JERUSALEM — The reasons given for the recent clashes over a Jerusalem holy site depend on which side is giving them.
To many Israelis, the police raids at the Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount, are a responsible act of law enforcement at a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews. The compound in the Old City is not only a mosque, but the holiest place in Judaism, the site of an ancient temple.
For many Palestinians, however, the Israeli police presence at the site is the unwelcome result of Israeli occupation, and confrontations with the police there, regardless of who starts them, are seen as a legitimate act of resistance against an occupying power.
The Israeli authorities say that they have been forced to intervene recently to contain disturbances instigated by Palestinian rioters, who placed both Muslims and Jews at the site in danger.
They accuse Hamas, the Islamist militant group that dominates the Gaza Strip, of provoking the unrest. Hamas has made statements in support of the stone throwers, portraying them as defenders of the mosque and the Palestinian national cause.
Some of the clashes over the past week broke out after Palestinian youths blocked the route used by non-Muslims to visit the site, and by Jewish worshipers to discreetly pray there. In the most recent clash, on Friday, Palestinian youths threw stones in the direction of a police outpost on the edge of the compound, prompting police officers to enter, according to videos of the unrest.
Israel says the police have been acting to ensure freedom of access to the site for all, including tourists. Israel sees the mosque as part of its sovereign territory, and considers it essential to maintain a permanent security presence because of the fairly regular spasms of violence there.
During the Middle East war in 1967, Israeli forces captured the compound from Jordan, along with the rest of East Jerusalem. Israel later united East and West Jerusalem to create a single, united capital—a claim that the United States now also recognizes.
But the United Nations Security Council has frequently deemed East Jerusalem occupied territory, a view shared by most of the world.
Palestinians hope East Jerusalem, including the Aqsa compound, will one day become the capital of a Palestinian state. Until then, many feel the site should be solely administered by the Waqf, an Islamic trust funded and overseen by neighboring Jordan.
To avoid stirring unnecessary tensions, Israeli officials have allowed the Waqf to run civil and religious affairs at the site since 1967. For similar reasons, Israel also established an informal protocol under which Jews could visit but not pray at the site.
But for months, there has been growing evidence that Israel is upending that longstanding convention by letting Jews pray quietly at the compound, under the protection of armed officers, despite the protestations of the Waqf.
That development has compounded Palestinian fears that Israel is gradually seeking to undermine the Waqf’s authority and restrict Muslim access to the site.
The attempts this week by Palestinians to block non-Muslim access to the site also followed rumors on social media that the Israeli government was preparing to let hard-line Jewish activists make a Passover sacrifice within the mosque’s precincts.
But that did not happen and instead, the Israeli police arrested several Jews who were said to have been planning such a sacrifice.
Some Palestinians said that the police’s recent facilitation of Jewish prayer at the site had left them with little faith in the Israeli authorities.