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Clashes at Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day

National holiday celebrating the unification of holy city is marred by disunity

As Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day, a national holiday that marks the unification of east and west Jerusalem after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War, clashes took place on the Temple Mount between Palestinian protestors and police.

The Temple Mount, which is situated in Jerusalem’s Old City, is the holiest site for Jews and one of the holiest sites for Muslims.

Tensions began after Israeli police permitted around 120 Jews to enter the Temple Mount, whose access is restricted on most days. Jews usually go to the Western Wall, which buttresses the Temple Mount on the west – something they could not do before the Six Day War.

“For Israel, Jerusalem and the Wall are the main symbols of the Jewish religion, and for 2,000 years Jews around the world prayed at the Passover Seder to return to Jerusalem,” Shaul Shay, lecturer and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, told The Media Line. “Israel’s religious and national identity are deeply connected to Jerusalem, and it is the capital of the State of Israel.”

Referring to the Temple Mount clashes, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, stated to the press: “Emptying Al-Aqsa Mosque by force and assaulting worshipers is a serious escalation and violation of the sanctity of religion, as well as the Islamic sanctities. To that end, it will have repercussions.”

This year, Jerusalem Day takes place during the last 10 days of Ramadan, a time when typically, only Muslims are permitted entry to the Temple Mount. The last time the holiday took place in this period was during the first intifada, in 1988.

Osama  al-Qawasmi, a spokesman and member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, stated in a press release: “During the month of Ramadan on ‘Lelet ‘al-Qader [Night of Destiny, which occurs on the last few nights of Ramadan], when a group of nearly four hundred thousand were praying [at Al-Aqsa], emphasizes that the Palestinians’ attachment to their values and sanctity is far greater than to be prevented by a racist separation wall [which are] barriers of hatred.”
Qawasmi called on the Palestinian people to continue with steadfastness and patience, and to defend our Islamic and Christian sanctities as the highest levels of struggle and jihad.”

In May 1968, Israel’s Knesset voted to recognize the unification of Jerusalem on its Hebrew date, the 28th of Iyar, as Jerusalem Day. In July 1980, Israel passed a law recognizing the unification of the city under Israeli sovereignty. In March 1998, the government moved to officially recognize Jerusalem Day as a national holiday.

As tensions began to escalate on Sunday, police blocked entry to Al-Aqsa to prevent further violence.

Jews and Palestinians, of course, view Jerusalem Day differently.

“Jerusalem Day is a time of celebration for the Jews,” Shay said. “Of course, the Palestinians do not celebrate this day, so there is a certain degree of tension.”

According to the mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, “Jerusalem belongs to everyone. As we celebrate this holiday, I invite each and every one of you to celebrate Jerusalem and to bless the city with your own heartfelt, personal wish.”

Rachel Greenspan, senior advisor on foreign affairs and media to the mayor, told The Media Line: “Since its reunification over 50 years ago, Jerusalem has flourished under Israeli sovereignty with openness, tolerance, religious freedom and economic growth for all.”

The Flag Parade on Jerusalem Day, in which young Jews march around the city, including in Arab neighborhoods, is an event that traditionally has been a source of friction between Palestinians and Jews. During the annual parade, some participants chant racist slogans. Although the police encourage those who live in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to avoid going outdoors during the parade, clashes have taken place in the past.

IDC Herzliya’s Shay contends that in order to make Jerusalem more unified today, security must be improved to keep citizens safe from terrorist attacks. He also advises more investment in the city’s infrastructure.

“We can always improve civil services in areas such as transportation, education and health care for the well-being of all people living in Jerusalem – Jews and Arabs alike,” he told The Media Line.

(Dima Abumaria contributed to this report)

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)