On Friday, the most serious incidents broke out on Jerusalem's Temple Mount since last year's Operation Guardian of the Walls. A large police contingent entered the Mount on Friday morning to disperse hundreds of young Palestinians who had barricaded themselves in the mosque, and after a few hours of clashes the police managed to restore the peace.
Sunday brought several more serious incidents on and around the Temple Mount – young Palestinians threw stones at buses carrying Jewish worshippers on their way to pray at the Western Wall, and assaulted Jews in the Old City’s alleyways.
The main motivator of these incidents was the fear, on the part of the Palestinian public and its leaders, that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount: to allow Jewish ritual and hurt the status of the Islamic structures there. King Abdullah of Jordan also responded to the incidents, urging Israel to “cease all illegitimate and provocative steps that breach the status quo and cause escalation.”
This fear is mostly unjustified. It is based on fake news and unfounded rumors spread on Palestinian social media. Israel has been trying in recent weeks to convey calming messages to the Palestinians and the Jordanians, and even to Hamas, about the government’s intention to maintain the status quo. But on the Israeli right, some people, including Temple Mount activists and a few irresponsible Knesset members, are constantly working to foster the fears of the Palestinians.
As opposed to what happened last year, this year the Jerusalem police are clearly trying to prevent the broadening of the circle of violence in two main arenas in East Jerusalem: the Temple Mount and Damascus Gate. At both sites, the use of riot-control measures that hurt innocent people – water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas – have been curtailed.
The police are also working to separate the large majority of Palestinians, who come to pray or celebrate, from a minority seeking to clash with police. And so, despite the tensions, Ramadan has so far passed relatively quietly in Jerusalem.
But precisely for this reason the police must not resort to senseless violence. Over the past few days, at least four instances were filmed in which police clubbed journalists, women and uninvolved worshippers for no reason. These cases warrant investigation and indictment.
- Israeli cops filmed clubbing Palestinian journalists on Temple Mount
- Israel Police's gamble paid off, but the pictures from Temple Mount may have a price
- Extremists' call for Passover sacrifice on Temple Mount is a provocative ploy
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai must make sure that violent officers are kept away from the Temple Mount – not only because they are a danger to the public, but also because this violence, and the videos broadcasting it, pour more fuel on the fire that the police are working to put out.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.