Tensions on Temple Mount on Knife Edge

March 13, 2019

by: Jo Sarah Stanford

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The Jerusalem district police commander briefs the Israel police commissioner on the Temple Mount following Tuesday’s Molotov cocktail incident.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019 | Violent riots broke out on the Temple Mount Tuesday following weeks of simmering tensions regarding control over access to a chamber within the Golden Gate. Palestinian protesters threw a Molotov cocktail at a police post, after which access to the Mount was immediately closed.

Around 1.00 p.m. Tuesday, police on the Mount were forced to evacuate their post after a fire bomb was thrown through the window. Firefighters were called to the scene. One police officer suffered from smoke inhalation and was evacuated to hospital. Videos of the event show Muslim women clashing with Israeli police while smoke pours from the window of the police building.

Ten people were arrested, including two youths suspected of throwing the Molotov cocktail.

Police immediately closed all access to the Temple Mount as well as briefly closing access to the nearby Lion’s Gate and Damascus Gate.

After the riot was dispersed and a security briefing was held later in the day, police deemed the situation under control and ordered access to the Temple Mount to be reopened Wednesday.

The Temple Mount is widely regarded as one of the Old City of Jerusalem’s most important religious sites. Judaism holds it as the holiest place, the location where both the First and Second Temple stood. Muslims vigorously dispute this claim. They hold that Judaism’s First and Second Temples were never present on the site and call it exclusively their own, naming it the third holiest site in Islam. According to Muslim tradition, it is the place where the prophet Mohammad made a miraculous nighttime journey in the year 621 CE. Traveling 666 nautical miles from Mecca on a specially gifted horse, he ascended into heaven where he engaged in dialogue with Allah before returning to Mecca that same night. In honor of the prophet’s “visit,” the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock were constructed in 637 CE after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.

These two claims by Judaism and Islam make the Temple Mount one of the most contested religious sites on earth.

Control over the Temple Mount is a constant delicate balance. Day-to-day administration falls under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Waqf (Muslim religious trust) and the Jordanian government—as per the 1967 peace agreement after the Six Day War—and security is handled by the Israeli government.

While access to the Mount is available to all, Jews and Christians are forbidden to pray.

The Golden Gate—also known as the Gate of Mercy—has long been a point of contention on the Mount. The gate itself, located in the outer walls, has been bricked up for nearly 500 years. The area in contention is a chamber in which the Islamic Waqf wishes to conduct prayers. In 2003, the area was closed permanently by court order after groups meeting there were found to have ties with the terrorist group Hamas. Previously, the Waqf conducted illegal construction on the site, bulldozing an area, destroying hundreds of artifacts buried underneath—artifacts linking the Jewish people to the Temple Mount. The chamber remained closed for 15 years to prevent further destruction.

The area was forcefully opened by rioters on February 23, and has remained open since. Despite court orders to close the Golden Gate chamber, the Waqf refused, allowing Muslim worshipers to continue meeting within. Although Israeli police had court authority to close the gate, they chose instead to pursue talks with the Jordanian government, fearing that any measure of force would lead to violent riots.

Since the opening of the Golden Gate three weeks ago, tensions have been at a boiling point. Last week, Hamas called for a “day of rage” in protest of the court order to reclose the chamber, reported the Times of Israel.  The Waqf stated they had no interest in protests, but would continue to hold prayers.

Despite this, Israeli security forces saw no escalation until Tuesday’s firebomb incident. Although the Temple Mount was reopened the following day, tensions still remain on a knife edge as nothing regarding the situation with the Golden Gate chamber has actually been resolved.

Moreover, with tensions high in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria, the Temple Mount has the potential to become a flashpoint for these volatile areas.

The official policy on the Mount is to maintain the status quo, but with the Waqf refusing to cooperate, the potential for further violence remains high as ever.

Ilse Strauss contributed to this report.

Posted on March 13, 2019

Source: (Bridges for Peace, March 13, 2019)

Photo Credit: משטרת ישראל@IL_Police/Twitter