Closing the Temple Mount
July 28, 2017
It was best not to write about this right away. Need to see how it would percolate. It could have been massive or a momentary blip testing the level of accommodation between Israel, the Palestinians, and other Muslims.
Truth is, that it is still tense, with Friday prayers posing a challenge to all sides.
The initial story made the international news, and monopolized what Israelis were hearing for a day.
Three Israeli Arabs, from the Galilee city of Um al Fahm, exited the Old City from the area of the Temple Mount and shot three policemen. They killed two, who were Druze, one the father of a three week old child, and the other about to become engaged. Then the killers retreated to the Temple Mount, where they exchange gun shots with other police until they were killed.
It was especially dramatic on account of being early Friday morning. On such days, tens of thousands of Muslims come from East Jerusalem, and on tour buses from elsewhere in Israel to spill out from al-Aqsa and nearly fill the platform of the Temple Mount as they pray and listen to a sermon.
The initial response of the police was to close the Temple Mount, even to the head of the Muslim religious authority (Waqf) who asked special permission to enter and say his prayers, and shut the gates of the Old City.
The prime minister announced that Israel would honor the status quo after a short period, and would assure access of Christians and Muslims to their holy places. A Jewish MK repeated his often-heard demand that Jews be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, but that passed without a response from the PM. Netanyahu also worked the phones with Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan, asking for cooperation.
Palestinian and Jordanian officials said what was expected, i.e., a condemnation of Israel for closing the Temple Mount, demanding its immediate re-opening, and lamenting the loss of life. There’s been condemnation of Muslim violence on the Temple Mount, or al-Aqsa as they describe it, as well as condemnation of Israel’s closing the site, then erecting metal-sensing gates, and cameras to monitor the flow inward and what occurs beyond the gates.
Muslims are anything but united on the issue, with differences in expression and demonstrations reflecting the patterns of bloodshed among the movements elsewhere in the Middle East. Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are divided on which militias they support in the chaos.
The Apocalypse hasn’t occurred, yet.
There’s been an increase in tension between Muslims and Druze, coming on the heels of two Druze policemen killed while patrolling alongside the Old City.
Let sleeping dogs lie is a decent policy for Israel to follow, except when pushed beyond a point.
We can guess what that point may be, but can never be sure.
Closing the Temple Mount on a Friday morning, and shutting the gates of the Old City were significant messages. The actions not only provided opportunities for security personnel to do what they thought appropriate, but they kept tens of thousands of Muslims from performing their Friday rituals on the Temple Mount. Closing the Old City meant that Arab shopkeepers did no business.
Israel must expect criticism from Muslim regimes, especially those like the Palestinians that are chronically shaky.
It’s still not clear if we’ll pass through this without a crisis. Muslims have been more busy living their lives or killing one another than attacking Israel with anything more deadly than verbose threats. There have been protests and low to moderate level violence alongside metal detectors now screening entrances to the Temple Mount, as some Muslims pass routinely through the check points and others object forcefully to their presence.
Among those injured by police use of non-lethal means of crowd control are prominent Muslim clerics.
Muslim religious and Palestinian political figures are trying to make a case against any Israeli inspections of Muslims on the Temple Mount. Some are threatening another intifada.
Commentators include those who chide the cheap politics of fanning the political flames. Muslims at Mecca and Jews at the Western Wall have to pass through checkpoints similar to those now checking Muslims wanting to pray at al-Aqsa.
There are also those who claim that Israel should not have erected the checkpoints without reaching agreement with Muslim leaders.
Security personnel are urging that the prime minister not dig in his heels on the subject of metal detectors. Screening more than one hundred thousand Muslims wanting to pray on a Friday challenges credibility.
Perhaps the process can be altered in exchange from something from the Jordanians and Palestinian leadership.
Assuming Muslim leaders are willing to be identified as flexible with respect to Israel’s concern for security.
Pessimists are worried about an escalation to serious violence. Friday will be a significant test.
International media have noticed, but not made a big deal about the attack from the Temple Mount or what has occurred subsequently. It’s a curious contrast with the chronic concern with a peace process, or the plight of Palestinians without a state. It helps to define the borders between symbolic and practical politics, what’s fashionable, or how much people are willing to spend on a distant issue that activists seek to make significant.
Israeli media is sharing Old City developments with several police investigations that may be getting closer to the Prime Minister. We’re also reading about the detritus apparent here and elsewhere, i.e., traffic accidents, domestic violence, and unpleasant weather. A couple of items reflect the nature of the Middle East other than Israel’s conflict with Arabs. A young Christian woman was killed by relatives, seemingly because she threatened the family’s honor by falling in love with a Muslim. And a middle-age Arab woman was killed as a feud between families in her village escalated to firearms.
So what else is new?
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