World View: Tensions at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount Surge Again

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This morning’s key headlines from

  • Muslim leaders express outrage at metal detectors at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount
  • Concerns grow of a new round of violence at compound

Muslim leaders express outrage at metal detectors at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount

Muslims pray in front of metal detectors placed outside of al-Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount on Sunday
Muslims pray in front of metal detectors placed outside of al-Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount on Sunday

Muslim leaders are expressing outrage at the security measures taken by Israel at the al-Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount compound in East Jerusalem, at its reopening after a two-day closure triggered by a deadly gun battle on Friday morning.

On Friday morning, three gunmen killed two police officers. The gunmen were Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. The victims were two Druze policemen.

Immediately following the incident, Israeli police closed the mosque and prevented worshipers from entering the compound during Friday prayers for the first time since 1967. There is some confusion about this point, because Israel closed the mosque for two days in 2014, after several days of violence. Apparently, this was the first closure during Friday prayers since 1967.

During the closure, Israeli police swept for weapons and installed security devices, including closed-circuit television cameras and metal detectors. Israeli officials say that the police sweep through the compound found knives, slingshots, batons, spikes and unexploded ordnance.

When the mosque was reopened on Sunday, Ahmed Omar al-Kiswani, director of al-Aqsa mosque, told Muslim worshippers not to go through the metal detectors:

The closure of al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the occupation in itself and the prevention of the call for prayers are all unfair and unjust and constitute a violation to the United Nations resolutions and the international agreements.

We hold the Israeli government responsible for the changes they have made in the al-Aqsa Mosque and taking its control away from us. We will stay outside the mosque until we get back the way it was taken from us…

We won’t agree to this violation of the status quo, and we will only return to the mosque once it is restored. We will not accept security checks at Al-Aqsa… Don’t go through the gates.

Muslim worshippers appear to be split. While dozens of worshippers did as al-Kiswani told them and refused to go through the metal detectors, and instead prayed outside the mosque, hundreds more did go through the metal detectors and prayed inside as usual.

Jordan and Israel have been jointly providing security to the compound, under an agreement reached in November 2014 after days of violent confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis. However, after Friday morning’s shooting, Israeli security took complete control of the compound and shut out the Jordanian guards. According to some news reports, Jordan’s King Abdullah II telephoned Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening and demanded that the mosque be reopened.

Now the mosque is reopened, but some Muslim leaders are saying that the metal detectors and security cameras that were installed without consultation with the Jordanians change the status quo of the mosque, and are part of an effort to completely shut out all Muslims from the compound.

According to analyst Daoud Kuttab:

This is a very worrisome change. “It sounds like it is going to be troublesome for the days to come. Those who killed the soldiers are not from the West Bank or Jerusalem. They came from Israel. They are Israeli citizens. Palestinians are being punished for what Israeli Palestinian citizens of Israel have done.

It would seem to me that the security measures are for the protection of both Muslims and Jews, but we live in a world today where everyone on all sides of any issue refuses as a matter of principle to make any sense. Times of Israel and Washington Post and al-Jazeera

Concerns grow of a new round of violence at compound

When the al-Aqsa mosque was shut down for two days in October 2014, for the first time since 2000, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas said that the move was “tantamount to a declaration of war” by Israelis on Palestinians. Those words indicate the explosive levels of tensions that exist.

Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem (AFP)
Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem (AFP)

The al-Aqsa mosque compound is known to Muslims as Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), which the golden Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa mosque. It is the third-holiest site in Islam after the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, both in Saudi Arabia, and it is believed to be where the Prophet Mohammed made his night journey to heaven.

The Jews refer to the same compound as Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount, and it is the holiest site in the Jewish religion because it is believed that buried underneath the Mosque are the remains of the Temple at Jerusalem. In 66 AD, the Jews in Judea began a rebellion against their Roman colonizers. The Romans massacred tens of thousands of Jews and destroyed the city of Jerusalem including, in 70 AD, the Temple at Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem, including the compound, was seized and annexed by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, but this annexation has never been internationally recognized, and most news media refer to it as an “occupation.”

In 2000, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon went to Temple Mount and prayed there, infuriating the Palestinians, and triggering the “second intifada,” the Palestinian uprising against the Israelis that lasted until 2005. A compromise was devised that would permit Jews to visit Temple Mount as tourists, but not to pray there.

In 2014, East Jerusalem was the epicenter of increasing clashes between Palestinians and Israelis ever since the bodies of three Israeli teenage settlers were found weeks after they were abducted on June 10 by terrorists that Israelis believe were commissioned by Hamas. They were the subject of an extensive manhunt throughout the West Bank, during which hundreds of Palestinians, mostly members of Hamas, were arrested. Israel was shocked three weeks later when the teens were found dead in a pit in the West Bank.

This was followed by a spiral of violence that led to the 57-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in July and August 2014. Even after the war ended, there were continuing clashes in East Journalism, especially around the al-Aqsa mosque. Israel shut down access to the mosque for two days in October, leading Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to call it “tantamount to a declaration of war,” and Jordan to recall its ambassador to Israel.

Sporadic violence continued throughout 2015 when knife attacks by Palestinian teenagers on Israelis were becoming fairly common. Israeli security officials were baffled about how to prevent the knife attacks because, unlike suicide bomber vests, a knife can easily and openly be carried from place to place and wielded at a moment’s notice. It was feared that the number of attacks would grow. However, by the end of the year, it appeared that the teenage knife attacks had run their course, despite encouragement from Hamas that they continue.

Since then, there has been little international news about violence in Jerusalem, mainly because the “Israeli – Palestinian issue” has been pushed out of the news by other issues, particularly the war in Syria and, more recently, the split between Qatar and four Arab nations.

However, this state of affairs is not to the liking of many Palestinian leaders, who want the Palestinian issue once again to be the main topic of discussion and news reporting throughout the world.

One sign of the times is that few if any Palestinians leaders are willing to condemn the murders that took place on Friday morning, and indeed the chairman of Jordan’s parliament, Atef Tarawneh, said, “May God have mercy on our martyrs who watered our pure soil. One gets gets the impression that Palestinian leaders would like to see more such murders take place. AFP and YNet News (Israel) and Jerusalem Post

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Israel, Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, Al-Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, Har HaBayit, Temple Mount, Ahmed Omar al-Kiswani, Jordan, King Abdullah II, Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Daoud Kuttab, Ariel Sharon, Atef Tarawneh
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