As the United States prepares to set up their embassy in Jerusalem, some Orthodox Jews are pouring oil on the fire by demanding the annexation of the Esplanade of Mosques, two of the holiest buildings of Islam, the dome from the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The tour guide did (almost) not lie. From the Jewish side of the Wailing Wall to the Mosque Esplanade on the Muslim side, you have to take a hideous wooden footbridge at the southern end of the square. A passage also called “door of filth”. But be assured, the Esplanade des Mosques, planted with cypresses, southeast of the old city of Jerusalem (al Quds in Arabic) is very clean, very peaceful.
At least when Jewish activists do not come to pray. Because they do not have the right. For centuries, this place is exclusively reserved for the practice of Islam. A rule formerly respected by the British occupier. In 1967, when Israel took possession of the city, the country undertook to maintain the status quo. Especially since Jordan is still the guardian of these holy places.
A Temple was 2000 years ago
The problem is that more and more Orthodox Jews are coming to the Esplanade des mosques. They do not hide their intention: to recover the site in order to build there the Temple which was raised their two thousand years ago! This led to renewed tensions and even angry outbursts that led to the death in July 2017 of two Israeli Druze policemen.
In two weeks, five Palestinians had been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli police banned a Friday entry to the Muslim place of worship for Palestinians under 50 years old. “Now, every morning, organized groups get used to browsing the site under police escort. Once a month at nightfall, Figaro appeared at the beginning of April.
A favourable economic situation
When we moved in late April, we did not witness any incidents. A dozen orthodox Jews came to walk, supervised by armed police. However, they did not stop to pray. The problem is that the reconstruction of the Temple was initially claimed only by small groups. Today, even if they remain a minority, the activists are more and more numerous.
They intend to put pressure on the government of Benyamin Netanyahu. “Despite all his pots, the Prime Minister is still very popular, because the economic situation in Israel is good. Unemployment does not exceed 4%. Moreover, Netanyahu plays on the divisions of the Palestinians. The Fatah of President Mahmoud Abbas only seeks to marginalize Hamas. He has not yet paid the salaries of civil servants in Gaza in March,” laments an Israeli journalist.
Negotiate with the Palestinians
To leave the field open to Jewish activists would be catastrophic. In a recent interview with Obs, Israeli writer David Grossman recalls that the status of Jerusalem, like the question of settlements and the right of return of refugees, are “issues that need to be negotiated with the Palestinians (…) We must parley if we do not want to continue to kill each other for centuries, which will be painful. But these concessions will be a sign of our maturity,” he says.
But can Benyamin Netanyahu listen to reason, who is trying to convince the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to choose Abu Dis (a small town of 10,000) rather than Jerusalem as its capital?