I once considered myself a Jerusalamite, having lived there for a total of 9 years. When we moved back to Israel a few years ago, we decided to become residents of Tel Aviv. This was an easy decision. First, my kids all wanted to live in Tel Aviv. Second, Jerusalem had become too religious for us. Finally, there was something about the constant tension of living in Jerusalem that seemed fine in my youth, however, I felt that living with kids in Israel is tense enough – without having to cope with the additional tensions present in Jerusalem.
That tension reached its highest level since the period of the second intifiadah (the period when buses and cafes in Jerusalem, and in selected other cities were being routinely blown up by terrorists.) Today, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, Ibrahim al Akri, plowed his van into a group of pedestrians; killing 1 and injuring another 14. After driving through the group of people, the driver exited the van and started attacking people with a metal rod. He was shot dead by a policeman who was on the scene. This attack marks the third terror incident in Jerusalem in as many weeks. The first attack took place two weeks ago, when another driver plowed into a railroad station, killing two; followed by an attempted assassination attack on Yehuda Glick last week. The attack this morning followed violent confrontations this morning between Palestinians throwing stone and molotov cocktails at police on the Temple Mount, a confrontation that resulted in the Israeli police taking the unprecedented action of entering the Mosque itself.
The new level of violence, all of which has been perpetuated by Arab residents of East Jerusalem, has both long-term and short-term causes of origin. The long-term causes begin with the failure of the Israeli government to integrate the residents of East Jerusalem fully into the city, or deal with their burgeoning population. Israeli governments have constantly referred to the city of Jerusalem as "indivisible". However, all of the serious peace proposals have included some form of division of the holy city. This has left the city's residents in limbo, with a government unwilling to spend the money and efforts to the equalize municipal services, or education within both parts of the city.
Yet, the long-term failures pale in comparison to the short-term origins. Both sides are responsible for these calamities, but certainly not equally. A small group of orthodox, nationalistic Jews has been calling out for changing the status quo that has been effect on the Temple Mount since the 1967 Six Day War. Under that status quo Jews have been allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but not permitted to pray there (a view endorsed by many rabbis, who felt it was inappropriate to pray on the Temple Mount, the site of the ruins of the ancient holy Temple).
The issue of the Temple Mount has always been an incendiary one among the Muslims in Palestine. The first really serious riots that resulted in a large-scale slaughter of Jews in 1929, began with a rumor that the Jews wanted to change the prayer arrangement at the "Wailing Wall" (as it was known then), under claims that that was just the first step to taking over the Temple Mount, (a patently false charge – especially since the British were in control at the time). However, 67 Jews in Hebron were killed, just the same.
The recent attempts to assert Jewish claims to the Mount by a small minority of Jewish extremists was met by a call from Abu Mazen (considered a moderate Palestinian leader,) for all Muslims to do "whatever is needed" to block the desecration of the Temple Mount by Jews. Just this morning a cartoon was published by the National Security Forces of the Palestinian Authority showing the Al Aqsa mosque (illustrated in the image of a women) about to be raped by an Israeli soldier. Hamas has been constantly calling of the Arabs of the city to rise up and act against the Israelis. Combine this scenario with the announcement by the Israeli government of additional building in Jerusalem, and the entry of Jewish settlers into homes they legally bought in East Jerusalem, and you the ingredients to make up a cauldron of violence of the worst kind.
The fear that this situation will spin totally out of control, and truly turn the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from one of nationality, to one of religion. Historically, wars over nationality can be solved. However, wars over religion are another matter all together. There are many who think we have passed to point of no return regarding defining this conflict as a religious war; some believe this has always been a religious war. Sitting in secular Tel Aviv, I hope and pray they are wrong.