(Jerusalem) The Jewish, Christian and Muslim liturgical calendars collide on this Easter Sunday in a Jerusalem under tension after yet another resurgence of violence in the Middle East.
The Israeli police were deployed in force on Sunday in the Old City, a place of friction between the three monotheisms, in the eastern part of Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, while the celebrations of each other follow one another and coincide.
Deadly attacks, rocket attacks from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, followed by Israeli reprisals: the region has been in the grip of a wave of violence since the brutal irruption on Wednesday of Israeli forces in the Al-Aqsa mosque of Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, prompting a series of condemnations and a sudden flare-up of tensions.
The latest episode to date, the Israeli army announced on Saturday evening that it had struck Syria in response to rocket fire towards the part of the Golan Heights annexed by Israel.
From Rome, Pope Francis expressed his “deep concern because of the attacks of recent days”, and wished for the establishment of a climate of “trust and mutual respect” to allow a resumption of the “dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians “.
In Jerusalem, several hundred faithful participated in the early morning Easter mass according to the Latin rite at the Holy Sepulchre, in the hubbub characteristic of this holy place disputed between the different Christian denominations. Orthodox services for Palm Sunday were held at the same time in the adjoining churches and chapels.
“I think Jesus and God suffer from seeing us divided among Christians, even here we are divided, unfortunately, and there is a lot of violence, it’s painful,” Sister Elisabeth, a missionary from Chad and discovering for the first time the church built on the site where the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus took place, according to Christian tradition.
A little further on, thousands of Jews crowded in front of the Wailing Wall for the traditional blessing of the Cohanim (priests, in Hebrew).
This blessing is recited by members of the Cohanim caste who, according to tradition, descend from the priests who officiated at the Temple in Jerusalem until its destruction in the year 70.
Today, the “Priests’ Blessing” takes place twice a year at the Western Wall, notably for Passover.
“I feel that God is going to protect us, we are all praying together as one people,” Judy Green, a 60-year-old Jewish faithful, told AFP.
A remnant of the ancient temple, the Wailing Wall is located below the esplanade of the Mosques, the third holiest site in Islam, built on what the Jews call the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
According to an AFP journalist, more than 500 religious Jews came to visit the esplanade of the Mosques on Sunday morning, under police escort while Muslims prayed there for Ramadan, without any clashes.
Defying the rabbinate’s ban that Jews are not allowed to visit the Temple Mount, the number of Jews visiting the esplanade has increased markedly in recent years, and Jewish ultranationalists sometimes pray there surreptitiously after to have gone up there as simple visitors.
These visits frequently create tension with Palestinian Muslim worshipers who fear that Israel is trying to change the rules governing access to the place, which the Israeli government denies.
The situation “is not very good”, says Mahmoud Mansour, a 65-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem, on the esplanade, lamenting that the police “every morning” support visits from Jews “and try to push the Muslims aside”. .
“But we are fighting and we hope […] that one day there will be peace in Jerusalem,” he adds.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces twice burst into the Al-Aqsa mosque and dislodged worshipers gathered for night prayers in the middle of Ramadan.
Israel says law enforcement was ‘forced to act to restore order’ in the face of ‘extremists’ barricaded in the mosque with rocks and firework flares which were used against the police during their assault.
The next day, around 30 rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel, injuring one person and causing material damage. The Israeli army retaliated by carrying out strikes in Gaza and southern Lebanon.
And on Friday evening, Israel announced the mobilization of reserve police units and military reinforcements, after a car bombing in Tel Aviv that claimed the life of an Italian tourist, and the death of two Israeli sisters aged 16 and 20 in an attack in the occupied West Bank.