Violent clashes erupted in Jerusalem on Friday between Israeli police and thousands of Palestinians who protested the installation of metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, following days of incitement by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian Authority.
Three Palestinians were reported killed in the rioting.
The upgraded Israeli security measures were introduced in direct response to the deadly terrorist attack carried out by three Arab Israelis just outside the compound on July 14, in which two Israeli officers were killed. The terrorists used guns that had been smuggled into the al-Aqsa Mosque.
While searching the area after the lethal shooting, authorities reportedly found a stockpile of weapons, including knives, slingshots, cudgels, spikes, inciting material, unexploded munitions, stun grenades, and binoculars.
The decision to install metal detectors was met with opposition by Palestinian leaders and parts of the Muslim world, who accused Israel of upsetting the status quo. However, at all of the four entrances to the Western Wall Plaza, visitors are required to walk through a metal detector and place their bags in an x-ray machine to ensure that they are not carrying any weapons.
Tight security is a matter that has become routine in holy places because of terrorism. The Saudi government installed metal and explosives detectors at the Holy Mosque in Mecca in 2011. The UAE set up metal detectors in mosques in 2015 and they can also be found at the Vatican.
The United States has supported the Israeli position throughout the last week and has continued to make efforts to calm the situation. “The attack forced the government of Israel to temporarily close the Temple Mount to conduct its investigation,” the White House said in a statement, adding “We urge all leaders and people of good faith to be understanding as this process proceeds and reaches its conclusion.”
The Times of Israel reported Sunday that the Waqf—the Islamic trust that administers the Temple Mount—sent people to pray in the streets and led the opposition to the metal detectors, enforcing a strict no-prayer rule until the devices are removed. The paper also speculated that Waqf officials knew in advance that metal detectors now stood at the gate and used the large media turnout to stage a made-for-TV protest. Citing Israel’s Channel 2, The Times of Israel reported that only 150 Muslims passed through the metal detectors to pray on the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount—the holiest site in Judaism and third holiest in Islam—has long been used as a subject of incitement against Jews by officials and hate preachers. President Abbas promised in 2015 not to allow Jews’ “filthy feet” on Temple Mount. A teacher at the Al-Aqsa Mosque school once described Jews who visit the area “monkeys and pigs.” And numerous hate preachers have called “to annihilate the Jews” and implored their followers to “slaughter Jews.”
Palestinian leaders often declare that al-Aqsa is in danger, an accusation that predates the founding of Israel.
In his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2015, Washington Institute for Near East Policy distinguished fellow David Makovsky explained:
Sadly, the charge that Israel is out to destroy the mosque is not new. This claim was made in 1929, resulting in riots in Hebron that killed 63 people. More recently, fatal violence surrounding the Temple Mount occurred in 1991 (20 killed), 1996 (87 killed), 2000 (153 killed within the first month of violence), and 2014 (9 killed).