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Al-Aqsa violence: Why Palestinians & Jews have often clashed at this holy site in Jerusalem

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians at Al-Aqsa mosque Friday and Saturday left nearly 300 people injured. ThePrint explains why this mosque is an important landmark.

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New Delhi: The Israeli Justice Ministry Sunday said it was postponing a hearing in a long-standing land ownership case that could see the eviction of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The announcement came after violence erupted Friday and Saturday in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli security forces near Al-Aqsa mosque — the third holiest site in Islam. Nearly 300 people were injured in the clashes, according to reports. The mosque compound, known as Haram al-Sharif in Islam, is also a major holy site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

The violence is believed to have been fuelled by a dispute over the land ownership case.

Along with Egypt and the Arab League, the four members of the Middle East Quartet — the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — expressed concern over the unrest. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also condemned the attack.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “held [Israel] responsible for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks”.

According to Israel daily Haaretz, tensions between Israel Police and Palestinians began on 12 April when police put up blockades preventing people from sitting in the Damascus Gate plaza — the most popular public area during the month of Ramzan. Later on 16 April, the first Friday of Ramzan, Israel imposed a 10,000-person limit on prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque, turning away tens of thousands of Palestinians.

In the legal dispute, a key trigger for the recent unrest, Jewish settlers have been trying to evict Palestinians from their homes. In 1956, shortly after Israel won the first Arab-Israeli war, around 28 Palestinian families who lost their homes settled in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. At the time, the West Bank was under Jordan’s rule and it was the Jordanian government and the United Nations that helped provide and construct the land for the families. However, this process has been interrupted ever since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967.

ThePrint explains the importance of Al-Aqsa mosque in context of the recent clashes.

Frequent flashpoint for violence

First built in 705 CE, the Al-Aqsa mosque has been a frequent flashpoint for violence between Palestinians and Jews. The silver-domed mosque was notably the site of the second Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000 after then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon stormed the mosque compound with more than 1,000 heavily armed police.

On Friday night, more than 160 people were wounded when Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians at the mosque compound. Protesters threw stones, bottles and fireworks while officers fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. According to the Israeli police, 17 officers were among those injured.

Clashes erupted again Saturday outside the Old City of Jerusalem as tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque on Islam’s holy night of Laylat al-Qadr. Laylat al-Qadr commemorates the night that Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. About 80 people were injured in Saturday night’s clashes, including minors and a one-year-old, the Palestine Red Crescent said.

Footage on social media appeared to show police officers on the roof of the mosque.

In 2015, similar clashes occurred at the mosque between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces after weeks of tension and a number of confrontations at the site. It occurred hours before the beginning of the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

At the time, Very Reverend Hosam Naom, dean of St George the Martyr Cathedral in Jerusalem, urged Israel to “restrain Jewish extremists before they drag the whole region into more conflict and more violence”. Khalil Toufakji, head of Maps and Survey Department at the Orient House, Jerusalem, also said the clashes were part of Israel’s larger plan to occupy more land and build a synagogue inside the Aqsa courtyard.


Also read: Global community must encourage direct peace talks between Israel, Palestine, says India


Religious, historical significance

Masjid Al-Aqsa is an important holy site in Islam, located in the Old City of Jerusalem. After Masjid al-Haram (the ‘Great Mosque’ of Mecca) and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (the ‘Prophet’s Mosque’ in Medina), Al-Aqsa is the most sacred site for Muslims. The wider compound of Al-Aqsa, about 35 acres, is usually referred to as al-Haram (noble sanctuary) and includes the Dome of the Rock.

Built about four centuries ago, Al-Aqsa translates from Arabic to English as “the Farthest Mosque”. According to the Quran, it is believed that Prophet Muhammad travelled from Mecca to Al-Aqsa during the Night Journey, and then on to heaven.

“Glorified be He [Allah] Who did take His servant for a journey by night from Al Masjid Al Haram to Al Masjid Al Aqsa, whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of our Signs. Verily He is the All Hearing, All Seeing,” reads Surah Isra (17:1), a chapter in the Quran.

Temple Mount, located in the compound, is a walled-in area dating back to the time of the Second Jewish Temple, built at the end of first century B.C.E. Jews believe that these walls were built around the summit of Mount Moriah where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice.

Originally built as a small prayer house, the mosque was reconstructed by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik in 705 CE. After an earthquake, it was rebuilt again in 746, then in 1033 and many additions were made by the ruling dynasties of the Islamic Caliphate.

After the Crusades, the mosque was recaptured by Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, in 1187. It underwent renovations under various dynasties, including the Ottoman empire, the Supreme Muslim Council, and Jordan. Though Jerusalem’s Old City is under Israeli control, the mosque has remained under the administration of the Jordanian and Palestinian-led Islamic Waqf since 1967. The Waqf is a religious trust that manages Islamic historical sites around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)


Also read: Nearly 40 killed, several injured in stampede at Jewish religious festival in Israel


 

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