Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat- The streets of Jerusalem were transformed into a battleground between angry Palestinians and Israeli security forces following news of the rededication of a Jewish synagogue and Israeli plans to build settlements close to the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This was a scene that recalled the first Intifada which utilized all means of popular resistance, from setting barricades and closing down streets to setting fires and throwing stones. Israeli intelligence agents and Israeli undercover officers dressed as Arabs were also involved, and responded to the demonstrations by arresting a number of Palestinians. Reports indicate that the undercover Israeli officers fired a number of shots resulting in dozens of Palestinians being injured.
The clashes broke out early in the day in what was described as the Palestinian “Day of Rage.” National and Islamic forces and religious figures called for a day of demonstrations to protest against the Israeli plans in East Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinians reportedly took part in these demonstrations against the rededication of a synagogue near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, something that the Palestinians believe is part of a larger Israeli plan to destroy the mosque and build a Jewish temple on its ruins. Three thousand Israeli officers were put on high alert and took up positions along the Temple Mount. The confrontation between the Palestinian demonstrators and the Israeli forces soon moved from the alleys of the Old Town to other areas in the holy city. There were confrontations in the neighborhoods of Ras Al Amoud, Silwan, Jabal al-Zeitun, Wadi al-Joz, and Sawana, as well as the village of Issawiya, and also the Shufat and Qalandia Refugee Camps, and the town of Abu Dis. This wave of anger later spread to the cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, Chief Islamic Judge of the Palestinian Authority told Asharq Al-Awsat that Israel had stationed its entire army throughout Jerusalem and was preventing people from even walking the streets. Al-Tamimi said that this was something that was pushing the Palestinians towards initiating a third Intifada, and he also stated that the Palestinians would never permit the Israelis to touch the Al-Aqsa Mosque at any price.
Sources in the Israeli police force said that the confrontations in Jerusalem were “a big test” to measure the extent of the reaction of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to calls for protest and demonstration.
Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Knesset severely criticized the behavior of the Israeli police in Jerusalem, and said that the protests and demonstrations were justified as the Al-Aqsa Mosque was under police siege. Tibi said “Jerusalem is sitting on a barrel of gunpowder that is set to explode, and it clear that the government is not only driving drunk – as the famous Jewish American journalist Thomas Freidman said – but that this is a government that is comprised of those who are obsessed with lighting fires that threaten to engulf Jerusalem as a whole.”
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society more than 50 Palestinian were injured during the demonstrations, the majority of whom suffered injury after being shot with rubber bullets. 8 Israeli soldiers were also wounded during the protests. The Red Crescent society also said that the Israeli soldiers refused to provide treatment to the Palestinians, in many cases. Around 40 Palestinians were arrested during the demonstrations, some of whom were underage.
Kamal al-Khatib, the deputy leader of the Islamic movement in Israel said that the massed Palestinian ranks prevented the [Israeli] extremists from storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He claimed that the Israeli extremists were planning on storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the third day of celebrations of the rededication of the Synagogue. Al-Khatib told Asharq Al-Awsat “The Torah scroll entered the Synagogue on Sunday, the Synagogue opened on Monday, and they planned to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday.” He added that the confrontation with the Israelis in Jerusalem will be ongoing so long as there is an Israeli intention to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Al-Khatib said that the Jewish extremists had made a request to the Israeli police asking to be allowed to make their Passover offering [Korban Pesach] on the Temple Mount where the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands. The Jewish festival of Passover is scheduled to take place at the end of March, and al-Khatib stressed that “this is likely to ignite the situation once again.”