► What does this place represent for Jews and Muslims from a historical-religious point of view?
The esplanade of the Mosques is an expression mainly used in France to qualify the fourteen hectares which extend overhanging the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located in the Palestinian sector, occupied by Israel since 1967 and then annexed.
Jews use the term Temple Mount, or Har Habayit in Hebrew, to describe what they consider Judaism’s holiest place, tracing its origins to King Solomon.
Muslims, for their part, speak of the Noble Sanctuary, Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic, and of Al-Aqsa (“the furthest away”). The mosque, the largest in Jerusalem, neighbors the Dome of the Rock adorned with its golden dome. The Muslim tradition reports that the prophet of Islam Mohammed went there during a journey full of marvels. It is the third holiest site in Islam.
► What is the status quo?
After the 1967 war, and the conquest by the Israeli army of the eastern part of Jerusalem, the Israeli government established the status quo still in force today: the Israeli security forces are responsible for the ” security “ of the place, which is administered by a waqf Jordanian (“religious foundation”), which authorizes or not the non-Muslims to go there. Muslims are allowed there at all hours of the day and night. Non-Muslims can go to the esplanade only at certain times, but without praying there.
But in recent years, the visits of Jewish ultranationalists, as simple visitors, to finally pray surreptitiously there have multiplied, raising fears among the Muslim faithful of a change in this status quo.
Beyond the question of the status quo, the memory of the visit of Ariel Sharon on September 28, 2000, then leader of the Israeli right-wing opposition, is still in everyone’s mind: the next day, bloody clashes opposed Palestinians and Israeli police, marking the beginning of the second Intifada.
In 2021, nocturnal demonstrations in East Jerusalem and clashes even on the esplanade had led to eleven days of war between the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, and the Jewish state.
► Why is this place again at the heart of concerns in the middle of Ramadan?
For months, all observers have feared the potentially explosive concomitance between the month of Ramadan and Passover, the Jewish Passover, which began on Wednesday April 5. A period during which Jewish extremists call for the performance of animal sacrifice, which according to Jewish tradition was a religious obligation at the time of the Temple in Jerusalem.
After a rather calm start to Ramadan, and characterized by a large influx of worshipers – 250,000 Muslims prayed on the esplanade on Friday March 31, for the second big prayer – the situation degenerated in the night from Tuesday 4 to Wednesday 5 April, when Israeli police in riot gear burst into Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Images of their violent intervention circulated widely on social networks. The Israeli authorities justified their intervention by the presence of“rioters”, by posting a video showing explosions of what looks like fireworks inside the mosque, and on which we can see stone throwers. More than 350 people were arrested.
► What reactions did this police intervention elicit?
Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, immediately called on the Palestinians “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it” – which was not followed by immediate effect – denouncing a “unprecedented crime”. Rockets were fired overnight at Israel, which responded.
Jordan, which administers the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, was alarmed by“ongoing attacks that may lead to escalation”. “Trampling the Al-Aqsa Mosque is our red line”said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while the Arab League, which convened an extraordinary meeting, denounced ” Provocation “ bumping “feelings of believers”.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said “shocked and appalled” by the “violence and blows” Israeli security forces.
Thursday, April 6, France joined the chorus of condemnations by calling “to respect the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem” And “to refrain from any action likely to increase violence”.