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Why Israeli-Palestinian conflicts over land turn epic

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The Mamilla controversy is not unique in Israel, where it's common for different religions' sacred spaces to overlap. Two of the holiest sites in Islam – Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock – sit atop the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, where the Torah proclaims the Holy Temple will be rebuilt.

But these controversies are more than debates over landownership; they are debates over the ownership of memories, a place in human history.

In Israel especially, place is connected to identity, making it a priority to protect the places that offer a sense of belonging. Any effort to remove evidence of historical ties is seen as an attack on identity. Just last week, Israeli authorities destroyed at least 15 tombstones in the Mamilla cemetery which it said were illegally built.

"There is a tendency in both communities to deny the spirituality or the sanctity or the history of the other on a certain spot," says Marc Gopin, a rabbi and the director of George Mason University's Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution.

Why place plays such a key role in identity

Such tactics are common. This past March, a right-wing Israeli group sponsored ads on 200 buses that displayed fictitious posters of the Temple Mount, in which a Third Temple replaced the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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