Tension escalating in Jerusalem
Tensions and violence are still escalating in Jerusalem and Israel / Palestine, originally due to the recent conflict surrounding the addition of metal detectors to the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount. The added security measures were introduced after the fatal shooting of two Israeli police officers on July 14th. Since then CCTV cameras were also added. This had sparked outrage from both Palestinians and the Jordanian based Waqf officers that oversee the holy site, claiming that this Israeli decision would be a direct breach of the Status Quo.
The addition of these security measures was seen by many as an Israeli attempt at increasing its “sovereignty” in the area which it captured in 1967 but is regarded by most of the international community as “occupied”. The recent move by Netanyahu to place these detectors at the site without apparently consulting or asking the Waqf has been seen by most as hasty and a bit of a diplomatic blunder.
(Palestinians celebrate at the Lions Gate in Jerusalem after Israel removes security restrictions implemented on Temple Mount, July 24, 2017. Emil Salman)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had said he was freezing all contacts with Israel after it installed metal detectors at the site. Abbas cancelled a planned security meeting after announcing he was cutting all contacts however it is not certain if he will cut the long-standing security collaboration between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
In a joint statement, the Palestinian grand mufti, the acting Palestinian chief justice and the Jordanian-sponsored Waqf religious trust have declared: “We stress our absolute rejection of the electronic gates, and of all measures by the Occupation (Israel) that would change the historical and religious status in Jerusalem and its sacred sites, foremost the blessed Aqsa mosque”.
Over the last two weeks, protesters have repeatedly clashed with police in the city. Due to clashes around this issue, and despite the decision taken by Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reluctantly remove the new security measures, particularly the recently added metal detectors at the entrance of the site, so far several people died and many have been injured: Palestinians were shot by police during clashes with protesters, and Israelis were stabbed to death by a man in a West Bank settlement.
Meanwhile added to these tensions is the recent event in which two Jordanians were killed by security at the Israeli embassy in Amman. The two countries are at a standoff as Jordanian officials want Israel to trial the Israeli Guard, while Netanyahu welcomed back the guard as a “hero”.
(Tear gas fumes billow as Palestinian protesters flee during clashes with Israeli forces after Friday prayers at the main entrance of the West bank city of Bethlehem on July 21, 2017. Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP)
In an apparent anticipation of the decision to soften Israel’s position, Maj-Gen Mordechai, referring to the metal detectors, told BBC Arabic “We hope that Jordan and other Arab nations can suggest another security solution for this (problem) – Any solution be it electronic, cyber or modern technology: Israel is ready for a solution. We need a security solution; not political or religious.”
Despite the removal of all these security measures tensions are still high and a further 140-120 Palestinians were injured in clashes with police as a group of young Palestinians barricaded themselves in the Al- Aqsa mosque. The Waqf made several attempts to get them out, but eventually police were called in. Some clashes also occurred in the West Bank, Gaza and outside the holy compounds at the gates.
Many international parties and bodies have been calling for calm from both parties and the de-escalation of tension. As clashes continue and tensions rise a compromise must be reached or Israel and the Palestinian Authority run the risk of developing into a crisis. “Violence is likely to worsen absent a major policy shift,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Netanyahu’s mistake was installing the metal detectors without a Muslim interlocutor. It is the coercive character more than the security measure itself that made this unacceptable for Palestinians.”
(Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif compound.)
The events of the last two week had all the apparent ingredients for the beginning of another Intifada. However, it does not seem that it will go that way. Now the potential for this is something that Israel and even several Arab nations fear. Saudi’s monarch King Salman held talks with some world leaders, taking credit for creating an apparent “turning point” that led to the Temple Mount being reopened to Muslim worshippers. The motivation for some of these Arab nations to de-escalate the situation is the possibility that in solidarity with the Palestinians a different wave of “Arab spring” could kick off, which would threaten their power. Netanyahu has also come under fire from all sides. The right-wing groups have accused him of giving in to Palestinian pressure, while the more moderate groups have criticised his entire handling of this situation.
“Two killed in shooting at Israeli embassy in Jordan” The Guardian, 24th July 2017
“Muslim worshippers flock to Al-Aqsa after prayer boycott lifted” Haaretz July 28th, 2017
Clashes break out as Palestinians return to al-Aqsa mosque after a two-week standoff with Israel. The Telegraph, 2017. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/27/palestinians-return-al-aqsa-mosque-two-week-standoff-israel/
“Jerusalem: Metal detectors at holy site could be removed” BBC News, July 2017
Amid rising violence in Jerusalem, UN and diplomatic partners urge maximum restraint on all sides. The United Nations News Centre. 2017 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=57237#.WXXGaIjyvIU
“Three Israelis stabbed to death in West Bank attack” BBC News, July 2017
“Two Israeli police and three gunmen killed in shootout at holy site” The Guardian, July 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/14/shooting-attack-jerusalem-temple-mount-friday-prayers
“Three Palestinians Killed in Clashes with Israel as Thousands Protest Over Temple Mount” Haaretz, 2017. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.802708
“Arab states fear that a Palestinian uprising would spark another Arab Spring” Haaretz 2017. http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.803876