The crisis started in September of 2015. In a Times of Israel article dated September 13, 2015, Stuart Winer writes, ‘Intelligence information gathered by security forces discovered a plan for an organized riot on the Temple Mount, with protesters stockpiling rocks and firecrackers as well as a barricade at an entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque, police said.
According to police, the intention of the demonstrators was to upset the movements of Jewish visitors in the compound ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which began Sunday evening and marks the Jewish new year. “Masked protesters who were inside the mosque threw stones and fireworks at police,” a police statement said. “Suspicious pipes that could be filled with homemade explosives were also found at the entry to the mosque.” Police later confirmed that the objects were pipe bombs.’
The article goes on to note, ‘Jordan also called out Israel for the incident, with Amman calling on Israel to stop “provocations” on the Temple Mount and warning against attempts to change the “status quo” at the site. “The Jordanian government condemns the assault carried out by special forces of the Israeli occupation army against the Al-Aqsa mosque compound,” Information Minister Mohammed Momani said.’
In order to make the facts of possible future clashes transparent, Jordan offered to install security cameras on the Temple Mount. Why Jordan? In an informative article that appeared in the July 20 issue of Times of Israel, Dov Lieber writes, ‘So what’s a waqf anyway? — To understand the purpose of the institution known as the Jerusalem Waqf, it helps to know what a waqf is. In Islamic law, a person may decide to donate a property and its revenues to the public for charitable or religious purposes. This property then becomes a waqf, or holding, in perpetuity. Examples of waqfs (awqaf is the Arabic plural) can be homes, fields, water reservoirs, schools, orphanages and mosques.
In Israel, the best known waqf property is the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. For Muslims, the entire esplanade is considered a mosque. As the modern state grew in the Middle East through 19th and 20th centuries, these properties were taken under the authority of governments. Until 1917, waqf properties in Jerusalem were controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
During the British Mandate period, responsibility for the awqaf was put under the control of the Supreme Muslim Council — the body of Palestinian Muslims appointed by the British colonial government to administer the Sharia courts and awqaf. In 1948, when the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan took over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it transferred responsibility for the city’s awqaf, including the Temple Mount compound, to its own ministry of awqaf.
While Israel controls access to the compound, inside its nine gates the Jerusalem Awqaf Department — sometimes called the Islamic Religious Endowments Authority, or simply the Waqf — exerts near total control. The Waqf is entirely controlled and funded by the Jordanian government. It administers daily life on the Temple Mount, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, archaeological sites, museums and schools.
Now we know – why Jordan. What happened to the agreement to install cameras? The April 18, 2016 issue of the Times of Israel reported, ‘In a deal brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Jordan offered to install the cameras last fall after clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces. The Palestinians had accused Israel of secretly plotting to take over the site — a charge Israel strongly denies — while Israel pointed to videos showing Palestinian protesters using the mosque as cover while throwing stones and firecrackers at police. The idea was that transparency by both sides would help ease tensions.’
However, ‘Jordan’s prime minister on Monday said his government had decided to call off a plan to install surveillance cameras at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, derailing a US-brokered pact to ease tensions at the volatile hilltop compound. Abdullah Ensour told the state-run Petra News Agency that Jordan was calling off the plan due to Palestinian concerns. “We were surprised since we announced our intention to carry out the project by the reactions of some of our brothers in Palestine who were skeptical about the project,” he said. “We have found that this project is no longer enjoying a consensus, and it might be controversial. Therefore we have decided to stop implementing it.”’
With the Jordanian refusal to install cameras or institute other security measures, it was just a matter of time before another disaster occurred near the Temple Mount compound. On July 14 2017, three Israeli Arabs killed two Israeli police officers using guns that had previously been brought into the compound. In the hope of averting future acts of terrorism, the Israeli government installed metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount compound. This rather mild and measured response to the murders was met with cries by the Palestinians and the government of Jordan that the metal detectors were a major violation of the status quo agreement on control of the Temple Mount. The usual riots ensued and three Israelis were stabbed to death in Halamish.
In the wake of anti Israel agitation, an employee of the Israeli embassy in Amman Jordan was attacked by a Jordanian citizen. In self-defense, he killed the attacker. Although this Israeli had diplomatic immunity, the Jordanian government threatened to bring him in for interrogation. After some frantic negotiations between Amman and Jerusalem, the Jordanian government allowed him to be repatriated. In return, the Israeli government removed the metal detectors from the gates leading into the Temple Mount compound. There is talk of installing other surveillance gear throughout the Old City.
This crisis may be dying down but the problem remains. As the Temple Mount Waqf is entirely controlled and funded by the Jordanian government, it is the responsibility of King Abdullah to institute safety measures in the area. It’s easy to be a demagogue. Anti-Israel rhetoric and claims of Israeli infringement on the status quo at the Temple Mount are always winning cards in the Muslim street. It’s a lot harder to take constructive steps. It’s time for King Abdullah to step up to the plate. A good starting point would be regular inspections of the Temple Mount compound by Jordanian personnel to ensure that no weapons or piles of rocks are stored there. This could be done without any publicity and might well avert another flareup – a flareup that would only harm Jordan and Israel.