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Explainer: What Sparked Violence on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Today?
Israeli security forces stand guard as Orthodox Jews enter the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to mark Tisha B'Av, the fast day commemorating the destruction of the ancient Jewish temples, July 18, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

Explainer: What Sparked Violence on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Today?

Over 1,600 Jews mark Tisha B’Av on the Temple Mount on Sunday following clashes between Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel Police

On Saturday night, July 17, Jews around the world began commemorating Tisha B’Av. The solemn fast day observed on the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar marks the destruction of two Jewish temples in Jerusalem: The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

In Jewish tradition, the ninth of Av was a day of repeated tragedies, generation after generation, beginning with the return of the 12 spies Moses sent to scout out the land of Canaan before the Israelites entered the land. Ten of the spies brought back an overly pessimistic report on the chance of success, leading the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years before being allowed to enter the land.

The Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans was defeated on the same date in 133 CE, and Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the Temple Mount on the same date in 135 CE.

Other tragic Jewish events that occurred on the ninth of Av include the start of the First Crusade in 1096; the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492; the approval for the Nazi’s Final Solution in 1941; and the start of mass deportations of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.

Tisha B’Av, which comes at the end of a three-week mourning period, is observed with a 25-hour fast that includes prohibitions on eating and drinking, washing and bathing, wearing leather shoes, and having marital relations. Jews gather to chant the biblical Book of Lamentations, and also recite kinot – elegies marking various tragedies that have occurred throughout Jewish history. They sit in low chairs and often read these texts by candlelight.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his son, David, attend a reading of the Book of Lamentations at a synagogue in Raanana, Israel, July 17, 2021. (Oded Karni)

In Israel, Jews gather at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem to recite Lamentations and kinot, and some have a tradition of ascending to the Temple Mount in order to mourn the destruction.

Over 1,600 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Sunday, following clashes on the holy site between Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israeli police officers over the arrival of the Jewish pilgrims. Muslim protesters threw rocks from the mosque and chanted, “With our soul and blood, we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa.”

Following clashes at the site, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a situational assessment with Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev and Police Inspector General Yaakov Shabtai. Bennett “instructed that the organized and safe visits by Jews to the Temple Mount continue, while maintaining order at the site,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

In the wake of the visit by Jewish pilgrims to the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa compound, the Ra’am – United Arab List party, which is part of the current government coalition, condemned the practice and said that the site belongs to Muslims only.

“Al-Aqsa Mosque, in its 144 dunams [35.6 acres], is solely the property of Muslims, and no one else has any right to it,” Ra’am said in a joint statement with the Islamic Movement.

The statement condemned Israeli authorities that “allowed officials and Knesset members to storm Al-Aqsa, perform prayers, perform religious rituals, and recite the Israeli national anthem Hatikva in the courtyards of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The Kingdom of Jordan also condemned the visits, calling them “a violation of the historical and legal status quo, international law, and Israel’s obligations as an occupying power in east Jerusalem.”

The violence comes after Hamas accused Israel of “playing with fire” in allowing Jewish visits to the Temple Mount to mark Tisha B’Av. Hamas called on Muslims to mass at the entrances to the Old City and throughout Jerusalem to confront Israeli Jews and to protest the visits. Hamas also called on residents of Gaza, which it controls, to “keep their fingers on the trigger” to defend Jerusalem, also referencing the upcoming possible evictions of Palestinian families from homes in the Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. This call comes two months after cross-border violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the clashes in the Old City and the possible evictions.

The Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice that commemorates Ibrahim’s near-sacrifice of his son Ishmael and that marks the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, is also observed this week, from Monday night through Friday. Hamas has called on all Muslims to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque on the holiday.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office released a statement on Sunday that “Prime Minister Naftali Bennett … thanked the public security minister and the Israel Police inspector general for managing the events on the Temple Mount with responsibility and consideration, while maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount. Prime Minister Bennett emphasized that freedom of worship on the Temple Mount will be fully preserved for Muslims as well, who will soon be marking the fast of the Day of Arafah and the Eid al-Adha.”

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