2015-09-30 / Mideast

Why violence has spiked in Jerusalem

By BEN SALES
JTA


Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli police during clashes in eastern Jerusalem, Sept. 18. JTA photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90. Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli police during clashes in eastern Jerusalem, Sept. 18. JTA photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90. TEL AVIV—For Israelis, the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur turned into days of violence. Unrest swelled in Jerusalem following an Israeli ban on a protest group at the Temple Mount, the holy site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. The clashes left one Israeli dead and dozens of Israelis and Palestinians injured.

The clashes were matched by a war of words, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring “war” on Palestinian stone throwers and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowing that Jews will not be allowed to “dirty” the Temple Mount.

Here’s how the clashes started, what’s driving the violence and how Israel, the Palestinians and the world are responding. Unrest followed Israel’s barring of a violent Palestinian group from the Temple Mount.

Clashes at the Temple Mount are nothing new, particularly around the Jewish High Holidays. The latest round broke out following Israel’s decision on Sept. 9 to bar an Islamist protest group from entering the site. Israel said the group, known as the Murabitat, and its corresponding men’s faction have been yelling at Jewish visitors and throwing stones at them.

“The aforesaid organizations strive to undermine Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, change the existing reality and arrangements at the site and infringe on freedom of worship,” said the Israeli statement announcing the ban.

Omar Kiswani, who directs the Al-Aqsa mosque on the mount, told the Guardian that Israel should not have the authority to restrict Muslims from entering the site.

“We call upon all Muslims to be present in Al-Aqsa,” he said. “It is the home of all Muslims and their presence in this place would intensify their connection to this place.”

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters followed, leading to multiple injures and one death.

Three days later, Israeli police raided the mount on the eve of the Jewish New Year, uncovering a stockpile of pipe bombs, firebombs and rocks that they feared would be aimed at Jewish worshippers. That night, a Jewish-Israeli, Alexander Levlovich, 64, was attacked by Palestinian protesters in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv. They pelted his car with rocks, causing Levlovich to lose control of the vehicle and smash into a pole. He died the following morning. Neither side is happy about restrictions on the Temple Mount.

Controversy over who can do what at the holy site has been festering for decades. Although Israel has overall control of the area, a joint Jordanian-Palestinian Islamic religious body called the Waqf governs it.

Under current regulations, Muslims may visit and pray on the mount. Jews may also visit during limited hours, but are prohibited from praying or doing a range of things—kneeling, bowing, even crying— that resemble worship.

Jewish activists have called for greater access, but the Israeli government has resisted the call so as not to upset the delicate balance at the site. Some Muslims are also unhappy, claiming that Israel should not be permitted to control access to the Temple Mount.

Israel has upped its police presence and increased penalties for stone throwers.

Israel has stepped up its rhetoric and police presence to combat the unrest. Israel added 800 officers to its Old City contingent, bringing the total number of police there to 3,500, according to Rosenfeld.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also declared “war” on stone throwers. Netanyahu pushed through a new law increasing the stone throwers’ prison sentences and fines. World leaders urge restraint.

The U.S. State Department has called on all sides to “refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric.” The United Nations Security Council used similar language in a statement, adding that “Muslim worshippers at the Haram Al-Sharif must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations.”

Neither statement explicitly cast blame on either Israelis or Palestinians for the clashes. But Jordan’s King Abdullah II criticized Israel’s actions, saying that “any more provocation in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel,” according to the French news agency AFP.

Israel insists that it is committed to maintaining the status quo. Its actions, Netanyahu said, have come only to prevent violence at the site. .

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