This Ramadan in Israel could have been different, but it wasn't

A dawn raid on Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque takes the country a step closer towards the brink

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, April 15, 2022. AP
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It is only the latest chapter in a seemingly never-ending story. Most Ramadans in recent memory have seen an escalation of violence in Palestine and Israel. This one has been no different. Last Friday, as morning prayers at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque were ending, Israeli police barged through the doors of the prayer hall, firing tear gas and stun grenades at the Palestinians, injuring more than 150. One was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.

It is far from the first time Israeli security forces have violated the sanctity of the mosque, which is formally under the custodianship of Jordan and the Islamic Waqf, a religious trust. Last year, a similar incursion occurred after protests at the site from ultranationalist Israelis, along with counter-protests from Palestinians. That led to a major conflict with the Hamas militant group controlling Gaza in which 250 Palestinians and at least 13 Israelis were killed.

The days leading up to this year’s conflagration followed a similar pattern of antagonism. At the start of Ramadan, several Israelis were killed in a spate of lone-wolf attacks by Arab Israelis and Palestinians. Last week, a group of extremist Jewish Israelis threat­ened to enter Al Aqsa compound and conduct animal sac­rifices for Passover, in breach of a ban on such rituals there. Friday’s police raid occurred in response to reports that some Palestinians were hoarding stones at the mosque in anticipation of a confrontation with the extremists.

It is far from the first time Israeli security forces have violated the sanctity of the mosque

But the fact that all of this has happened before has, if anything, only strengthened the condemnation around the region, including in many Arab states, such as Jordan and the UAE, that have sought to work with the Israeli government in recent years to achieve a lasting peace. For that to happen, Israel’s government must play its part. It must take meaningful steps to protect holy sites. Ultimately, the occupation of Palestinian land must end, because as long as it lasts, there will be an atmosphere of permanent risk for everyone.

Even as the occupation continues, however, this Ramadan might have been different. It is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s first in office and also the first in 30 years to coincide with Passover and Easter. Although Mr Bennett has been hawkish throughout his political career, Israel’s Arab citizens, Palestinians and the country’s neighbours had all hoped he might seize this moment. His government, a fragile coalition of widely disparate parties, certainly had every incentive to do so. It is already on thin ice after losing its majority in the Knesset last week, when one of Mr Bennett’s party members defected.

Partly with this in mind, Israeli authorities had sought this month to project the image that they had the country’s volatile security situation under control. While the lone-wolf attacks had triggered a severe response, officials had emphasised a commitment to avoiding a repeat of last year’s violence.

But with Friday’s raid, that promise may be unravelling. This may present a fatal blow to Mr Bennett’s government, as Raam, an Arab party, has now frozen its membership in the coalition. But most alarmingly, it threatens to take Israelis and Palestinians back to the same place they find themselves in all too often – fearing for their lives, and afraid for their countries’ future. Their story needs a new chapter.

Published: April 19, 2022, 3:00 AM