New clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators erupted this Friday morning, April 22, on the esplanade of the Jerusalem Mosques. Islam’s third holiest site and Judaism’s holiest site, the building has long been an ultra-sensitive spot in the Old City.
The esplanade of the Mosques, also called Temple Mount by the Jews, is indeed often perceived as a powder keg where the slightest incident can degenerate to the point of setting the region ablaze.
In recent days the tension has gone crescendo and even more this Friday, the third of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which coincided with the end of the celebrations of Passover, the Jewish Passover.
The opportunity to return to the history of the place, to say the least complicated.
A site dating from the 7th century
The Esplanade of the Mosques extends over 14 hectares overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located in the Palestinian sector of the holy city, occupied and annexed by Israel since 1967 and which the Palestinians want to make the capital of the state to which they aspire.
Its construction began in the 7th century, after the capture of Jerusalem by Caliph Omar. It is built on the site of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 and whose most important known vestige, the Wailing Wall, is located below.
A sensitive place
The esplanade is at the heart of all the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel assures that it does not want to change the status quo inherited from the 1967 conflict. The unspoken rules of this status quo authorize Muslims to go up to the esplanade at any time of day and night and Jews to enter it at certain times, but without praying.
The increase in the number of Jews visiting the esplanade as well as the presence of Jewish ultranationalists, lead to frequent tensions with the Muslim faithful. They fear that the Jewish state is trying to change the rules governing access to the esplanade administered by Jordan but whose access is controlled by the Israeli police.
In 1996, an Israeli decision to open a new entrance to the west of the esplanade caused clashes that killed more than 80 people in three days.
On September 28, 2000, the visit to the esplanade by Ariel Sharon, then leader of the Israeli right-wing opposition, was seen as a provocation by the Palestinians. The next day, bloody clashes opposed Palestinians and Israeli police who shot and killed seven demonstrators, marking the start of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, after that of 1987-1993.