Israeli police in the Temple Mount.

Via AP:

Israeli forces stormed Jerusalem’s holiest shrine Sunday, firing stun grenades to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in a fresh eruption of violence at the most volatile spot in the country.

A wall of Israeli riot police behind plexiglass shields closed in on the crowd, sending many protesters — overwhelmingly young men — running for cover into the black-domed Al-Aqsa mosque. The mosque is one part of the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

After several rounds of clashes, dozens of protesters were still holed up inside the mosque at midafternoon, occasionally opening shuttered doors to throw objects at police. The Israeli forces did not enter the building and police said they had no plans to do so. There were no serious injuries.

Israel’s national police chief, David Cohen, accused a small group of Muslim extremists of trying to foment violence — echoing a charge made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago.

“The police will act with a strong hand against anyone who disrupts order on the Temple Mount and against those incite to riot,” Cohen said.

Religious and nationalist sentiment connected with the site have made it a flashpoint for violence in the past. A visit in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, then an Israeli opposition leader, helped ignite deadly clashes that escalated into violence that engulfed Israel and the Palestinian territories for several years.

The 2000 intifada:

The death toll [in the second intifada], including both military and civilian, is estimated to be almost 5,500 Palestinians and over 1,000 Israelis, as well as 64 foreign citizens.

Major cause:

On September 28, 2000, Likud leader Ariel Sharon went to visit the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest place, which Muslims have renamed Haram al-Sharif and regard as Islam’s third holiest place. Since that time, Palestinians have engaged in a violent insurrection that has been dubbed the “al-Aksa intifada.”

Palestinian spokesmen maintained the violence was caused by the desecration of a Muslim holy place – Haram al-Sharif – by Sharon and the “thousands of Israeli soldiers” who accompanied him.

Religious significance of the Temple Mount:

Judaism:

Jewish connection and veneration to the site stems from the fact that it contains the Foundation Stone, which according to the Talmud, was the spot from where the world was created and expanded into its current form.[48] It was subsequently the Holy of Holies of the Temple, the Most Holy Place in Judaism.

Islam:

In Islam, the Mount is called al-haram al-qudsī ash-sharīf, meaning the Noble Sanctuary. Muslims view the site as being one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of God.

The Temple Mount contains the Dome of the Rock:

The Dome of the Rock, being among a complex of buildings on the Temple Mount, (the other principal building being the Al-Aqsa Mosque) is one of the holiest sites in Islam, following Mecca and Medina. Its significance stems from the religious beliefs regarding the rock at its heart. According to Islamic tradition, the rock is the spot from where Muhammad ascended to Heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel.

Just how close is the Al-Asqa Mosque to the Dome of the Rock?

Christianity:

The Temple is mentioned many times in the New Testament (for example, Mark 11:11) in addition to the Old Testament. In these scriptures, Jesus prays there (Mark 11:25-26) and chases away money changers and other merchants from the courtyard, turning over their tables and accusing them of desecrating a sacred place with secular ways (see Jesus and the Money Changers).

So, basically, there doesn’t seem to be any other place in the world that has as much religious signficance to as many people as this place.

Why might Palestinians be protesting Israeli forces?


“Palestinian children desperate for water after the Israeli army intentionally smashed water tanks and supplies in their neighborhood.”

Via BBC:

Israel is denying Palestinians access to even the basic minimum of clean, safe water, Amnesty International says.

[…]While Israeli settlers in the West Bank enjoy lush gardens and swimming pools, Amnesty describes a series of Israeli measures it says are discriminating against Palestinians:

* Israel has “entirely appropriated the Palestinians’ share of the Jordan river” and uses 80% of a key shared aquifer

* West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells without Israeli permits, which are “often impossible” to obtain

* Rainwater harvesting cisterns are “often destroyed by the Israeli army”

* Israeli soldiers confiscated a water tanker from villagers who were trying to remain in land Israel had declared a “closed military area”

* An unnamed Israeli soldier says rooftop Palestinian household water tanks are “good for target practice”

* Much of the land cut off by the West Bank barrier is land with good access to a major aquifer

* Israeli military operations have damaged Palestinian water infrastructure, including $6m worth during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza last winter

* The Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza has “exacerbated what was already a dire situation” by denying many building materials needed for water and sewage projects.

The report also noted that the Palestinian water authorities have been criticised for bad management, quoting one audit that described the sector as in “total chaos.”

Well, that’s just one of the reasons, but it did happen this week.