Israeli Police Officers: Decision to Place Metal Detectors at Temple Mount Was Careless

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan consulted only the national and Jerusalem district police chiefs, sources say, claiming he failed to follow a 2014 plan on the use of metal detectors

Metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 19, 2017.
Metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 19, 2017. Olivier Fitoussi

The decision to install metal detectors at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount was careless and taken without a thorough discussion of the matter at the top levels of the force, as had been prior practice on such sensitive matters, senior Israel Police officials said. According to the sources, who were speaking on condition of anonymity, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also failed to follow a 2014 policy on the use of metal detectors.

On Sunday morning, Erdan said that as long as no substitute is found for the metal detectors, he would order them to remain at the entrance to the Temple Mount to screen Muslim worshippers at the site. The devices were put in place after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli Border Police officers at the site this month.

The installation of the metal detectors was condemned in the Muslim world. It sparked weekend clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in which four Palestinians were killed. On Friday evening, three members of an Israeli Jewish family were stabbed to death in the West Bank settlement of Halamish by a Palestinian man from a nearby village.

Erdan, who supported the introduction of the metal detectors, submitted the police recommendation in favor of the metal detectors to the security cabinet a day after the shooting attack on the Temple Mount. But senior police officials told Haaretz that, prior to the security cabinet meeting, Erdan had only consulted with Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and with Jerusalem district chief Yoram Halevy, who wanted the metal detectors installed.

One source said that police chief Alsheich’s predecessors in the position usually consulted at length with senior commanders on the force before submitting recommendations on sensitive issues to the political leadership. Such meetings were generally attended by the deputy police commissioner, the heads of police the operations and investigation and intelligence divisions, the commander of the relevant police district and representatives from the army and the Shin Bet security service.

Sources in the Public Security Ministry said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the final decision to install the metal detectors, a move that Erdan supported. The sources noted that Erdan receives recommendations from the police commissioner but does not interfere in the force’s decision-making process.

Some of the sources said that under Erdan and Alsheich, they don’t have the opportunity to present their reservations prior to the minister's decision on important issues. One senior police official said the procedure Erdan followed in this case was at variance with an early plan from about three years ago on their possible installation.

That plan called for the equipment to be placed at a location near the entrance to the Temple Mount that would permit the selective examination of visitors, rather than requiring every worshipper to pass through a metal detector.

Muslim leaders in Israel and abroad argue that the placement of metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Haram al-Sharif and which is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, violates the status quo at the holy site.

On Sunday, Erdan told Israel Radio that there was “nothing sacred” about metal detectors, “but at a moment when the police don’t have another effective alternative to prevent a repeat of incidents such as occurred on the Temple Mount, the metal detectors will not be removed.”

In a statement, the police said the force complies with the directives of Israel’s political leadership and would not comment on statements made in closed sessions of the security cabinet.