Photo by Joshua Tartakovsky
The shooting of a prominent Jewish activist who frequented the sacred Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif on a nearly daily basis by a Palestinian gunmen on October 29, 2014, is another cornerstone signaling a deteriorating state of affairs. Young Israeli Jewish nationalists declared that they would attempt to visit the Temple Mount tomorrow morning in response. This latest incident comes after another attack in which a Palestinian driver ran over an Israeli baby and a woman, while several days earlier an Israeli settler ran over a Palestinian girl in the Occupied West Bank.
Jerusalem is holy to the three monotheistic religions and contains residents of all three faiths. Ever since 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, it did not grant Arab residents of the city the same rights given to Jewish residents. Non-Jewish residents in the East are given residency permits but usually not full citizenship. They are often barred from expanding their homes as their families grow in number while they suffer from neglect by the municipal services in an attempt to “Judaize” the city.
The city’s poster site, the Temple Mount where the magnificent Al Aqsa Mosque is located, is occupied by Israeli soldiers who guard the entrances and exits and frequently raid the area once clashes break out. Israel limits access to the holy site to Palestinians below the age of 45, thereby restricting Palestinian Muslims’ freedom of religion. For many Palestinian Muslims, it is not easy to accept that that this holy site is under a foreign occupation. As Israel expands its building of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem it appears that a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as Jerusalem remains as elusive and ungraspable as a religious vision.
For Jews who are residents of Jerusalem a different situation emerges. While Israeli settlers are encouraged to settle Arab East Jerusalem, Israeli Jews are not allowed to pray in the Temple Mount due to Israel’s fear of instigating a religious war. While most religious Jews believe that entering the area is forbidden until the coming of the Messiah, a small yet adamant minority continues to visit the area in an attempt to reclaim it. In the eyes of Palestinian Muslims, this is as an attempt to forcibly grab a religious site with the goal of eventually destroying the Al Aqsa Mosque and rebuilding the Jewish temple in its stead. From the perspective of nationalist religious Jews, however, the Israeli government is not allowing them to practice their religion in a Jewish holy site while they may be blind to the fact that the presence of Israeli soldiers in the area is seen as a foreign occupation by Muslim worshippers. The situation is further compounded by the fact that Israel often prevents Palestinian Christians from visiting the Holy Sepulcher during Easter, reserving the area for international tourists.
Jerusalem is a holy city to the three monotheistic faiths and has rarely been a peaceful city. Yet the ongoing Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the lack of a conclusive Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement and Israel’s discriminatory policies in the holy city, only ensure that the crisis will deepen and deteriorate. As a first step towards resolving the current predicament, the rights of all citizens living in the city must be respected and granted unconditionally and the military occupation must come to an end. Otherwise, the holy city may witness yet another round of bloodshed and misery.
Joshua Tartakovsky is an Israeli-American independent journalist and a graduate of Brown University and LSE.