Sunday, October 04, 2009

More trouble on the Temple Mount

Nadav Shragai's opinion piece in the March 12, 2009 issue of Haaretz reveals some information that I did not know, and it provides a key to why there was violence on the Temple Mount the morning before Yom Kippur a week ago. He wrote in March:
For years, the Jerusalem District Police "benefited" from the fact that few Jews visited the Temple Mount, sparing the police this "headache." But now the situation is changing. The halakhic consensus that Jews are forbidden to ascend the mount has been broken. More and more rabbis are permitting Jews to visit, and more and more Jews are seeking to do so.

The police have not come to terms with this new situation. They are confused and are confusing others, and have inverted the natural order of things on the mount, which is both the world's most sensitive site and the Jewish people's holiest site. Not much remains for Jews on the Temple Mount. The Temple is gone. Prayer is forbidden there. The mount's antiquities have been destroyed, and its mosques have become founts of religious and nationalist incitement against the State of Israel.
It is certainly true that more religious Jews have started to go to the Temple Mount, despite the halakhic prohibition of the Chief Rabbinate which has existed since 1967. The question is whether this should be regarded as a "provocation," as the leaders of the Islamic Movement in Israel and the Palestinian Authority seem to.

On April 16, 2009, Haaretz reported that "Hundreds of Muslim protesters block Jewish entry to the Temple Mount." Apparently a Jewish group was given permission to ascend the Mount and pray there, something which I thought was not allowed at all.
Hundreds of Muslims gathered Thursday at the foot of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, to prevent Jewish worshippers from entering the Temple Mount for a planned prayer service. The Muslim protesters began arriving Wednesday evening, gathering on the slope leading to the Temple Mount area. The rise, which overlooks the Western Wall, is considered holy to both Jews and Muslims, and houses a sacred site for both religions.

The Islamic Movement had opposed the prayer session, and police said they would allow the Jews to pray on the Mount, but not to engage in any other activities in the area.

Army Radio on Wednesday quoted Jerusalem Police as saying that they would limit the number of Muslim worshippers entering the Temple Mount for prayers on Thursday due to fears of disturbances. Hundreds of police and Border Police officers were to be deployed to East Jerusalem to prevent violence, and entry to the Temple Mount was to be restricted to women, and men over age 50 holding Israeli ID cards. Police said they received intelligence warnings about thousands of Palestinians being called to protest at the site. The Islamic Movement's northern branch arranged dozens of buses to take Muslim protesters to the area.
See also Shragai's September 28, 2009 Haaretz article, "Digs, Lies, and Mugrabi bridge," on growing Muslim denial that Jews ever had anything to do with the Temple Mount, including denying that Solomon's Temple once stood there.

The problems on the Temple Mount were renewed today: Israel keeps Temple Mount closed in wake of clashes
After a day of clashes near the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli security forces have decided to limit access to the compound for another day. The compound will be open only to men over the age of 50 with a valid Israeli identification card and to women of all ages.

Tensions in the Old City seemed to have calmed by late Sunday afternoon, following hours of clashes between Arab youth and security forces. Israeli security forces released from custody Jerusalem's senior Fatah official, Khatem Abed Al-Kadr, who was arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of inciting riots. Al-Kadr was released on condition that he not enter the Old City of Jerusalem and that he remain at least 250 meters from the area gates for 15 days. He was released on NIS 10,000 bail. Deputy leader of Israel's northern Islamic Movement, Sheikh Kemal Khativ, was also released on similar conditions.

Some 150 Palestinian protesters hurled rocks and bottles at Israeli police on Sunday after being barred from one of the holiest shrines in Jerusalem, on Temple Mount.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police have dispersed the demonstrators who had gathered near the disputed hilltop compound. One police officer was lightly hurt in the clash. Ben-Ruby said that the unrest continued at a nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood and that three men have been detained.

Earlier Sunday, police closed the Temple Mount complex to visitors. The complex is sacred to Jews as the site of the two biblical Jewish temples and to Muslims as home of the al-Aqsa mosque. The closure was imposed after Palestinians rioted at the site last week on Yom Kippur. The northern chapter of the Islamic Movement reported Sunday morning that buses en route to the Al-Aqsa mosque had been detained on route 6.

It was further reported that tensions were high in the area following recent calls on Muslim residents of East Jerusalem to show a presence at the mosque.

On Friday, the Islamic Movement held a rally in the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, under the heading "Al-Aqsa is in danger." The rally is a 14-year old annual tradition. The head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ra'ad Salah, warned Friday against Israel's alleged plan to take over the mosque. "[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will set the Middle East on fire," Salah told his supporters at the rally.
I would say that the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel is also trying to set the Middle East on fire, as the words of Ra'ad Salah below demonstrate:
An Islamic Movement leader on Sunday urged Muslims across Israel to gather at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to prevent extreme right-wing Jews from entering the compound to pray. "I call on everyone in Jerusalem and within the Green Line to come to the [Al-Qasa] mosque and show your presence," said Sheik Ra'ad Salah, who heads the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
A reporter for a website affiliated with the northern branch of the Islamic Movement was beaten by police during the riots today:
A reporter for the Arab-Israeli news website was injured during the riots that broke out Sunday morning at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City. He claims a police officer struck him with a baton and disappeared. Police reject the claims.

Reporter Abdallah Zidan arrived at the Temple Mount at dawn to cover the prayers for his website, which is sponsored by the Islamic Movement's northern branch.

Many heeded Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raad Salah's call to arrive at the Al-Aqsa Mosque after word got out that extreme-right wing Jews would be making their way to the site as well.

Zidan, a resident of the Manda village in the Galilee was among the visitors, and along with a group of fellow worshipers arrived at the entrance gate at around 5 am. A tumult suddenly erupted near Sheikh Kamal Khatib, Salah's deputy, who was standing in Zidan's vicinity. Khatib, who was later arrested on suspicion of incitement, was surrounded by people who prevented officers from reaching him. Zidan claims that during the fracas a police officer struck him with a baton in a forceful manner. "I started bleeding from my eye, the people around me tried to help but the police officer disappeared," Zidan recalled.

Zidan was evacuated to an east Jerusalem hospital and transferred by ambulance to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. "I was lucky the actual eye wasn't hurt, it was very close," said Zidan, who required stitches.

"Police officers were behaving very brutally, like animals. They came and hit me for no reason. Media personnel who come for news coverage cannot be hurt in such a way," he said.

The reporter added that he intends on filing a complaint against the officer with the Justice Ministry.

Jerusalem Police rejected the claims and stated that "Border Guard forces together with minority section officers requested Kamal Khatib to come with them, which he did. Nothing unusual occurred at any stage of his arrest. It went by very smoothly."
While I deeply suspect the motives of the Islamic Movement, I don't necessarily believe all of the police accounts either. Police certainly present themselves in the best possible light and deny any wrongdoing when they clearly did the wrong thing in a given situation - like beating a reporter.

Khaled Abu Toameh of the Jerusalem Post also reports on today's events:
At least 100 Palestinian men, who had refused to leave the Temple Mount despite an Israeli decision made on Sunday morning to shut down the site due to security concerns, left the area in the early evening. The Palestinian Authority and the Waqf had instructed the men to arrive at the site on Saturday night and stay put, fearing what they termed a "Jewish takeover."

On Sunday morning, approximately 150 Arabs hurled rocks and bottles at security forces in the Old City shortly after the decision to shut down the compound was announced.

In the evening, Jerusalem Magistrate's Court issued restraining orders against senior Fatah official Hatem Abdel Kader and Islamic Movement official Kamal Khatib, banishing both men from the Old City area for a period of 15 days. Khatib was arrested in the afternoon on suspicion of fanning the riots. Kader was detained overnight Saturday on suspicion of inciting Muslims to cause disturbances in the Old City by issuing the call. Kader previously served as the Palestinian Authority's minister for Jerusalem affairs after acting as PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad's adviser on Jerusalem affairs.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh commented on the riots, saying that "The Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque is continuing, they have surrounded the mosque and broken into it." Speaking at a function in honor of the release of the 20th female Palestinian prisoner, Haniyeh claimed that gun-toting Israeli security forces had forced devout worshipers to leave the compound.

Earlier in the day, Border Police closed off roads around the Old City and dispersed the rioters into the neighborhood of Wadi Joz, where residents briefly joined in the disturbances. Three rioters were arrested and one border policeman was lightly wounded in the clashes.

Many of the Arab rioters were believed to have traveled to the capital from the North. Palestinians had claimed that police planned to order groups of Jewish settlers to pray within close proximity of mosques.

The clashes come two days after the US State Department called on its citizens to avoid the area over Succot.

According to police, access to the area was barred following a call made throughout east Jerusalem to "come and defend" the mount.

Last week, shortly before Yom Kippur, disturbances flared up across east Jerusalem, beginning when 18 policemen and 15 rioters were hurt during clashes on the Temple Mount, and later elsewhere in the Old City.

A Channel 2 commentator suggested that the riots were not just a reaction to Jewish presence in the compound, but also "induced by fear that Israel would plant false archaeological evidence, as though a Jewish temple never existed in Jerusalem."

Police said some 150 Muslim worshipers participated in last week's disturbance on the Temple Mount, which began when a group of Jewish visitors entered the compound with a police escort.

The Temple Mount compound will also be shut down on Monday, when tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers are expected to pray at the Western Wall. Only Muslim worshipers over the age of 50 will be allowed access to the compound.

Abe Selig contributed to this report.
Click here for a video report from the Jerusalem Post.

From Jaffa Gate - Holy Sepulcher - Haram - Mt. Zion
View of a northern archway on the Temple Mount.

One of the things that has disturbed me about the status quo on the Temple Mount is that Jews (or any non-Muslims) are forbidden to pray there in any way. If the police see someone just moving their lips in prayer they can take the person off the Mount. I understand that some Jews go up to the Mount to pray in order to provoke Muslims - I can see why the police wouldn't want to permit them to do so. But I do wish that some provision could be made for peaceful prayer by non-Muslims. The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews. When I visit there, I wish I could pray.

From Muslim Quarter & Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif
Inside view of the ceiling of the Dome of the Chain (situated just to the east of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount).

I would prefer that the permission allow personal, individual prayer, however, not the establishment of a synagogue on the Temple Mount, because it would inevitably be controlled by the most rigidly Orthodox. (Not by the ultra-Orthodox, who wouldn't go on the Temple Mount in any case, as far as a I know). Men and women would be separated in prayer and the men would be in control. I would like unfettered prayer there - not controlled by the Waqf, the Israeli police, or Orthodox Judaism.


  1. "The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews. When I visit there, I wish I could pray."

    Visibly and audibly pray, I assume you mean; clearly, silent prayer can't be forbidden. I recognize, of course, that traditional Jewish (and Muslim) prayer calls for certain acts, but presumably an omniscient Hashem is aware of one's mental prayers, as well as one's external ritual acts.

  2. No, silent prayer can't be forbidden, but if one simply stands in one place looking focused, this could also attract the attention of the police. (I'm not being ridiculous here, by the way).

  3. Hi there.

    My name is Alex and I came across your blog about a year ago. Every once in a while I check your blog and see what you have to share. I enjoy your thoughts and your perspective. I think it's important to try to see the world from different angles and through different eyes.

    Until now, I have not had a need to respond to any of your posts, however, I thought I'd send you a message about a news topic that I was hoping you would share your thoughts about. This is about Richard Goldstone's report and conclusion on the Gaza war that occurred earlier this year.



  4. Dear Alex,

    Thank you for reading my blog. Frankly, I haven't made up my mind about Goldstone's report. I haven't had a chance to read it (since it's over 500 pages long). I think to do the subject justice I would have to read the report and the response by the Israeli government.