The excavation works started this week by the Antiquities Authority for the purpose of setting up a bridge at the Mugrabi Gate, near the Temple Mount, will almost certainly spark the third round of bloodshed caused by Israeli initiatives related to the Temple Mount area. The next clash between Palestinians and Jews is already under way.
The first confrontation started on September 24, 1996, after then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to open the Western Wall Tunnel. The decision, which wasn't coordinated with the Palestinian Authority, led to several days of riots, the killing of 16 Israeli soldiers and 69 Palestinians, and hundreds of injuries.
The 2nd clash started after then-Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon's October 2000 visit to the Temple Mount compound – a visit that led to riots and hundreds of injuries, and particularly to the outbreak of the second Intifada, the al-Aqsa uprising.
These days, the third bloody clash is getting under way and may mark the beginning of the third Intifada, as a result of work that was started this week. The riots could have been prevented had Israeli officials alerted the relevant Muslim officials, and particularly the management of the Jerusalem Waqf in order to receive approval.
The works are apparently justified, as the embankment leading to the Mugrabi Gate above the Western Wall's square had been badly damaged in recent years and required thorough renovation work. The relevant officials in Israel – the Jerusalem municipality among others – decided to construct a bridge that will lead to the Mugarbi Gate on Temple Mount from the nearby Dung Gate at the entrance to the Old City. In order to construct the bridge, large pits must be dug and excavations must be undertaken near the embankment.
Palestinians to unite against Israel
Muslim officials are also aware of the embankment's dilapidated state, but they are afraid (and perhaps this fear has a basis) that Israel would take advantage of the preparation work for the new bridge in order to dig under the Temple Mount mosques. For several years now, the Elad settler organization has been engaged in digs in the City of David area (Wadi Hilu in the Silwan neighborhood), under the direction of the National Parks Authority (inspired and directed by the settlers), and below the homes of Palestinian residents.
The City of David isn't Temple Mount, but the Palestinians see how the Israelis engage in excavation work under their homes and nobody does a thing.
One of Fatah's leaders in the Gaza Strip said this week that once representatives of Palestinian organizations return from their talks in Mecca they will turn their attention to joint protests over the Temple Mount affair that would apparently start a new wave of riots in the Territories and protest rallies across the Arab world.
There was reasonable basis to assume that Ehud Olmert, who was Jerusalem's mayor at the time the Western Wall Tunnel was opened, would learn from his past experience and refrain, as a prime minister, from sparking a fire in the country and possibly in the entire region because of a wrong decision.
We don't have to demonstrate our sovereignty over every inch of united Jerusalem in every case. At this time, which isn't easy for Israel and features immediate dangers, ranging from Hizbullah in Lebanon to the Iranian nuclear threat, we don't need this confrontation, which will give the Palestinians a reason to end their own bloody clashes and unite against Israel.
Ten years after the Western Wall Tunnel riots, we should cry out and sound the alarm: Who will save us from the current excavations? Who is the wise person that can stop the works near Temple Mount that will lead to more needless bloodshed and stir up the entire Muslim world against us?