Over the last three days, Palestinians have come under fierce attack as they attempted with their bare hands, sticks and stones to deter and prevent repeated violent assaults by Israeli occupation forces into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The violence comes as Israeli-backed groups bent on replacing the mosque with a Jewish temple are asserting their presence ever more aggressively.
Dozens of Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces who fired stun grenades, tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at worshipers, Ma’an News Agency reported.
Early on Monday, Israeli forces forcibly expelled Palestinians from the Bab al-Silsila entrance to the compound in occupied East Jerusalem, activist Khadija Khuwais told the local news agency Q Press.
The video at the top of this post, produced by Q Press, shows more of the violent attacks by Israeli forces against journalists and other civilians as well as the firing of stun grenades inside mosque buildings.
By Wednesday, confrontations between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces were spreading to other areas of occupied Jerusalem.
Palestinians have published many images and videos of the violence on social media.
Jewish temple plans
The increasingly violent Israeli incursions at one the most revered holy sites for Muslims have accompanied the rise in recent years of so-called “Temple activism” groups.
A 2013 report by the Israeli research organization Ir Amim noted that “the Jerusalem Municipality and other government ministries directly fund and support various activist organizations driven by the mission to rebuild the temple.”
The Temple Institute, the leading extremist organization of its kind, has already formulated detailed blueprints for the new Jewish temple.
A leading figure in the Temple movement is Yehuda Glick, an American settler who was shot and injured by an unidentified gunman after he spoke last October at a conference titled “The Jewish people return to the Temple Mount.”
Hours after the shooting, Israeli forces extrajudicially executed Mutaz Hijazi, a 32-year-old Palestinian they claimed without presenting evidence had been Glick’s assailant.
A prominent figure among Israeli settlers, Ariel called in 2013 for the building of a Jewish temple at the al-Aqsa compound, known to Jews as “Temple Mount.”
“We’ve built many little, little temples,” Ariel said, “but we need to build a real temple on the Temple Mount.”
Many Palestinians fear that the incursions are aimed, as a preliminary step, at changing the longstanding status quo at the mosque. Already, Israeli occupation forces shut the mosque to Muslim worshippers on certain Jewish holy days – Israel is currently marking the start of the Jewish new year.
The latest assaults also come as Muslims around the world prepare for the holiday marking Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
One tactic Israel has used more frequently to facilitate the incursions is to issue banning orders against Palestinian volunteers, known as murabitoun, whose goal is to maintain a constant presence at the compound.
The next step many fear could be a physical partition of the compound between Jews and Muslims, following the model Israel imposed on the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron after the 1994 massacre by an American-born Jewish settler of 29 Palestinian men and boys who were performing Ramadan prayers.
There is a recent precedent for the destruction of a holy site of one religious group by supporters of another, with calamitous geopolitical consquences.
In 1992, Hindu nationalists in India destroyed the 400-year-old Babri mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, which they believe was built over the ruins of a temple marking the birthplace of their god Lord Ram.
The violence this provoked killed thousands of people, exacerbating sectarianism and communalism in India to this day.
The destruction of the Babri mosque offers an ominous warning of what could happen if Israeli government-backed Jewish nationalists attempt to fulfill their desire to replace al-Aqsa with a Jewish temple.
But the violence it would trigger would have global consequences and likely make the bloodbath in India pale in comparison.
Given what is at stake, the international neglect of what Israel is doing in Jerusalem is alarming.
Israel is testing the limits of what it can get away with.
Last year, for instance, during its 51-day assault, Israel destroyed the Omari mosque in Gaza, one of the most ancient in Palestine, with no international response.
Jordan, which maintains a nominal role in managing al-Aqsa since its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, has warned that Israel’s actions, if not stopped, will affect ties between the two countries.
But such warnings in the past have not resulted in any meaningful actions by the kingdom, which maintains close ties with the self-declared Jewish state.
The European Union issued one of its typical weak statements, failing to point to Israel’s primary responsibility for the crisis as the occupying power.
“The reported violence and escalation [at the site] constitute a provocation and incitement” ahead of important Jewish and Muslim holy days, European Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told media in Brussels on Tuesday.
“It is crucial that all parties demonstrate calm and restraint and full respect for the status quo of the holy sites,” she said.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned the UN Security Council on Tuesday that recent events had “the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.”
But he too stressed that “all sides have a responsibility to refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric” – failing to call for the occupying power to be held accountable.
The US State Department said that it was “deeply concerned by the recent violence and escalating tensions.”
“We strongly condemn all acts of violence,” the US government said. “It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve unchanged the historic status quo on the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount in word and in practice.”
The phrase “deeply concerned” is a formula the US has used routinely to criticize Israeli actions, such as the expansion of colonies on occupied Palestinian land.
In every past case it has meant, in practice, that the US will do absolutely nothing to restrain the Israeli aggressions it is condemning.