In the opinion of the head of the Israeli police (ad interim) Benzi Sau, the intervention of the agents at the Esplanade of the Mosques has “saved human lives”. In the opinion of Hussam Badran, a Hamas leader, on the contrary, “the continuous attacks on the al-Aqsa mosque make the Palestinians face an explosive situation in relation to the ‘Israeli occupation”. These two diametrically opposed readings are enough to understand how the tension between Israelis and Palestinians has reached alarming levels again.
The cause of this escalation? The clashes that occurred at the Esplanade of the Mosques in Jerusalem. According to the spokesman of the Israeli police, the agents broke in after some demonstrators of Palestinian origin had thrown Molotov bottles and firecrackers. As a result, at least 110 Palestinians were wounded or intoxicated by tear gas used by the police.
“It is not acceptable that Muslim rioters who had barricaded themselves during the night, transform the place, according to their wish, into a combat zone,” said the minister of security Gilad Erdan, who announced the discovery of some explosives in the area.
For the minister, what happened “obliges us to review the measures concerning the access to the Esplanade and “that those actions are extremely serious and that they violate in a blatant way the status quo in that place”. The minister said also that measures will be taken to shed light on what has happened and that those incidents will not ”silenced”.
The clashes occurred on the eve of the Jewish new year, that will begin on Sunday evening and will finish on Tuesday. The Esplanade of the Mosques, called by the Jews Temple Mount, is the most sacred place for the Jewish religion and the third most sacred one – after Mecca and Medina – for Islamic culture. Clashes of this kind, between the Israeli police and Palestinians, are very frequent, especially when important Jewish holidays are around the corner. Only Muslims are allowed to pray at the Esplanade of the Mosques, while Hebrews are not; they can only visit for free religious ceremonies inside.
Israel often imposes restrictions on Palestinians who want to visit the Esplanade. It forbids, for example, access to males under 50 years of age. The latest clashes occurred last July, when according to the Israeli police, some hundreds of young Palestinians gathered there in order to attack the many Jewish visitors who had come to celebrate the Tisha B’Av, i.e. the commemoration of the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem.
Even prior to that, in November 2014, the police had raided the Temple Mount to disperse a group of Palestinians who, according to the Israelis, preparing to throw stones at a Jewish religious manifestation, that was to be held on the next day near the Wailing Wall.
In an announcement, the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu ensured that the country will act “using all the means at its disposal in order to maintain the status quo and public order at the Temple Mount, because of the “duty to act against those who violate the law, in order to preserve freedom of worship”.
The only hope seems to reside in the dialogue with the Holy See, that both factions keep open, “the bilateral agreement with Israel is defined in all its aspects, and we are ready,” said Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Nuncio in Israel and an Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, in an interview with Religious Information Service. “There are some technical details of which the Israeli Government and the concerned departments must decide.This makes the whole procedure longer. Besides, it becomes affected by the political changes such as the recent elections and the formation of the new Government. Lazzarotto has also mentioned the recent signing of the Agreement with the State of Palestine: “The strong motivation for signing this document, he declared, was the belief that it could help identify new paths towards peace in the Holy Land, something all of us want to see established here in a strong, secure and serious manner”.