JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police forces entered the area around Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and fired stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinian worshippers in clashes at the end of Friday prayers.Keep in mind that this clash comes just ahead of the Jewish Sabbath. While there is no prohibition against warfare during that time (and Israelis took pains to ensure the clash took place after prayers marking the day), such an inflammation comes at a particularly inopportune moment in our process to sort out the Middle East (as wrong-headed as that procedure is).
Muslim leaders had called for protests over excavations near Islam's third holiest shrine. Arab states had asked Israel to halt the work, charging it could undermine the foundations of Al-Aqsa. Israel says the work will do no damage.
A police spokesman at the scene said 15 policemen and nine protesters had been lightly injured in the clashes. Seventeen people were arrested, some of them in the streets outside Jerusalem's Old City walls.
The Al-Aqsa mosque and it's location have a pretty strong history for all three major religions of the region, and ranks just behind Mecca and Medina in Islamic lore. It is, in fact, the Dome of the Rock/Temple Mount, where, in 2000, Ariel Sharon destroyed the burgeoning Israeli/Palestinian peace process back when Ehud Barak was Prime Minister and Bill Clinton was President. Jews believe biblical King Solomon built the first temple there 3,000 years ago. This is the temple that must be rebuilt, according to Rapture lore, in order for Jesus to return and the end times to commence. It was also alleged to be the spot where Jesus drove the moneychangers out (thus establishing His credentials as a spiritual Communist). Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad ascended into heaven from the spot during a night journey to Jerusalem.
Could there be a more inflammatory place for Israelis to stir up trouble, particularly since in 1984, Israel uncovered a plot by a group of Jews to blow up Al-Aqsa mosque so that a new temple could be built? That would be the second attempt to destroy the mosque (in 1969, an Australian Christian tourist tried burning it down in an attempt to bring the Second Coming, thus kicking off the worldwide Rapturist movement). In 1996, Israeli archaeologists attempted to tunnel under the mosque for, by all rational accounts, historical purposes, but instead set off a flash of violence that saw 65 Arabs and 15 Israeli soldiers dead.
And now this: according to the AP, the excavations are being done in conjunction with the repair of an earthen ramp to the mosque. Such excavations are required by Israeli law in order to ensure that no historical (and holy) sites are disturbed by the construction.
However, Muslims see the excavations as an attempt by the Israelis to prove that the Temple Mount is, in fact, Jewish first, Muslim second and therefore should be turned over to the Israeli government. It is currently administered, with Israeli concurrence, by the Islamic Waqf, a trust that oversees the site.
The Palestinians are already in a mini-civil war as factions of Hamas and Fatah wrestle for control of the parliament, making Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah member and President of Palestine, a rather lame duck for the time being. This can't be helping matters any.
Too, an attack viewed by Muslims across the region as an attack on the mosque itself by Jewish soldiers can only have repercussions and reprisals in Iraq and Afghanistan, particulaly coming at the end of the week's holy day. Imagine St. Patrick's Cathedral being shot up at the end of 11 o'clock mass to get a better feel for this story.
Already, three American soldiers were reported killed in Iraq on Friday, bringing the toll for the past three days to 14. Worse, American forces killed 8 Kurdish soldiers, a group we had hoped would be our allies, even after we screwed them so badly after Gulf War I, a group we hoped would send troops to help us out in Baghdad.
Like I said, I got a bad feeling about this...
Dome of the Rock