The violence that erupted at the Moghrabi Gate at the entrance to the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque was predictable. The Israeli Authorities had decided to take unilateral action by deciding to begin archeological excavations near the Moghrabi Gate, which is the main entrance to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This was a provocation! Many Israelis will not agree with this assessment and they will maintain that the excavation activity is legitimate. Apart from that, there is a danger of the bridge collapsing leading to the Moghrabi Gate. While the latter claim may be true, the way the issue was tackled was certainly provocative and lacked sensitivity for the feelings of the Moslem Community.
The authorities allowed excavations to continue without consulting with the Jerusalem Wakf. Instead of doing their homework, they started excavations. This resulted in a violent Palestinian reaction, and rumors spread that Israel was opening the way for settlers to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the ancient Temple. The repercussions caused by the excavations reached beyond the borders of Israel, including Jordan. While it may be argued that Israel was in her right to excavate and reinforce the bridge for safety reasons this somehow does not mean that Israel acted wisely in view of the sensitivity of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has no credibility in the eyes of the Palestinians and whatever Israel does will cause a very strong reaction amongst the Palestinians. This makes the importance of consultations with the Jerusalem Wakf before embarking on archeological projects a matter of urgency.
The excavation plans were drawn up by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality. P.M. Ehud Olmert had authorized the project. This unilateral action created the tinder for violence. Somehow this brings back memories of Ariel Sharon’s ascent of the Temple Mount in September 2000 which was the catalyst for the beginning of the second intifada that had resulted in so much loss of life on both sides. Israel somehow never learns from her mistakes and repeats them as in this case.
The situation in Jerusalem is very tense. It does not take much to trigger off violence. While Israel claims that the excavations are far from Al-Aqsa, this did not calm the situation at all. The action that Israel took provided grist for the mill and the head of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, called Friday for an "intifada" to save the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel Radio reported. In a fiery speech at his protest tent in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, Salah accused Israel of attempting to build the Temple on the Temple Mount while drenched in Arab blood, according to the radio. "Israeli history is drenched in blood," Israel Radio quoted Salah as saying. "They want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water." Sheik Salah’s use of such metaphors against Israel only adds fuel to the fire of hate between the two peoples.
Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said Friday that police will investigate Salah's comments, and should they be found to be seditious in nature, steps will be taken against him. The police are weighing whether to ask for a court order prohibiting Salah from entering Jerusalem altogether. On Thursday, February 17, 2007, Salah dismissed a court ruling to extend by another month the order to keep him 150 meters away from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem because he is accused of organizing demonstrations against Israeli renovations near the Temple Mount, spitting at police officers and calling them murderers, occupiers and cowards. "They have no right to make decisions on anything connected to the Al-Aqsa Mosque," he said. "I emphasize that I will enter the mosque at any time I think is right."
According to Al-Ahram Weekly, 15-21 February 2007, the Israeli antiquity authority said it would go ahead with opening a tunnel beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque that would link the Western Wall with the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan, which Jews refer to as the "City of David". The tunnel is expected to pass directly beneath the Marwani Mosque, where significant parts of Al-Aqsa Mosque are located. The tunnel, coupled with a network of other subterranean passageways in the area, poses a real threat to the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the nearby Dome of the Rock.
"The foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque already face a real danger as a result of aggressive Israeli excavations in the area. I wouldn't exaggerate if I said that unless Israel stops these provocative works immediately, it will be a matter of time before the mosque collapses," said Youssef Al-Natshe, an archaeological expert on Jerusalem's Haram Al-Sharif compound. "In fact, we are already beginning to see cracks in the building, and that is a bad omen."
Israeli authorities Monday claimed to have halted digging in the area "for the time being". Sheikh Salah dismissed the Israeli claim as "a big lie". "Am I going to believe them and disbelieve my eyes?" he asked.
According to Miftah, the Palestinian Journal 13 February, 2007, The Israeli cabinet voted in favor of continuing excavation at the Moghrabi Gate near Al Aqsa Mosque despite widespread condemnations and protests against the works. The government even disregarded suggestions from within its own establishment to put the excavations on hold. Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski previously announced that the bridge works would be temporarily halted, but was later criticized by Olmert who said he never approved the suggestion.
One especially outspoken Israeli has been archeologist Meir Ben Dov, who told Israeli Radio that the current works at Moghrabi Gate are “illegal and unjustified”. He also said he warned the government about the potential danger such works could have on the structure of the Aqsa Mosque, which he said has “fallen on deaf ears”.
Under these circumstances, and to prevent a further deterioration of the situation it would be prudent for the sake of peace to take up Jerusalem Mayor, Uri Lupolianski’s advice and cease the excavations immediately. It remains to be seen whether Olmert will be wise by accepting Lupolianski’s advice and suspend the excavations.