Jerusalem: Increased Tensions on Last Friday of Ramadan and ‘Jerusalem Day’

The final Friday of Ramadan has seen evidence of the unrelenting conflict between Israeli and Palestinian cultures in the city of Jerusalem. Regional news outlets reported around 260,000 Muslim worshippers came together to pray ‘peacefully’ at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on 31 May. The event was supposedly facilitated by Israeli security forces. Despite this, tensions still remain prevalent In Jerusalem as clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian civilians were also reported within the Old City and at its surrounding security fences. Two Israelis were stabbed by a 19-year-old Palestinian, who was then shot by Israeli security forces. Israeli officers have reportedly shot two Palestinians who tried to climb security fences near the town of Bethlehem. On Sunday 2 June, tension continued to build as the Israeli holiday known as Jerusalem Day – commemorating Israel’s 1967 capture of East Jerusalem – conflicted with the last days of Ramadan.

Although Ikrima Sabri, the preacher who delivered the sermon on 31 May, did not acknowledge Jerusalem Day, he did state that Israelis ‘will never have control over one inch of Al-Aqsa.’ Meanwhile, Jewish leaders, particularly those who support more radical Zionist beliefs, held that Jerusalem Day served to celebrate the fulfilment of prophecy and the ‘redemption’ of the Jewish people. Both narratives fuel the religious conflict and violent clashes observed over the month of Ramadan and during the converging celebrations of 2 June.

These conflicts, and the religious differences that guide them, have so far succeeded in pressurising the international community to pick sides. Leaving aside the small-scale violence, the largely peaceful worship of 31 May should underline there remains a third option: not picking a side. In using the religious conflict as a tool, the international community has further fractured Jerusalem and has made itself, at least in part, responsible for the conflict itself. However, this responsibility to unite factions – rather than to legitimise divisions – is unlikely to be realised. The Israeli-Palestinian clashes of 2 June demonstrate that this approach is unlikely to be welcomed even if foreign powers were to recognise their responsibility.

Even so, there are more effective measures which should be taken to increase solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians. High levels of unemployment in Jerusalem, especially among the Arab and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish populations, should firstly be addressed. This would minimise the socio-economic factors which further divide the population and contribute to the conflict between faith. The limited access to Jerusalem should also be reconsidered to allow Israelis and Palestinians alike to freely practice their religion and avoid incidents like those seen this past Friday.

The religious tensions which manifested themselves on 31 May and 2 June are founded in territorial disputes between Israelis and Palestinians over Jerusalem. These disputes are complicated and obscured by the recent interference of the United States, as well as the continued involvement of terrorist organisations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Whilst this is evidence that the current strategy of choosing sides has failed, recent events have made clear that solidarity is a third option. In this modern world, religion must either conform or face marginalisation if peace is to be obtained.

AlAqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

Philippa Payne