Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Turmoil on Via Dolorosa
Hundreds of visitors to Jerusalem’s old walled city got more than the tour of religious holy sites they had bargained for on Sunday, as violence between Israeli police and Muslims at al-Aqsa Mosque spilled over into some of the otherwise charming cobblestone alleys that frame the compound.
Eighteen Palestinians and three Israeli policemen were injured in the latest of a series of recent confrontations at the mosque, situated on al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), which Muslims regard as their third holiest site. Jews revere the area as the Temple Mount, a site where two ancient temples once stood. The Western Wall remnant to a Roman-era temple, one of Judaim’s holiest sites, is right next door.
As the clashes ensued, tourists visiting a Christian holy site on a neighbouring Jerusalem street hurried on past as Israeli police scuffled with Palestinian protesters throwing stones, hurling an occasional firebomb and burning trash on an intersecting alley.
Helmeted riot police kept dozens of Palestinians waiting behind metal barricades even as they ushered through the tourists headed to see the site of Jesus’ biblical walk down the Via Dolorosa, where he was marched to his crucifixion. White-robed Palestinian medics could be seen hurrying in the other direction, carrying injured men and women out on stretchers to waiting ambulances outside the old city’s walls.
Bill Dykstra, a health consultant from Canada’s Vancouver, was one of many who sought to capture some of the drama by snapshot. He photographed a few dozen Muslim worshippers kneeling in prayer outside the closed green gates to the compound that houses al-Aqsa, just a few steps away from where some policemen were arresting two screaming Palestinian protesters.
“I see there’s confrontation,” Dykstra remarked. “There’s obviously a difference of opinion, a site of religious turmoil here.”
” A lot of people are very entrenched in the past and they need to move forward, for peace, to change their mindset,” Dykstra added. But Dykstra had no plans to change his tourist itinerary, he said, before sauntering down the stony Via.
There were also some unusual attempts at dialogue amid the tension.
Sali Abu Sneineh, a 60-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, tried arguing with one of the Israeli policeman on duty not far from the shut gates to the Muslim holy site. Abu Sneineh said he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t pray at the mosque. ”This isn’t right,” he said. “I’m not happy about this,” he told the Israeli border guard, who identified himself as Ben.
“What can I do that you’re not happy?” Ben replied. “If you people didn’t make a fuss there you could all go and pray.”
To a reporter watching the exchange, Abu Sneineh turned and said he thought both Israeli and Palestiniain political leaders were to blame, noting the peace talks stalled since December.
“If we could achieve the peace with a two-state solution, then we wouldn’t have any of this. But the trouble is we have one leader who stonewalls and another who acts like a meathead,” he said.