Friday, October 31, 2014

Israel to re-open Temple Mount tomorrow

Israel closed the entire Temple Mount today to entry by anybody - Muslims, Jews, and other visitors - out of fear of violent clashes there. This is the first time since 2000, according to Israeli officials. An official from the Waqf said that this was the first full closure since 1967.

There was a lot of pressure today to reopen it, not the least from US Secretary of State Kerry. He issued a statement condemning the shooting of Yehuda Glick. He said that he is "extremely concerned" about "escalating tensions across Jerusalem" and particularly at the "Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount." He says that it is "absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount - in word and practice." He states that "The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount must be re-opened to Muslim worshipers and I support the long-standing practices regarding non-Muslim visitors to the site, consistent with the status quo arrangements governing religious observance there." Apparently he'll be visiting Jerusalem next week to try to do something.

Israeli police officers arrested a right-wing activist on Thursday after he tried to access the sacred plateau revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary in the Old City of Jerusalem.CreditOliver Weiken/European Pressphoto Agency

A Palestinian woman gestured toward an Israeli police officer in the Old City of Jerusalem on Thursday. CreditFinbarr O'Reilly/Reuters
Israel will be opening the area again tomorrow.
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said the site would be “fully functional and back to normal” on Friday. But he said that men under the age of 50 would not be allowed to enter — a restriction that has often been imposed recently to ward off clashes around the noon prayer. He said police officers would be out in force in the Old City “to make sure that there are no incidents.”
I can understand why Israel closed the site today. As the New York Times says, "The site has been the scene of ferocious clashes between Muslim worshipers and protesters and the Israeli police." I guess they were hoping for a little breathing space before the inevitable attacks that will occur tomorrow. Fatah has called for a "Day of Rage," after Abu Mazen said that Israel's closure was a "declaration of war."

The Jordanian government is also very angry. 
Under a decades-old agreement with Israel, Jordan is ultimately responsible for Jerusalem’s Islamic holy sites, though Israel controls security at them. Jordan’s minister of Islamic affairs, Hayel Daoud, said on Thursday that the closing was "a serious escalation and 'state terrorism' by the Israeli authorities.” 
The statement followed a string of unusually harsh public criticism of Israeli actions in Jerusalem by Jordan’s king and other leaders. Equating “Zionist extremism” with “Islamic extremism,” King Abdullah told members of the Jordanian government on Monday that “if Jordan and other countries are fighting extremism within Islam, and the Israelis are slaughtering our children in Gaza and Jerusalem every five minutes, then we have a problem.”...
Jawad Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister and deputy prime minister, said in an interview on Thursday that “Jordanians feel the latest actions taken by Israel are directed against Jordan this time, not only against Palestinians.” 
“Jordan is finding it hard to explain to its people that it is in its interest to maintain the peace treaty and defend it,” Mr. Anani said. “His Majesty is reflecting the anger domestically. If anything happens to Al Aqsa under his guardianship, there will be huge consequences inside and outside of Jordan, so there’s a lot of pressure.”

This graphic from the New York Times web site shows the respective Jewish and Muslim prayer areas, the area managed by the Waqf, and the access gates to the Temple Mount. There are nine gates for Muslims and one, the Mughrabi gate, for non-Muslim visitors, including Jews. The Mount is open only a few hours a day to non-Muslims - in the winter, from 7:30 am to 10 pm, and from 12:30-1:30. When I visited this summer I went during the afternoon hour.

This New York Times map shows the larger context, including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, as well as the location where Yehuda Glick was shot. 

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