamas has been hoping to reach a long-term cease-fire with Israel. However, Israel has made it clear that it has no intention of making the sorts of concessions Hamas wants, such as the establishment of a port in Gaza.
As soon as Hamas realized Israel would not cave in to its demands, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another terrorist organization, began instigating violence on the Temple Mount.
In theory at least, the Temple Mount should be a bastion of peace. For Sunnis the Mount is considered the third holiest site. It is the traditional site of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven. The site is also associated with Jewish biblical figures, such as Solomon, who are venerated in Islam.
The Temple Mount should be a place of prayer, introspection, and spirituality for Muslims, Jews, Christians and other religions. There is more that brings together people of faith than separates them. Devout Muslims and Jews share a belief in a compassionate God that calls on the faithful to act morally and to respect human life.
Unfortunately, suspicion and animosity reign on the Mount. Palestinians fear that Israel is incrementally changing the status quo with the goal of taking control of the entire area and preventing Muslims from worshiping there.
Fearful that any compromise would be a slippery slope leading to complete Israeli hegemony, Palestinians and other Muslims refuse to grant Jews even the most minimal rights on the Mount. The utterance of a simple prayer by a Jew is interpreted by apprehensive Muslims as being part of a broader scheme to “occupy” the Mount and impose Jewish sovereignty there.
Even recognition of basic historical facts, such as that the Mount was once the site of the First and Second Temples or that the Western Wall is the remnant of the Mount’s magnificent retaining wall, are rejected by a revisionist Palestinian attempt to erase the Jews’ ties to the Land of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the rioting on the Temple Mount and around Jerusalem is to stiffen penalties for rock-throwers. And Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has called to block the promotion of judges who impose lenient sentences on stone-throwers.
While we recognize the need to enforce the law, it is also important to understand the source of the violence – Muslim fears of Jewish encroachment.
Perhaps through dialogue, particularly between Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, it will be possible to reach mutual respect and understanding for the religious sensitivities of both religions.