Temple Mount Tensions: Al-Aqsa Mosque Rumors Behind Palestinian Unrest

by F. Brinley Bruton and Lawahez Jabari /  / Updated 

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JERUSALEM — A spate of "lone-wolf" stabbings, unrest and clashes in Israel and the West Bank have left least 10 dead and 1,300 wounded in one week.

While the violence has deep roots — a stalled peace process, decades of Israeli West Bank occupation and a surge in deadly extremist attacks — the recent uptick in tensions appears to stem largely from growing Palestinian fears that Israel is trying to limit access to, or even destroy, one of Islam's holiest sites.

"We don't attack anyone and we want [Israelis] to stop attacking us, we want them not to enter Al-Aqsa," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told journalists on Thursday, referring to the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, which is also known as the Temple Mount.

"We support those who are protecting the Al-Aqsa mosque, those who suffer a great deal to protect Al-Aqsa. We tell the Israeli government: Stay away from our holy places, the Islamic and Christian holy places. We want peace, and our hands will remain extended for peace, regardless of what is happening to us."

Under an agreement with Islamic religious authorities, Jews can tour the complex but not pray at the site in Jerusalem's Old City. Unsubstantiated rumors circulated that security forces have set aside certain times a day for Jews to pray there — something that is vehemently denied by Israel’s top officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Such visits would be considered deliberate provocation by many Muslims.

Periodic Israeli decisions to bar Muslim men under the age of 50 from praying at the mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism — inflame tensions further.

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In addition, the government's recent decision to bar a Palestinian women's group from visiting the area has prompted greater alarm.

The "Murabitat," a group of some 40 Palestinian women who protested, chanted and attempted to "protect" the site from Jewish worshippers, was designated an illegal group on Sept. 9.

The Murabitat, which means "steadfast," believe along with many other Palestinians that Israel plans to demolish the mosque and build a Jewish temple in its place. That claim is also denied by Israeli authorities.

Young Palestinians are also growing increasingly frustrated with the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which it invaded in 1967, and their own leadership. Extremist attacks on Palestinians by Jewish settlers, such as the July 31 firebombing of a Palestinian home that killed a toddler and his two parents and injured his older brother, also prompt fury.

"We cannot remain silent over the killing, violence and the occupation crimes committed by the Israelis," said Miras Al Azah, 22, who attended the funeral of Abed Al Rahman, the 13-year-old killed in clashes with Israeli forces on Monday.

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