The Palestinians insist that every stone of this ancient monument, in the heart of Jerusalem, is sacred. To watch Israeli bulldozers tearing into the very fabric of what they hold most dear they deem undue provocation. Despite all Israel’s protestations, that the digging is 60 metres from the compound wall and will serve to enhance access to the compound, Palestinian leaders are warning they risk provoking another intifada.
Yuval Baruch, from Jerusalem’s Archaeology and Antiquity office, pleaded his case. “Three years ago this entry way collapsed after bad weather and we have to make a new way to lead tourists, and other people, into the Temple Mount. That’s the reason why we need to do something here, to rehabilitate the Mughrabi Bridge. And we know all the sensitivities.”
Temple Mount for Jews is also the third most holy Islamic site, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians fear the excavations will damage the foundations. Jordan and Syria have also asked Israel to stop the work. In return, Israel has drafted extra police into the area. Only muslim men aged over 45 are being allowed inside the compound.
As tensions rise rumours are even circulating that Israel is intending to destroy the site so it can finally rebuild a new temple in the place of ancient Jewish temples. The sensitivity of this religious site cannot be overemphasised. In 1996 the drilling of a tunnel under the compound, at this very spot, caused violence which claimed the lives of 61 Muslims and 15 Israeli soldiers. Four years later a visit to the compound by former Prime Minister Aeriel Sharon provoked the second intifada.
So far the mass demonstrations called for by certain leading Palestinians have not materialised. But Israel is braced for a possible repeat of the violence.