Israeli soldiers at the entrance to the old city of Jerusalem. PHOTO: Mel Frykberg / ANA

Jerusalem – The battle for Jerusalem is heating up on the ground, in the media, and in political circles as Palestinians and Israelis battle over the historic city that is holy to all three monotheistic religions.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The Israelis say Jewish West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem will forever be united as Israel’s capital. According to international law the eastern part of the city is occupied illegally by the Israelis.

On Sunday afternoon, tens of hundreds of religious and nationalistic Israelis descended on the old city of Jerusalem waving flags and dancing in circles as they poured through the cobbled, narrow, winding streets of the old city celebrating its unification following the Israeli-Arab war of 1967.

Many shopkeepers closed their shops early to avoid altercations with the ultra-nationalists as has happened in past years.

“I will leave early today to avoid trouble as the Israeli youths often are insulting and attack our property,” Abu Muhammad* who owns a falafel take-away shop told the African News Agency (ANA).

Israeli soldiers at the entrance to the old city of Jerusalem. PHOTO: Mel Frykberg / ANA

It wasn’t long before clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces broke out in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound which is Islam’s third holiest site.

Israel usually closes the compound to everyone but Muslims during the last 10 days of Ramadan. But on Sunday, on one of the holiest days of the Muslim month of fasting, rightwing Jews were allowed entry.

Many of those entering were from the Temple Mount Faithful who wish to build the third Jewish Temple on the remains of the mosque.

As the Jewish nationalists entered under police escort, chairs, stones and other projectiles rained down on them from youths who had barricaded themselves in the mosque.

Israeli security forces responded by firing teargas and rubber bullets at the youths and a large number were arrested. The doors to the mosque were then locked, preventing worshippers from entering.

Outside the old city, at the Damascus gate entrance, a Palestinian woman Hala abu Gharbia was arrested for displaying the Palestinian flag, among a sea of Israeli flags hoisted by Israelis.

The Damascus Gate entrance to the old city of Jerusalem. PHOTO: Mel Frykberg / ANA

In pursuit of its goal of keeping the city eternally united and under Israeli control, the authorities have embarked on the Judaisation of the eastern sector, according to NGOs and Palestinian critics.

This has involved changing the municipal borders of Jerusalem and encouraging Israeli settlers to live in East Jerusalem with financial incentives - there are now well over 200 000 Israeli settlers living in the eastern sector - while limiting the number of homes Palestinians can build by restricting building permits despite a chronic housing shortage.

East Jerusalem is of enormous importance to Palestinians. In addition to it being the location of their future capital, it is also where Al Aqsa Mosque is located, where the best medical and educational facilities are found in the West Bank as well as numerous cultural institutions and trade opportunities exist. Many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank also have family in the city.

Palestinians are literally dying to get there too. Many Palestinians from the West Bank are not given the prerequisite Israeli permits to enter Jerusalem during Ramadan to pray at Al Aqsa mosque, especially on the holy day of Friday.

So many choose to cross the separation barrier, which divides Israel proper from the West Bank, illegally by bypassing checkpoints or climbing over the dividing wall.

While some make it without getting caught others are rounded up, arrested, jailed, fined and returned. An unfortunate number, however, are shot at by Israeli security forces.

So ended the life of Abdullah Ghaith, 16, after Israeli forces shot him dead as he attempted to bypass a checkpoint in Bethlehem last Friday. Another Palestinian, Moeman Tabish, 21, was also shot in the stomach and seriously injured during the same incident but his condition has since stabilised after he was rushed to hospital.

In the interim both sides are battling to win the media narrative of their respective and exclusive claims to Jerusalem.

African News Agency (ANA)