The third-holiest site in Islam—the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem—was turned into a chaotic battlefield Monday as Israeli police responded violently to Palestinian protesters, injuring more than 300 people.
In recent days, Jerusalem has been suffering its worst violence for years, sparked by incendiary plans to evict dozens of Palestinians from an Arab area in the east of the city and hand their homes to Israelis. The crisis worsened Monday ahead of the nationalist Jerusalem Day Flag March, which marks Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1960s.
According to the Associated Press, more than 305 Palestinians were injured in Monday’s violence alone, including over 200 who have been hospitalized, and nine people who have been left in a serious condition. Twenty-one Israeli police are reported to have been injured.
The violence centered around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located in a complex that is considered holy by both Muslims and Jews. Shocking videos showed stun grenades and tear gas being fired at Palestinian protesters inside the mosque, and police claim that protesters threw rocks at officers, as well as at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall.
A separate video showed police officers repeatedly punching a man who was detained in the mosque compound. Khaled Zabarqa, a 48-year-old lawyer who was praying at the mosque before the violence broke out, told The New York Times that he was furious that the heavy-handed tactics were being use by police during Ramadan, saying: “The Aqsa Mosque is a sacred place for Muslims... Israel is starting a religious war.”
Another video showed a car being showered with rocks before driving into at least one pedestrian and becoming stuck on a cement bollard. Witnesses then set upon the driver before a gun-wielding police officer broke up the fight. The Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed the man inside the car is Jewish, and described the incident as an attempted lynching by a “violent mob.”
Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed without evidence that “extremist Palestinians planned well in advance to carry out riots” at the Jerusalem holy site on Monday, and said police were “working to restore calm.” But Israel is coming under more and more international condemnation for its heavy-handed response to the Palestinian protesters.
The United Nations Security Council is meeting to discuss the situation on Monday, and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has spoken to his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, to express his “serious concerns” about the violent clashes. In turn, Ben Shabbat reportedly urged the Biden administration to stay out of the worsening situation.
The Jerusalem Day Flag March is set to get underway later Monday after police gave permission for it to take place. Retired Israeli General Amos Gilad urged for the parade to be canceled to stop more violence, saying that “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time.”