by Prof. Eyal Zisser
The flames in Jerusalem are difficult to control, and if they spread too rapidly everyone will pay a heavy price, mainly the Palestinians.
The link between Jerusalem, specifically the Temple Mount, Jerusalem Day, which marks the city's liberation and unification, and finally, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is the context for the violent events we've witnessed in the capital in recent days.
Yes, Ramadan has normally been a time of unrest, certainly in a conservative society where religion plays a significant role, and it can be a vessel for releasing tensions and frustrations often rooted in social and economic distress. As per the norm in the Middle East, demonstrations can erupt into unrestrained and uncontrollable violence in a matter of seconds.
The causes behind the tensions are pre-existing and therefore all that's needed is an excuse, followed by the usual inciters and agitators to ignite the powder keg to advance their own political interests.
In recent weeks, and essentially since the onset of Ramadan, we have seen tensions gradually rise in Jerusalem. Attacks on ultra-Orthodox Jews by young Muslim assailants for no other reason than "likes" and laughs on TikTok, consequent retaliation from Jewish youths, police barricades at Damascus Gate during Ramadan, the events in Sheikh Jarrah – all have materialized, as usual during this holiday, in its final days, particularly the last Friday of the month.
This tension is structural and even predictable, and we see its consequences every year. But it is rooted in the century-old Israeli-Arab conflict for this land, and of course for Jerusalem. We should not assume, therefore, that this tension will wane and dissipate while Palestinians still refuse to accept the presence of Jews throughout the land and to recognize the State of Israel.
It's not inevitable, however, for this tension to turn into a conflagration. Virtually none of the parties want a conflagration. Not the resident of Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs alike, who want to continue living their lives. The majority of the Arab world also wishes for calm and despite the default condemnations emanating from Arab capitals, no one wants an unnecessary conflict for something that goes without saying – freedom of worship in Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.
Only a small handful of agitators have something to gain from fanning these flames, for example, members of the North Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and of course, Iran and Hezbollah, which promptly hailed the riots and wished for blood. The Palestinian Authority, and apparently Hamas as well, hope to scrounge a few points on the Palestinian street and appear to be encouraging the violence in the hopes that they can control the flames. The problem is that these flames are difficult to control, and if they spread too rapidly everyone will pay a heavy price, mainly the Palestinians.
Despite the tendency – by the Israeli press as well – to attribute the recent events to measures implemented by the police or army, and even to MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who most Palestinians have never heard of – things are far more complicated and deep. And yet, the Israeli interest is for things to calm down and the government should be working to this end.
Prof. Eyal Zisser