The smuggling of weapons and the killing of two Israeli police officers on Haram al-Sharif unleashed weeks of tension, riots, and political crisis in Jerusalem.
Acts of violence on holy thresholds are not new to history. In these last two decades the world has seen scenes of conflicts involving holy sites with a steadier increase. Worth of mention are the acts of violence at Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, the Church ofNativity in Bethlehem, cemeteries, and so on. The Middle East and Central Asia are constantly hit by attacks on mosques and religious followers. Even the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Prophet’s Mosque of Medina and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul have not been spared from this spiral of violence.
Following these attacks, all Middle Eastern governments have put in place security measures to prevent other attacks and acts of violence against followers from taking place. It must not surprise therefore that the Israeli government had decided to start using metal detectors first and cameras later on.
The setting up of stricter security measures have resulted into the open protest of Palestinian authorities, both political and religious, representatives, and people. Also Jordan, as the official protector of Muslim sites in Jerusalem, and the Arab League were involved into the crisis.
But while the metal detectors were a casus belli, the crisis has brought up once again the conflict’s political and religious related issues.
One of the main trigger points is the narrative about the sanctuary: Temple Mount for Jews and Haram al-Sharif for Muslims. For most of Jews that is the place were the two previous Jewish temples stood and were the third temple will be built. For most of Muslims that is the place were the prophet Mohammed was lead during a dream making it the third most important place for Sunni Islam. Often these places have been used as propaganda against the opposing party, portraying them as the destroyers of the holy sites.
Particularly relevant to the issue is the campaign launched in 1929 by then Jerusalem’s mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini that portrayed the Al-Aqsa mosque as in danger because of the Zionist movement and its aim to exercise the right of self-determination of the Jews. Today the legacy of al-Husseini’s campaign has been taken by the Israeli Arab sheikh Raed Salah and sheikh al-Qardawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A close analysis of the parties’ holy scriptures bring to the conclusion that neither the exact place of where the third temple has to be built is mentioned, nor it is absolutely sure the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem is the al-Aqsa mosque mentioned in the Quran. But the collective memory of a people is based less on what the texts say and more on the stories passed from generation to generation through the centuries.
The trends of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not encouraging. They show a slow but steady resort to violence. Unless courageous leaders step up to sign an all comprehensive deal that includes also the narratives of people, the next rounds will be more and more violent.