Israelis and Palestinians are firing at each other in Jerusalem’s Old City near Al-Aqsa. The violence that began as clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians a month ago has now turned into rocket and airstrikes from the two sides.
Al-Aqsa – a mosque – is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam. But the compound – called Haram al-Sharif by Muslims – is equally holy for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Al-Aqsa means the farthest mosque in English. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad travelled from Mecca to Al-Aqsa during the Night Journey (Al-Isra) and continued thereafter to heaven. The mosque is built on a hilltop, often called the walled plateau.
The walled plateau also hosts the Temple Mount, which is one of the holiest places for Jews. They believe it was built during biblical times. The Romans destroyed it in 70 AD leaving only its western part. The Jews revere this wall.
Both Israelis and Muslims of Palestine and rest of the Arab region stake their claim on the walled plateau. It is one of the disputed points that have prevented a settlement between Israel and Palestine.
At the core of the Israel-Palestine violence are Israel’s attempt to limit gatherings at Al-Aqsa and a dispute over land ownership in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. It is a dispute that dates back to the formation of Israel in 1948. The dispute gained more momentum after 1956, when Israel won the first Arab War.
Back then, the area where the mosque is located was under the control of Jordan, which worked with the United Nations to resettle Palestinian families that had been uprooted by the Israeli conquest in 1956.
However, Israel established dominance over this area in another Arab War in 1967, when it occupied the West Bank, where the Old City of Jerusalem – also called East Jerusalem – is located. The name, West Bank, was given to it because of its location on the west of River Jordan.
Israel has maintained its dominance in the region for over five decades now. Several mediation attempts have failed to find an amicable settlement between Israel and Palestine.
Al-Aqsa has been a site of clashes for years. In 2000, Israeli forces stormed the mosque compound to suppress a Palestinian uprising. The month of Ramzan has historically seen an uptick in clashes in the area.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED NOW?
The recent clashes erupted on April 12, after Israeli police put up blockades to prevent people from gathering in huge numbers at the Damascus Gate Plaza in the part of East Jerusalem that’s under Israel’s control.
The Damascus Gate Plaza has been a popular gathering place for Palestinian Muslims during the month of Ramzan. Israel feared trouble and tried to curtail the gathering.
Infographic: Rahul Gupta/ India today
Four days later on April 16, Israel imposed a limit of 10,000 people for prayer gathering at the Al-Aqsa. Tens of thousands of Palestinians had headed to the mosque for prayers. They all were sent back.
Violence has aggravated since then. More than 200 people were injured on May 7 in clashes at Al-Aqsa. Later, Palestinians were reported to have driven out Jewish families settled in Sheikh Jarrah.
In retaliation, Israel on May 9 announced deferment of a hearing on the dispute of land ownership of Sheikh Jarrah. Grenades and rockets were fired on Monday. Israel launched airstrikes to push back Palestinian fighters and protesters.
May 10 was a national holiday in Israel to mark Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the annexation of the city. Thousands of Israelis usually march in the Old City including areas densely settled by Palestinian Muslims. The day saw increasing clashes this year.