When I studied geology in college, I learned that earthquakes are caused by two tectonic plates that rub together, causing unbearable friction.
In Israel, the fluid border between east and west Jerusalem is like those tectonic plates, rubbing against each other and occasionally rumbling into violence. There have been clashes in east Jerusalem in recent days, as Palestinians protest not only the murder of an Arab youth by (perhaps) Jewish extremists, but two weeks of increased pressure during the search for the murdered three Israeli boys.
Ramadan adds to the friction as heightened religious sensitivity coupled with all day fasting in the hot sun brings tempers to a boil.
Today is also Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, and to his credit President Netanyahu is working hard to maintain calm.
He has taken the unprecedented step of saying publicly to Hamas that if they remain quiet (despite the dozens of rockets they have fired into Israel) the Israeli army will take no escalating action.
But the friction remains. I visited part of east Jerusalem, primarily to pray at the Western Wall (which can be accessed through the Muslim Quarter) but also to personally see what was up.
The border police had closed the popular Jaffa Gate and maintained a small entrance that allowed only a single person to enter at a time. Young Arab men were questioned and often turned away as prayer time approached. Older Arab men were welcomed through the barrier. In fairness, all of us were scrutinized as we entered, but it was clear that the younger Arab men were given more of a once over. The hope is that by barring younger men, rioting might be prevented on the Temple Mount. I had heard on the news that only older Arab men and women were to be permitted access to the Temple Mount area. To their credit, the young female border guards were polite and helpful, their male commanding officer was clearly anxious and was shouting constantly.
The Arab shouk was very quiet and many shops were shuttered. The Western Wall itself was not very crowded and while I was there soldiers were deploying to prepare security for the hour of Muslim prayer.
All in all, there was an odd feeling of emptiness and mild tension in the air.
However, Jerusalem is a city of wild contrasts. As I was leaving the Arab shouk on the way home, near the Jaffa gate, I passed a large group of Christian American tourists posing with two photogenic young Israeli female border police officers. These two young blonde Israeli women, except for their uniforms and assault rifles, would have been at home at some sorority gathering in Dallas or Atlanta, and they clearly were charming the American group. As I walked by, I glanced back, and a nice American grandmother was encouraging her clearly embarrassed teenage grandson to snuggle closer to the two young women in order to take a picture. The heavily armed girls giggled, the tourists laughed, and life goes on in Israel.
Update-Unfortunately, it appears that rioting has in fact broken out in heavily Arab areas of East Jerusalem. The Boxing Rabbi prays for the peace of Jerusalem, for all its inhabitants- and wishes to assure everyone that in fact, despite the incidents of conflict, things remain quite safe.