2183Temple Mount stonings mark Tisha B'Av
- Jul 30, 2001New York Times
July 30, 2001
Melee at Jerusalem's Most Sacred, and Explosive, Site
By CLYDE HABERMAN
JERUSALEM, July 29 � Jerusalem and its sacred places returned to the center
of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today when Palestinians on an elevated
Muslim compound hurled stones at Jews praying below, provoking a battle with
the Israeli police.
Hundreds of Israeli officers in riot gear rushed into the Aksa compound
after a barrage of rocks, some quite large, sent Jewish worshipers fleeing
from the Western Wall. The attack came on a day when Jews traditionally
gather there to mourn the destruction of two ancient temples.
The police fired stun grenades and tear gas in skirmishes with scores of
young Palestinians on the elevated plateau, referred to by Jews and many
Christians as the Temple Mount and known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
About 15 Israeli officers and more than 30 Palestinians were reportedly
injured, none critically.
Compared with past clashes at the site, which over the years have sometimes
ended in considerable death, this one could be deemed mild. What mattered
was that it happened at all. The plateau is ground zero for conflicting
religious sensibilities, and violence there produces reverberations that can
be at least as loud as the boom of a stun grenade.
Adding to the tensions today was the fact that the current conflict had
started at Al Aksa, although for much of the 10 months that have since
passed, Jerusalem's Old City has been relatively trouble free.
The continuing Palestinian uprising � intifada in Arabic � began after Ariel
Sharon, now the Israeli prime minister, visited the Temple Mount last
September accompanied by 1,000 or more police officers. An investigation
committee led by former United States Senator George J. Mitchell later
concluded that "the Sharon visit did not cause the `Al Aksa intifada,' " but
added that "it was poorly timed, and the provocative effect should have been
The spillover effects of Jerusalem's problems were evident today with new
exchanges of fire between Israelis soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in
several parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And in Pisgat Ze'ev, a
Jewish neighborhood in northeastern Jerusalem that Palestinians consider
occupied land, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of an apartment
building, lightly injuring one man.
But most people here focused on the violence in the Old City of Jerusalem,
specifically the Western Wall, an enduring section of a supporting wall from
the ancient temple complex above.
For observant Jews, today was Tisha b'Av, a day of fasting, and a day for
recalling the destruction of temples in 586 B.C. and in A.D. 70.
By the thousands, they flocked to the wall overnight and through the day,
many following customs associated with mourning the dead. They sat on low
chairs or on the ground. They wore shoes made of canvas, or went barefoot.
Some tore their clothes. All day, they read Lamentations, from the Old
But Tisha b'Av has another tradition here. It is when a fringe group called
the Temple Mount Faithful tries to lay claim to the elevated plateau and
pave the way for a third Jewish temple to supplant the mosques that have
been there for centuries. The Faithful, whose numbers today could generously
be put at 40, bring with them a 4.5-ton stone that they proclaim the
cornerstone for the new temple.
Unvaryingly, the Israeli courts refuse to let them ascend the mount, and
dozens of police officers block their path. This year, as before, Israel's
High Court of Justice ruled that the closest they could bring their
cornerstone was a parking lot outside the Old City's Dung Gate, some 300
yards from the mount.
They barely made it even that far today. A truck carrying the huge stone was
allowed to linger for mere seconds before the police ordered it away. The
small contingent of the Faithful then gathered, as ever, beneath the
Moghrabi Gate leading to the mount. There, they chanted nationalist slogans
and heard their leader, Gershon Salomon, denounce Prime Minister Sharon as
"a wimp" who has caved in to Arab pressure.
But while it had been clear for days that Mr. Salomon and his followers
would once again get nowhere near the Temple Mount, major figures among
Palestinians and Israeli Arabs declared otherwise. They described the
gathering as a genuine Israeli attempt to destroy Islamic shrines, and vowed
to resist with bloodshed, if necessary. A "day of rage" was ordered.
In that atmosphere, a clash seemed inevitable.
It came midday with a shower of stones on worshiping Jews, thrown by young
Muslims above. Women cried out in fear and ran, covering their heads with
chairs or prayer books. In a separate section of the wall, men held prayer
shawls above their heads to ward off the stones.
That was when the Israeli police charged into the Aksa compound, though they
never entered the mosque itself. They fired stun grenades and a few volleys
of tear gas, and fended off a cascade of rocks with plastic shields. Some
Palestinians said the officers also fired rubber bullets, but police
officials denied it.
"The Palestinians were just looking for an excuse for a party," said Mickey
Levy, the Jerusalem police chief. But in Cairo, Amr Moussa, the secretary
general of the Arab League, blamed Israel for the violence, saying the
police action showed "bad intentions."
As rough a day as it was, the fighting did not last long. Both the Israeli
authorities and Palestinian clergymen worked to restore a fragile calm to
Jerusalem. They succeeded to the extent that Muslims streamed peacefully
from the Noble Sanctuary after their noon service, and Jews drifted back to
the Western Wall, where they once more swayed in prayer and gripped the
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