Al Aqsa: A decade of tension continues to build

Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir entered the compound in Jerusalem, angering Palestinians and drawing condemnation

Israeli police at Al Aqsa Mosque compound. AP
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Tensions are rising again over Al Aqsa Mosque compound after Israel's new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir briefly entered the site on Tuesday.

Although the visit passed without major incident, it risked increasing friction with Palestinians, after a surge of violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2022.

Al Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem is a site considered holy by Muslims, Jews and Christians and is a focal point of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

It is known as Al Haram Al Sharif by Muslims and includes Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians are seeking an independent state including all three areas.

Here are some of the incursions, closures and restrictions that have been imposed at Al Aqsa compound over the past ten years.

April 15-22, 2022

Over eight days in 2022, between April 15 and 22, tensions flared at Al Aqsa compound after Israeli forces stormed the mosque, using tear gas canisters and sound bombs and wounding at least 59 Palestinians on the first day alone.

The Islamic Waqf Department in Jerusalem said that 2022 had the highest number of breaches and incursions at Al Aqsa Mosque, with more than 48,000 Israeli settlers storming the site throughout the year.

The clashes in April marked the beginning of the deadliest violence in Jerusalem as the Jewish festival of Passover overlapped with the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

2021

A tree on fire near the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque compound on May 10, 2021, following renewed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the scene. AFP

Weeks of tensions during Ramadan of 2021 sparked violent clashes in occupied East Jerusalem that ignited the heaviest fighting in years between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Starting from the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in mid-April, 2021, Palestinians faced off nightly with Israeli police in East Jerusalem, who put up barriers to stop evening gatherings at the walled Old City’s Damascus Gate.

Palestinians saw the barriers as a restriction on their freedom to assemble. Police said they were there to maintain order.

Tensions were also high over a long-running legal case, as a court ruling forced some Palestinian families from their homes in the contested Sheikh Jarrah district, to make way for Israeli settlers.

January 2020

A general view of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem below the al-Aqsa mosque compound, seen on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Israeli leaders paint Jerusalem as a model of coexistence, the "unified, eternal" capital of the Jewish people, where minorities have equal rights. But Palestinian residents face widespread discrimination, most lack citizenship and many live in fear of being forced out. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Muslim worshippers were wounded by Israeli forces as thousands gathered at Al Aqsa compound on January 31, when the first Friday noon prayers were held after Donald Trump, who was US president, announced that Jerusalem would be recognised as the “undivided capital” of Israel.

Violence and tensions would remain low during the rest of the year as the Covid-19 pandemic would force the Islamic Waqif to close the mosque to worshippers as a precautionary measure against the spread of coronavirus.

August 2019

Israeli police fired sound grenades to disperse Palestinians during confrontations on August 11, 2019, outside the Al Aqsa mosque where tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered for Eid Al Adha.

A Palestinian ambulance service said that at least 14 Palestinians were taken to hospitals for treatment. Israel’s Kan public radio said four police officers were injured.

Israeli security forces arrive at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 11, 2019, as clashes broke out during the overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays of Eid al-Adha and the Tisha B'av holiday inside the historic compound which is considered the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who revere it as the location of the two biblical-era temples. The compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 
 / AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI

Tensions mounted at the site as the start of Eid Al Adha overlapped in 2019 with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, amid calls by Jewish nationalist and religious politicians for Jews to visit the holy compound.

Earlier in the year, tensions were already high between Israel and Jordanian officials over a contested religious area at the compound. The area in question, called the Bab Al Rahma or Gate of Mercy, was sealed off by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the place was accused of ties to Hamas.

July 2018

Tensions rose in the summer of 2018 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lifted a two-year ban he imposed on Israeli parliamentarians and ministers from entering Al Aqsa compound. Uri Ariel, who was the Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development at the time, was the first Israeli government official to heed the decision when he visited the compound on July 8, 2018. Three other Knesset members, headed by Yehuda Glick of the ruling Likud party, followed suit a day later.

July 2017

Palestinian demonstrators attempt the block the road ahead of Israeli police cars outside Lions' Gate, a main entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 22, 2017, following a protest against new Israeli security measures implemented at the holy site following an attack that killed two Israeli policemen the previous week.
Stabbings and clashes that left six people dead raised fears of further Israeli-Palestinian violence as tensions mount over new security measures at the highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site. / AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI

July 14, 2017, was when one of the most serious incidents took place at Al Aqsa, when three Arab-Israeli youths from one family, the Jabareens, shot dead two Israeli policemen in front of the Bab Hitta gate. All three attackers were shot and killed by Israeli police after fleeing back into the compound.

In retaliation for the attack, Israeli authorities shut down the compound and for the first time in years, Friday prayers at Al Aqsa were cancelled.

Israel then imposed new security measures at Al Aqsa, including the installation of metal detectors and security cameras. The metal detectors sparked more unrest, in which six Palestinians were killed.

2016

About 18,000 Jewish settlers and Israeli security forces stormed Al Aqsa Mosque compound during 2016, according to an official study published by the London-based Daily 48 agency.

In October 2016, Israel suspended co-operation with Unesco after the UN cultural organisation adopted two resolutions on annexed East Jerusalem that criticised Israeli actions around Al Aqsa compound.

2015

Palestinian stone-throwers clash with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron, in 2015. EPA

In September 2015, Muslim youths gathered at Al Aqsa Mosque compound, with the intention of blocking visits by Jews. The youths clashed with Israeli police who used rubber bullets and tear gas, and chained the doors of the mosque shut. Tensions would continue for three days and cause major damage due to heavy use of force.

2014

Israel ordered the closure of Al Aqsa compound to all visitors, following the shooting of Jewish hardliner Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who is a major advocate of expanding Jewish worship and access to the mosque compound.

The closure is the first in 47 years since 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem.

Updated: January 05, 2023, 8:17 AM