Sharon Visits Temple Mount
On September 28, the Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon together with a Likud party delegation surrounded by hundreds of Israeli riot police, visited the Temple Mount. Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of the compound and is widely considered the third holiest site in Islam. Although the compound has been under Israeli sovereignty since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and is the holiest site in Judaism, Sharon was only permitted to enter the compound after the Israeli Interior Minister had received assurances from the Palestinian Authority's security chief that no problems would arise if he made the visit. Sharon did not actually go into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and went during normal tourist hours. Colin Shindler writes "Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Minister of Internal security, was told by Israeli intelligence that there was no concerted risk of violence. This was implicitly confirmed by Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian head of Preventive Security on the Wesk Bank, who told Ben-Shlomo that Sharon could visit the Haram, but not enter a mosque on security grounds. "
The BBC reported: "Soon after Mr Sharon left the site, the angry demonstrations outside erupted into violence. Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets, while protesters hurled stones and other missiles. Police said 25 of their men were hurt by missiles thrown by Palestinians, but only one was taken to hospital. Israel Radio reported at least three Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets."
The stated purpose for Sharon's visit of the compound was to assert the right of all Israelis to visit the Temple Mount; however, according to Likud spokesman Ofir Akounis, the purpose was to "show that under a Likud government will remain under Israeli sovereignty." In response to accusations by Ariel Sharon of government readiness to concede "Israeli sovereignty" over the site to Palestinians, the Israeli government gave Sharon permission to visit the area. When alerted of his intentions, senior Palestinian figures, such as Yassir Arafat, Saeb Erekat, and Faisal Husseini all asked Sharon to call off his visit.
The Palestinians, some 10 days earlier, had just observed their annual memorial day for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The Kahan Commission had concluded that Ariel Sharon, who was Defense Minister during the Sabra and Shatila massacre, was found to bear personal responsibility "for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge" and "not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed". Sharon's negligence in protecting the civilian population of Beirut, which had come under Israeli control amounted to a non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defence Minister was charged, and it was recommended that Sharon be dismissed as Defence Minister. Sharon initially refused to resign, but after the death of an Israeli after a peace march, Sharon did resign as Defense minister, but remained in the Israeli cabinet.
The Palestinians condemned Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount as a provocation and an incursion, as were his armed bodyguards that arrived on the scene with him. Critics claim that Sharon knew that the visit could trigger violence, and that the purpose of his visit was political. According to Yossef Bodansky,
Clinton's proposal included explicit guarantees that Jews would have the right to visit and pray in and around the Temple Mount... Once Sharon was convinced that Jews had free access to the Temple Mount, there would be little the Israeli religious and nationalist Right could do to stall the peace process. When Sharon expressed interest in visiting the Temple Mount, Barak ordered GSS chief Ami Ayalon to approach Jibril Rajoub with a special request to facilitate a smooth and friendly visit Rajoub promised it would be smooth as long as Sharon would refrain from entering any of the mosques or praying publicly Just to be on the safe side, Barak personally approached Arafat and once again got assurances that Sharon's visit would be smooth as long as he did not attempt to enter the Holy Mosques A group of Palestinian dignitaries came to protest the visit, as did three Arab Knesset Members. With the dignitaries watching from a safe distance, the Shabab (youth mob) threw rocks and attempted to get past the Israeli security personnel and reach Sharon and his entourage Still, Sharon's deportment was quiet and dignified. He did not pray, did not make any statement, or do anything else that might be interpreted as offensive to the sensitivities of Muslims. Even after he came back near the Wailing Wall under the hail of rocks, he remained calm. "I came here as one who believes in coexistence between Jews and Arabs," Sharon told the waiting reporters. "I believe that we can build and develop together. This was a peaceful visit. Is it an instigation for Israeli Jews to come to the Jewish people's holiest site?"
Shlomo Ben-Ami, the then acting Israeli foreign minister, has maintained, however, that he received Palestinian assurances that no violence would occur, provided that Ariel Sharon not enter one of the mosques.
According to the New York Times, many in the Arab world, including Egyptians, Palestinians, Lebanese and Jordanians, point to Sharon's visit as the beginning of the Second intifada and derailment of the peace process. According to Juliana Ochs, Sharon's visit 'symbolically instigated' the second intifada.
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