Israeli police prevented over a dozen journalists covering the developments around Temple Mount from approaching parts of Jerusalem’s Old City during the weekend and on Sunday.
Those without journalist credentials were free to approach the area off limits to members of the press, which extended from the beginning of Derech Sha'ar Haarayot to the Lions Gate and included the square surrounding it as well as access to the adjacent Temple Mount compound. Dozens of Muslim worshippers were spreading prayer rugs on the ground outside of Temple Mount on Sunday morning and tourists also moved around freely.
During the temporary ban, police officers used violence to eject Haaretz journalists from the site. The police said they are looking into the matter.
Journalists were not allowed to film the new metal gate and security cameras that police erected between the Lions Gate and the Mount.
Policemen in the area made it explicitly clear that their orders were only to prevent journalists from entering, and that any moves to cover the situation around the Temple Mount was forbidden. The journalists were restricted to a pedestrian mall a few hundred meters from the Old City, from which it was impossible to see the new gate, the metal detectors, the worshippers or the entrance to the Mount itself. Two checkpoints manned by police officers stood between the journalists and entry to the Old City.
Police violently kicked out a Haaretz reporter and photographer who entered the area. Police first told the journalists that they were not to photograph or remain in the area after a Haaretz photographer took a picture several dozen meters from the entrance to the Temple Mount from a private parking lot, with the permission of the owner. Their refusal to leave was met with a violent response by police officers, who took the journalists' ID cards and pushed them out. The officers threatened to arrest the journalists and only agreed to return their ID cards after they forced them outside.
When the journalists asserted that the police have no authority to prevent them from accessing an open public space, one of them responded that “It is an order from the district commander.”
The Foreign Press Association in Israel condemned the incident, calling it a " deplorable situation created by Israeli security authorities at a major news site in Jerusalem." The association added that while government-issued press cards were not recognized, any tourist with a smartphone could upload photographs to social media, leading to "a dangerous situation as many of these tourists lack the breadth or depth of knowledge that accredited journalists have and it would seem to the benefit of all to allow in professionals – who also undergo strict editing – to cover a news event."
"We expect to see this intolerable and unacceptable situation rectified immediately," the FPA said.
A Jerusalem District police spokesperson initially said the journalists were removed from the area because the press was "causing fears" and bothering the worshippers at the site. The police later said they would investigate the incident.
The police later added that "immediately after the Temple Mount was opened today [Sunday] the police allowed free access to all media outlets." On Friday the police said that due to safety considerations “it was decided on a short period during the prayers in which worshippers were given the possibility of entering the Temple Mount without being disturbed, and at that time the media was allocated a safe area nearby. We will continue to assist the media as long as it does not harm or endanger them.”
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