It’s hard to exaggerate the possible danger posed by the events this week on the Temple Mount. After the attack last Friday, in which policemen Hael Sathawi and Kamil Shanan were killed, police closed the Temple Mount to Muslims and cancelled Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, something that had not happened since 1969. Most of the Palestinian public accepted the police decision. The Palestinian street realized that using firearms in the Temple Mount plaza was an unusual act worthy of condemnation.
On Sunday the police decided to open the Mount compound once again, but insisted that the Muslim worshipers pass through metal detectors stationed at the entrances. The heads of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that runs the site, refused to accept this demand and ordered the public not to enter the compound. The boycott call was successful, and Thursday will mark a week that the Temple Mount has been totally empty of Muslims. One would have to go back hundreds of years to find a historical precedent for this.
The police request to boost the security checks at the Mount’s entrances is reasonable, but it would behoove the police and the government to understand that such a step cannot be unilaterally imposed.
From the Palestinian perspective, it constitutes a violation of the status quo that undermines their access to the mosques. The Temple Mount is not like the Western Wall or a shopping mall, as Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevy claimed. Tens of thousands of people come to the Temple Mount on Fridays within a short amount of time. The metal detectors will make the pressure at the entrances unmanageable.
But more importantly, in the eyes of the Palestinians, the metal detectors are meant to humiliate them, to restrict them and to allow freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount. Moreover, searches that the police conducted on the Temple Mount uncovered no weapons in the compound, even though no searches had been conducted previously and millions of people visit there every year.
The rage at the recent days in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Arab world over what’s been happening on the Temple Mount is increasing, and with it the violence. Past experience shows that if there’s one issue that can unite the entire Arab world against Israel and lead to bloodshed, it’s the Temple Mount. That’s what happened in 1996 (when the government tried to open a new entrance to the Western Wall tunnels), in 2000 (the second intifada) and in 2015 (the so-called “knives intifada”). One would expect the government to learn something from the past.
One can assume that the police and the government understand their mistake, but they are afraid to backtrack for reasons of honor and image. One must remember that this is a volatile situation that could end up costing lives on both sides. That’s why the government should give in, remove the metal detectors and then have discussions with officials responsible for security arrangements on the Temple Mount.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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