The Tunnel that Ignited the Powder Keg

Israeli Actions in Jerusalem Nearly Kill the Peace Process

Late evening on Monday, 23 September 1996, the Israeli government opened a second entrance to a tunnel, which runs for 500 yards along the Western Wall of Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Occupied East Jerusalem. The opening was made in the Arab quarters in the Old City, specifically under the stairs of Omariya (Al-Rawda) School. The Palestinian side viewed this as an additional, unbearable provocation further aggravating the already deteriorated situation on the ground and the stalemate of the peace process, resulting from the policies and actions of the Government of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Throughout the days that followed, large demonstrations by angry Palestinians took place in Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities. In response, Israeli soldiers used rubber bullets and live ammunition against the demonstrators, leading to more than 50 deaths and over 1,200 injuries among Palestinian civilians. In addition, clashes took place between the Israeli army and the Palestinian police, which led to casualties on both sides. Immediately thereafter the Israeli army deployed tanks and began using helicopter gunships in Palestinian cities as well.

Another of the shocking events during that period was the storming of Al-Haram Al-Sharif by Israeli security personnel immediately after the Friday prayers on 27 September 1996. That left 3 persons dead and more than 200 wounded among the Palestinian worshippers that day.

Prior to these events, during the early morning hours of 27 August 1996, Israeli forces closed the quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, transported cranes and bulldozers within the walls of the Old City and demolished a building belonging to Burj al-Laqlaq Society, which provides services to Palestinian children, including the physically handicapped.

It is clear from this series of illegal actions that the Israeli government is trying to predetermine negotiations on Jerusalem in advance, which is absolutely unacceptable to the Palestinian side. This is the direct source of the bloody incidents that recently occurred and such acts must be stopped for the process to be salvaged and continued. Israel must close the tunnel. In fact, compliance with international law requires the closure of the tunnel from both ends pending agreement on the final status of the city.

Background Information About the Tunnel:

  • On the basis of some archeological discoveries, the Israelis, during the 1970s, excavated the tunnel. During that time, digging effectively caused harm to some Islamic structures immediately above the area of excavation.
  • The Palestinian side, with the support of the entire international community, has categorically opposed any excavation in Jerusalem. These excavations do change the character of the city, as well as the religious and cultural situation there, which is completely prohibited under international law. The excavation also constitutes a direct threat to the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Al-Haram Al-Sharif in general and other holy places.
  • The new opening of the tunnel was made on the property of the Islamic Waqf, against the absolute objection of the concerned Islamic authorities. Again, this is obviously illegal.
  • The new opening does change the character and geography of the city and is an attempt to impose new facts on the ground. It will probably lead to further excavation and use of other tunnels, which will further endanger the foundations of Islamic and other holy places.
  • Previous Israeli governments have attempted to open the tunnel, but faced with clear opposition they abandoned the idea.