Israeli-Palestinian conflict: What’s behind the latest round of clashes in Jerusalem?

Here’s what led to the recent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestine supporters.
Israeli-Palestinian conflict: What’s behind the latest round of clashes in Jerusalem?
Palestinian protesters march during an anti-Israel demonstration near the Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on May 10, 2021. AFP

At least 21 Palestinians including children have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on the besieged Gaza strip after Hamas group, Palestinian militant groups that rules Gaza, fired dozens of rockets into Israel for the first time in seven years.

For weeks now, high tension has been simmering in Jerusalem between Palestinian supporters and Israel police and right-wing groups.

The clashes are being reported at a time when Israel is in political limbo after four indecisive elections in the last two years and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called off elections, citing Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem who wish to campaign and cast their votes freely.

Here’s what led to the recent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestine supporters:

What led to the latest round of violence?

The latest round of violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israel security forces were set off after Israel police tried to block some Palestinian gatherings at their favourite plaza by barricading the Damascus gate in East Jerusalem’s walled Old City at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April.

Israeli security forces stand guard during clashes with Palestinian protesters outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on May 9, 2021.
Israeli security forces stand guard during clashes with Palestinian protesters outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on May 9, 2021. AFP

Israeli police had defended the decision to put barriers as part of Coronavirus restrictions. However, the Palestinians saw the blockage as a restriction on their freedom to assemble, which led to several nights of clashes.

There were also reports of violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in which a group of Palestinians attacked Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. In a separate incident, a Jewish extremist group conducted a march in which participants chanted “Death to Arabs.”

The stand-off was further fulled by the expected eviction of dozens of Palestinian residents in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Jewish settlers. The issue became a rallying cry for Palestinians, who saw the moves as ethnic cleansing and attempts to ensure Jewish control over East Jerusalem.

Palestinians protest in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2021, in solidarity with Palestinian families facing Israeli eviction orders in the Sheikh Jarrah.
Palestinians protest in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2021, in solidarity with Palestinian families facing Israeli eviction orders in the Sheikh Jarrah.AFP

On Friday, May 7, Israeli forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered as one of the holiest structures in the Islamic faith, with rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas to broke up a massive gathering of Palestinian worshippers who had assembled to pray at the mosque on the last Friday of Ramzan.

There were clashes in the following days in the area. Although, the unrest came to a boil on Monday, when Israeli police fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinians in the compound for the second time injuring more than 330 Palestinians.

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City Monday, May 10, 2021
Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City Monday, May 10, 2021AFP

According to Israel Foreign Ministry, the incident was ‘’the direct result of incitement by Palestinian terror groups” and posted photos of stone purportedly collected inside the Aqsa compound. The Ministry alleged that Palestinian terror groups were inciting violence on the annual May 10 Jerusalem Day processions by Jewish groups through the Old City of East Jerusalem to mark the day the territory was captured by Israeli forces during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Why is Jerusalem the flashpoint?

Jerusalem, which is considered to the most sacred places for three faiths – Muslims, Jews and Christians – in the world, has been a major flashpoint in the decades-old conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Both Israel and Palestine have declared it their capital.

The city was proposed to be an international city in the original 1947 UN partition plan. However, the Israelis captured the western half of the city, and Jordan took the eastern part, including the Old City that includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the first Arab Israel war of 1948.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it later. Since its annexation, Israel has expanded settlements in East Jerusalem, which is now home to some 220,000 Jews.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern section as a capital of a future state.

What is the significance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque?

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of the Old City of Jerusalem, sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims. Muslims call it Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and for Jews, it is known as the Temple Mount, or in Har Habayit in Hebrew.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered to be the third holiest structure in the Islamic faith after Masjid al-Haram (the Great Mosque of Mecca) and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina). According to the Quran, it is believed that Prophet Muhammad travelled from Mecca to Al-Aqsa during the night journey, and then on to heaven.

Palestinian devotees pray on Laylat al-Qadr outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on May 8, 2021.
Palestinian devotees pray on Laylat al-Qadr outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on May 8, 2021. AFP

The Temple Mount is also the holiest site for Jews because it was the location of the two biblical temples. The first was built by King Solomon, according to the Bible, and was later destroyed by the Babylonians; and the second stood for nearly 600 years before the Roman Empire destroyed it in the first century.

The hilltop compound containing the two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, buttressed by the Jewish holy site of the Western Wall is a sensitive place. While non-muslim are not allowed to worship at Al-Aqsa, Jews groups have made repeated attempts to gain entry to the Mount Temple plaza.

It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with both Israel and Palestinians wary of each other's intentions and activities there.

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