The recent conflict between Israel and Palestine has claimed the lives of at least 227 Palestinians so far, reports Aljazeera.
The conflict saw a significant escalation after Israeli security forces fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at worshipers gathered at Al-Aqsa mosque on 7 May.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered one of the holiest structure deeply embedded into Islam. "Aqsa" means "farthest" in Arabic, and it refers to Islamic scripture and the story of the Prophet Muhammad moving from Mecca to the mosque in one night to pray before ascending to heaven.
The attacks and resistance have made the whole world wonder why al-Aqsa is so important and why Palestinians are laying down their lives in protest to make sure it remains untouched and unbothered.
Here's why the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem is a persistent source of tension between Palestinians and Israelis.
1. Why al-Aqsa is so important
Al-Aqsa is the name of a silver-domed mosque located within a 35-acre compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The compound is located in Jerusalem's Old City, which has been listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Cultural Organization, UNESCO, and is significant to all three Abrahamic religions.
Since Israel annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the site has become the most disputed piece of land in the Holy Land. The dispute, however, goes back even further, to the time before Israel was established.
In 1947, the United Nations devised a plan to divide historical Palestine, which was then under British rule, into two states: one for European Jews and one for Palestinians. The Jewish state received 55% of the territory, while the Palestinian state received the remaining 45%.
The al-Aqsa complex, which is located in Jerusalem, belonged to the international community and was administered by the United Nations. It was given this unique status because of its significance to the three Abrahamic religions.
Following Israel's declaration of statehood in 1948, the first Arab-Israeli war erupted, with Israel taking 78 percent of the land and Egypt and Jordan controlling the remaining parts of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
After the second Arab-Israeli war in 1967, which culminated in the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and ultimately the illegal Israeli annexation of Jerusalem, including the Old City and al-Aqsa, Israel's encroachment on the land accelerated.
Israeli control of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, is illegal and violates many international law norms, including the principle that an occupying power should not have jurisdiction over the territories it occupies.
The Israeli government has taken further measures in recent years to monitor and Judaize the Old City and East Jerusalem as a whole. In 1980, Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem to be Israel's "full and united" capital, which was illegal under international law. No nation in the world today recognizes Israel's control of Jerusalem or its efforts to alter the city's geography and demographic composition.
Despite being born in Jerusalem, Palestinians who number about 400,000 have only permanent residency status, not citizenship, in comparison to Jews who were born there. In addition, Israel has been quietly deporting Palestinians from the city since 1967, putting tough conditions on their ability to keep their residency status.
In East Jerusalem, Israel has constructed at least 12 fortified Jewish-only illegal settlements, housing 200,000 Israelis, while refusing Palestinian building permits and demolishing their homes as a form of retaliation for illegal construction.
2. The compound's religious significance
The al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century building believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, are both located in the Noble Sanctuary.
Jews claim the compound is the site of the Biblical Jewish temples, but Jewish law and the Israeli Rabbinate prohibit Jews from entering the compound and praying there because it is considered too sacred to walk on.
The Western Wall of the complex, known to Jews as the Wailing Wall, is thought to be the last remnant of the Second Temple, although Muslims refer to it as al-Buraq Wall, believing it to be where the Prophet Muhammad tied al-Buraq, the animal on which he ascended to the sky and talked to God.
3. The site's status quo
Jordan and Israel have decided since 1967 that the Waqf, or Islamic trust, would be in charge of matters within the complex, while Israel would be in charge of external security. Non-Muslims will be permitted to visit the site during visiting hours but not to pray there.
However, new Temple groups such as the Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute have challenged the Israeli government's ban on Jews entering the complex, with the goal of rebuilding the Third Jewish Temple there.
Members of the Israeli government support such organizations, despite the Israeli government's claim to want to keep the status quo at the site.
Israeli forces now regularly allow large numbers of Jewish settlers from the occupied Palestinian territories to converge on the al-Aqsa compound under police and army security, instilling Palestinian fears of an Israeli takeover, which has now almost come true.
In 1990, the Temple Mount Faithful announced that the Dome of the Rock would be demolished and a cornerstone for the Third Temple would be laid in its place, sparking protests and a massacre in which 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli police.
In 2000, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon invaded the holy site with 1,000 Israeli police, reiterating Israeli claims to the disputed region in light of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's US-mediated peace talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which included talks about how the two sides should share Jerusalem. Sharon's entry into the compound triggered the Second Intifada, which resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.
On the 50th anniversary of Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the Israeli cabinet held its weekly meeting in tunnels underneath al-Aqsa Mosque, "to mark the liberation and unification of Jerusalem" – a development that infuriated Palestinians.
Israel also prohibits Palestinian entry into the compound by a variety of means, including the separation wall, which was constructed in the early 2000s and prevents Palestinians from entering Israel from the West Bank.
Only those above a certain age are permitted entry to Jerusalem on Fridays in the occupied West Bank, while others must apply for a difficult-to-obtain permit from Israeli authorities. At checkpoints between the West Bank and Jerusalem, where tens of thousands must pass through security checks to reach Jerusalem to pray, the restrictions have been causing serious congestion and stress.
4. Recent tensions
Tensions have been simmering near al-Aqsa for a very long time now, which unfortunately saw an escalation on 8 May during Ramadan, when at least 163 Palestinians and six Israeli police officers were hurt in clashes in Jerusalem.
The situation has now reached a boiling point after Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah were being forcefully evicted from land claimed by Jewish settlers. Since that clash, at least 227 Palestinians have been killed. The dead include 64 children and 38 women. The continuous barrage of airstrikes from Israel has been killing Palestinians as Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied various world leaders and organisation's call for a ceasefire.
Israel's attack on Palestinians has created an uproar among the international community. Agitated people of all background and religion have been taking to the streets protesting Israel's attack.
An Israeli attack on a Gaza tower housing Al Jazeera, the Associated Press, and other offices was destroyed, according to Israeli claims that Hamas militants were operating from there.
Meanwhile, diplomatic attempts to reach an agreement between Israel and Gaza's rulers, Hamas, have stalled, with the US continuing to block UN Security Council action on the subject.
5. The greater context
Al-Aqsa is a small region within Palestine, but it represents a significant part of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Though the mosque is particularly important to Muslims, Palestinian Christians have previously protested Israeli incursions into the compound.
With further restrictions on Palestinian entry to the compound and ongoing demands from Israeli religious groups to allow Jews to pray there, many Palestinian's fear that the compound will be divided is sadly becoming a reality.