Jerusalem, perhaps the most sacred and revered city in the world, was engulfed in violence once more over the weekend. Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers have fought running gun battles that resulted in 27 people killed and more than 700 wounded. Reports from the city read like dispatches from a horrible war where fighting is house-to-house and street-to street. Helicopter gunships and anti-tank rockets streak overhead as children – some as young as 10 years old – die below. This senseless violence violates the principles of peace the two sides claim to support.
The bleak situation began Friday when hard-line opposition party leader Ariel Sharon, in what many believe to be a show of Israeli sovereignty, visited the Temple Mount – a site considered holy by both the Jews and Muslims that is still the main point of contention in the Mideast peace negotiations. Muslims objected to his presence, and riots erupted at the shrine as Sharon was leaving. Six people died that day.
The fighting continued through the weekend and, by all accounts, no end to the violence is appears near. More people will die in what Palestinians are calling an escalation of a holy war.
Both sides bear responsibility for the bloodshed in Jerusalem. Palestinians, having recently gained a measure of autonomy from the Israel, are now jeopardizing everything for which they have worked so hard. Provoking the Israelis is never wise. History has shown their penchant for swift and thorough military responses to perceived threats. But the Israelis are culpable for their response to situations like these.
To erupt into a savage uprising simply because a man visits a temple is far from appropriate. But, to open fire with live ammunition on demonstrators with nothing more powerful than stones is abominable. No matter the historical importance of the issues over which the two sides are fighting or how many acts of outrage have piled up over the years, no excuse can pardon the murder of children. No thin explanation can justify the carnage visited upon the people of either Israel or Palestine.
Coexistence is not an impossible goal for Jews and Muslims. In another hot spot fueled by religious tension, Catholics and Protestants are successfully hammering out their differences in Northern Ireland. The people of Israel and Palestine must do the same if they are to preserve their way of life and not descend into a perpetual state of violent madness like the insanity seen these last few days.