Thousands of Palestinians gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem on Sunday to celebrate the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha clashed with Israeli police who fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound grenades fired into crowds of worshippers.
Videos circulated on social media of Israeli police shoving and beating Palestinians, and firing tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets, and of Palestinians throwing stones.
The Associated press reported 14 Palestinians were treated in a hospital for injuries and Palestinians injured four Israeli police officers. Police reportedly arrested two Palestinians.
According to local media reports, tensions first flared in the morning Israeli forces established a heavy presence inside the compound and opened one of the gates, seemingly in preparation to allow Jewish visitors into the site for observance of the Jewish holiday of Tish B’av, which also fell on Sunday.
Jewish fanatics perform rituals at the Lions Gate at the entrance to the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied Jerusalem, today. pic.twitter.com/8iN1oyoTOL
— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) August 10, 2019
Jewish visitation to the Al-Aqsa compound, which is typically accompanied by a heavy police presence, often sparks confrontations with Palestinian worshipers who view it as an affront to their claims over the site.
Tensions were particularly high on Sunday, as Tish B’av marks when Jewish worshippers mourn the destruction of the second temples believed to have stood inside of the holy sites complex. Typically on Muslim holidays like Eid al-Adha, the compound is traditionally closed to non-Muslims. NBC reported that was the case on Sunday, however, Israeli police reversed their decision after clashes took place in the morning.
A number of Palestinians approached the gates of the compound that were opened by Israeli forces stationed in the area and faced off with the soldiers, chanting popular nationalistic slogans like “with our soul and blood, we will redeem you, Aqsa.”
According to media reports, things calmed down in the compound for a short while, until far-right Israeli politicians and activists began putting more pressure on police forces to allow Israelis into the site.
“Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted and the Ynet website reported that the decision to close the mount to Jews had been made with the approval of the prime minister, increasing pressure on police commanders even more,” Haaretz reported.
Israeli forces then opened the doors to some 1,300 Jewish visitors, Al Jazeera reported, sparking a second round of clashes with worshipers.
Photos and videos of the clashes were widely circulated on social media, sparking outrage amongst Palestinians and Muslims worldwide, who consider Al-Aqsa to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Madina in Saudi Arabia.
“The storming of Al Aqsa Mosque Compound by Israeli occupation forces this Eid morning is an act of recklessness and aggression, designed to provoke religious and political tensions in the City and across Palestine,” said senior PLO official Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.
Ashrawi called the events “reprehensible” and accused Israeli politicians of trying to “score points” ahead of the upcoming general elections by “competing on who can exhibit higher levels of aggression and hostility against the Palestinian people during this important religious holiday.”
“What Israel and the settlers do at Al-Aqsa will come back to them,” Hamas said in a statement.
Israeli police fired sound grenades to disperse Palestinians during confrontations outside Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque where tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered for the Eid al-Adha holiday https://t.co/TVTvhz4JME via @ReutersTV pic.twitter.com/MyJ20SYzyV
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) August 12, 2019
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh called the “Israeli attacks” a “major provocation to the feelings of Muslims and serves to fuel the situation and increase tension that would drag the region to the square of violence.”
Co-founder of the Women’s March Linda Sarsour who is Palestinian wrote “This is the life of Palestinians” on Facebook, along with posting a video showing hundreds of Palestinians fleeing the site of the clashes. “This aggression is always unacceptable but even more despicable on a religious holiday,” she said.
The Al-Aqsa compound has for decades been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to its religious significance for both Muslims and Jews, and the political importance of the city of Jerusalem for both Palestinian and Israelis.
Following Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, an agreement was signed with Jordan, the official “custodian” of Al-Aqsa, allowing for non-Muslim visitation — but no non-Muslim worship — under the auspices of the Waqf.
In 2003, following a three-year closure to non-Muslims, Israel reopened the site to everyone in what the Waqf saw as a direct violation of its sovereignty, and has since viewed all Israeli visitation as “trespassing,” according to Haaretz.
“The police, under pressure from Temple advocacy groups and right-wing politicians, have allowed Jewish visits to the compound even on days when it had been closed in the past, like the last 10 days of Ramadan, which this year coincided with Jerusalem Day, and on Eid al-Adha, as happened Sunday,” Haaretz said.