Clash at Jerusalem sacred site

Police and Palestinian protesters have clashed at the entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque, part of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem’s holy spot for both Jews and Muslims.

Details are unclear. Palestinian sources say the protesters threw rocks at a Jewish prayer group trying to enter the area in defiance to Israeli law, which reserves the top of the Temple Mount for Muslims. Jews are supposed to pray at the Western Wall on the other side. Israeli sources say the Palestinians threw rocks at a group of tourists who were dressed inappropriately.

We may never know what really happened, but the result was that several Palestinians and Israeli police were injured and a holy spot was once again marred by violence.

I’ve been to the Temple Mount several times and despite the palpable tension it’s well worth a visit. The eleventh-century Al-Aqsa mosque has attractive medieval stained glass and an elaborately carved minbar (pulpit). Of greater interest is the Dome of the Rock next door. Its golden dome is a Jerusalem landmark and covers the spot where Mohammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. The building is decorated with beautiful multicolored tiles. Nearby is the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, said to be part of the original Jewish Temple and a place of great spiritual importance for Jews.

Visiting the Temple Mount is a quick lesson in religious politics. Police crowd every entrance and signs warn members of opposing religions from worshiping at each other’s sites. On one visit during the Nineties I went with my girlfriend of the time, who was Muslim. The soldiers eyed us suspiciously and hovered close by as we waited outside for the prayer service to end. She wanted us to go in together but I wasn’t allowed in during services. Once the service was over, we entered and she did her prayers as I admired the building. Nobody objected to the strange sight of an agnostic and a Muslim visiting Islam’s third holiest site together, but we got plenty of curious looks. I wonder if we could have pulled it off today? I’m not sure I’d try. Too bad everyone can’t just chill out and accept that there are different types of people in the world.

No chance. I can’t even blog about Ottoman architecture without getting grumpy comments. Ah well.