At the center of the drama is the most sensitive and hotly disputed holy site in the Holy Land a hilltop known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. It is where the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, including the shrine marking the spot where Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven, is built over the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples.
Clashes at the site could ignite violence across the region, explaining the presence of 3,000 riot-ready Israeli police around the walled Old City, preparing to confront a handful of demonstrators.
Extremist Jews who make up a new group called "Revava," a biblical word that means 10,000, stated openly that their goal is to storm the sensitive site in July, when thousands of Israeli police and soldiers are in Gaza to evacuate 9,000 settlers forcing Israel's leaders to pull the forces from Gaza, send them to Jerusalem and, in that way, stop the pullout. The Sunday protest, they said, was just a test.
Although 10,000 protesters were promised by Revava, only a few dozen showed up, but if nothing, they demonstrated how easy it would be to disrupt the functioning of the Gaza pullout by diverting troop attention to their agitation.
Outside the Old City walls, hundreds of young Palestinians scuffled with baton-wielding police, who kept them away from the shrine. Two Palestinians were hurt, with one suffering a head injury after being hit by a club. Eventually, the Palestinians knelt in orderly lines on the road ringing to Old City to perform Muslim prayers.
In the West Bank, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets. In Nablus, some 3,000 Palestinians, including dozens of armed men who fired in the air, marched through the streets. In Hebron, about 1,000 Palestinians marched and chanted slogans about protecting the mosque.
Israel has stepped up security in Jerusalem recent days. Security officials say they fear hard-liners will attack the hilltop shrine.
Carmi Gilon, former head of the Shin Bet security service, said that if there is such an attack, Israel would find itself at war with the entire Muslim world.
"Of all the means … of stopping disengagement, no doubt the Temple Mount is the doomsday weapon," he told Israel Radio.
Sad, but true.