On Friday, the Israeli police employed a drone which released a dozen tear gas canisters at once to disperse the protests on the Esplanade of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where a total of more than 100,000 worshippers have been praying.
It was a new development for Jerusalem. This type of aircraft is usually used by the Israeli army in the West Bank against Palestinian demonstrations. Seeing one circling over the Old City confirms that the Israeli security forces are ready to respond once again with an iron fist.
On the third Friday of prayer in the month of Ramadan, hundreds of Palestinians turned up again to face the police on the Esplanade, throwing stones at the riot police which had entered the courtyards of Al-Aqsa from the Bab Al-Silsila side, as snipers fired rubber bullets and tear gas from the rooftops. About 60 protesters were wounded, and an Israeli policewoman was hit in the face by a stone. In the afternoon, the tensions were still high, while they didn’t reach the levels of last Friday, when the Israeli police entered the Esplanade, injured more than 150 Palestinians and arrested more than 400 people.
Meanwhile, in Yamoun, in the West Bank, Lutfi Labadi, an 18-year-old Palestinian who was wounded four days ago during an Israeli army raid, passed away.
The Palestinians continue to accuse Israel of wanting to change the status quo of the holy sites, which for decades has allowed Jews to pray at the Wailing Wall, Muslims at the Al Aqsa Esplanade and Christians at the Holy Sepulcher. They claim Israel’s practical goal is to divide the Esplanade into two parts – one for Muslims and one for Jews – and to build a synagogue there, or even the third Temple. They add that this is confirmed by the increasingly frequent approvals that the Bennett government – continuing the trend of the previous one headed by Benyamin Netanyahu – has been issuing for visits to the Esplanade by large groups of Jewish millenarians and activists of the Israeli religious right.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, meeting with a delegation from the Biden administration, categorically denied that this was Israel’s intention and accused the Hamas Islamic movement of spreading fake news to set off an explosion of bottled-up Palestinian anger. However, doubts remain about whether this is true, which have also been expressed by the representatives of Arab countries, some allies of Tel Aviv and the Palestinian National Authority, which met in Amman on Thursday to demand full respect for the rights of Arabs and Muslims in Jerusalem.
The analyst Amos Harel from the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote about the erosion of the status quo at the Al Aqsa Esplanade, a development that, in part, has already taken place. He points out that a contributing factor is the increase in the number of Jewish visits, and also the support of the government, which has turned a blind eye to the phenomenon of right-wing provocations, such as the March of Flags, which some activists tried to hold on Wednesday. These right-wing activists, Harel warns, “are playing with fire,” and will not be satisfied until a war breaks out.
At the same time, the analyst also points a finger at Saleh Aruri, one of the leaders of Hamas, who, according to Harel, has been assigned the task of keeping the tensions high in Jerusalem and the West Bank by adding fuel to the fire of the protests on the Esplanade.
Also notable on Friday was the intervention of Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, who will leave his post next month, to be replaced by the Italian Francesca Albanese: “The past few weeks have seen a rising level of violence associated with Israel’s 55-year-old occupation of Palestine. International inaction in the face of these new levels of violence will only encourage more of the same,” he wrote in a statement.
Lynk accuses Israel of choosing to “deepen its occupation through the establishment of 300 settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law, where 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers live with full legal and political citizenship rights amidst five million stateless and rightless Palestinians.”