Despite all the sensitivity to the Jewish link to the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, the decision by the police and the political leadership to open the gates of the mount to allow Jews to ascend yesterday was a surrender to a small extremist group.
Yesterday Tisha B’Av fell on the same day as the Muslim feast of the sacrifice, Eid al-Adha. According to the status quo that has been established over the last few decades, the Temple Mount is closed on Muslim holidays to Jews and other non-Muslims. This is out of respect for the fact that the mount is a central place of worship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, and millions in the West Bank and Gaza. And out of concern that allowing Jews to ascend on such days will lead to violence and to a blow to relations with Arab and Muslim countries.
For the Palestinians, especially those living in Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is a critical component of their identity and their honor as Muslims, as Arabs, as Palestinians and as Jerusalemites. In the past, attempts to upset the status quo on the Temple Mount, to demonstrate sovereignty or to permit Jewish worship, ended in bloodshed.
Yesterday, too, the Palestinians proved the importance of the site for them. The masses responded to the calls of the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust, and at 7:30 A.M. about 70,000 Palestinian worshipers gathered on the mount. There were only about 200 Jews standing at the entry gate for Jews at the time, Temple lovers and members of the Temple Mount movements. Tens of thousands of Jews passed them by on their way to the Western Wall, the site that for the absolute majority of the Jewish community in Israel is the central and most important place of worship.
The Temple movements – despite their prominence in the media and their disproportionate political representation – represent a miniscule sector of Israeli Jews. During the early hours the police operated logically, and prevented the ascent of the Jews. But as time passed – and when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from touching the hot potato – pressure from the right increased.
On Twitter, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on Netanyahu “to give an unequivocal order to open the Temple Mount.” Temple Mount activists complained about the closing of the mount, and the Prime Minister’s Office publicized an announcement holding the police responsible for closing the place.
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In the end the police entered the mount by force, and under cover of stun grenades and truncheons, the police’s special patrol unit was able to bring in the handful of Jews for a short visit. The result: four policemen and 14 Palestinians were wounded. The decision to open the mount was meant to demonstrate determination and to prove that the police are capable of forcing their will on the Palestinians. But in effect it was a surrender to political pressure and to a small and extremist group.
The problem of the Temple Mount is part of the big problem of the occupation and the overall conflict with the Palestinians. Until that problem is solved, the government must make sure to maintain the status quo, and to refrain from unilateral and dangerous steps due to pressure from extremist groups.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.