The Old City of Jerusalem is home to some of the most important holy places for all three Abrahamic Faiths: The Kotel or Western Wall of the Jewish Temple; the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary; and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Kotel is the last remaining part of the Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, but to this day the place where Jews go to pray; The Dome of the Rock was built by Muslims over the foundation stone (that rock where the Holy of Holies was located), where it is believed that Mohammed ascended to heaven. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is where Christians commemorate the trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In many ways, the Temple Mount itself is ground zero for all three faiths, and is holy ground for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Yet, as I write, the Temple Mount is being used a pawn in a dangerous effort to incite war.
First a young Israeli border patrol officer was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist at the Damascus Gate in June. Then a week ago, two more border police officers, both Israeli Druze, were murdered by three Israeli-Arabs at the Lions Gate, after coming from the Temple Mount with weapons. What were these border police doing? They were providing security so Muslims could safely enter their holy place for Friday prayers. Other police chased the attackers back to the Temple Mount where they were apprehended and killed. Israeli security immediately closed access to the area, on a Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. The Temple Mount remained closed until Sunday. When it reopened, metal detectors were installed and required for entrance. The decision to install metal detectors was justified by what Israeli police found during their investigation: a stockpile of weapons, including knives, slingshots, cudgels, spikes, inciting material, unexploded munitions, stun grenades, and binoculars.
The Arab world exploded in outrage over metal detectors and the closing of the Temple Mount. How dare Israel upset the “status quo” over the Noble Sanctuary by requiring worshippers go through metal detectors? Israel must be trying to undermine the Waqf’s control of the holy area and trying to defile the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Yet, none of this is true. The decision to install metal detectors was a direct response to the deadly terrorist attack killing the Israeli-Druze police officers. Of course, you wouldn’t know this if you watched Al Jazeera, which described the Israeli decision to close the Temple Mount because of an “altercation.” This was no “altercation,” it was cold blooded murder. The border police have the difficult job of protecting the Old City — and protecting the right of ALL people of faith to access their holy sites.
As the week went on, Muslim clerics called on all worshippers to come to the old city, but not to enter the Temple Mount. They would not go to the mosque, but instead, they would engage in non-violent protest, and pray at the Old City gates. Yet the “non-violent” protest somehow has consistently managed to result in rock throwing and violence. As each day passed, the outrage ratcheted up. Abu Mazen, president of the Palestinian Authority, repeatedly demanded that Israel remove the metal detectors, while at the same time calling for a “day of rage.”
The problem, quite frankly, is that this is in no way about metal detectors. There has been no effort to defile the Al Aqsa Mosque, nor to upset the status quo. That argument has no legs. Since 2011, Muslims have gone through metal detectors to worship in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. There already are metal detectors to enter the Temple Mount — they are required at the Mughrabi Bridge, for all non-Muslims seeking to visit the Temple Mount during the limited hours and days they are permitted. This is no different than what all visitors must do to visit the Kotel. Everyone goes through metal detectors to gain access to the Western Wall Plaza. Likewise, metal detectors are used at the Vatican in Rome to enter the Holy See. Like it or not, metal detectors are a fact of life. In Israel, you can’t enter a shopping mall without going through a metal detector. The argument has no teeth. It is a paper tiger. Muslims supposedly do not want to be inconvenienced by going through metal detectors. But given the weapons found on the Temple Mount, if Israel backs down, how long will it be until there is another attack?
Look at what is going on. The Waqf– the Muslim religious authorities in Jerusalem — along with the leaders of Fatah and Hamas, are intentionally and deliberately trying to generate riots and incitement to violence. People are being sent to “pray” in the streets until the metal detectors are removed. Yet, Waqf officials knew in advance that the metal detectors were there, and were staging a made-for-tv protest. The Temple Mount itself is being used for incitement. This isn’t new. In 2015, Abu Mazen declared that “we won’t allow Jews filthy feet on the Temple Mount.” In 2016, an Al Aqsa teacher was convicted in an Israeli court for calling for his followers to “slaughter Jews” on the Temple Mount. That same year, a Supreme Muslim Council leader claimed there is no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. This year, that same false argument has been taken to the United Nations through one resolution after another by UNESCO. The Temple Mount and its metal detectors are being used to call for violence and to spark a new intifada. In some ways this isn’t surprising, as the Temple Mount was the flash point that sparked the second intifada in 2000, after Ariel Sharon insisted on going up onto the Mount.
Things are rapidly getting out of control. Thousands of Palestinians have been marching in the streets, and there have been more than 200 people injured as a result of altercations with police and security. These acts have been perpetrated by “non-violent” protestors encouraged by their religious and political leaders. When Abu Mazen calls for “a day of rage,” he is encouraging incitement.
On Friday, three Palestinian protesters died. They did not die because they were wrongfully attacked by vicious Israeli police while they prayed. They died because they were engaged in acts of violence against Israeli security forces, who responded in turn. Yet, I’ve already seen posts which seem to forget this and presume that the Israeli police were the antagonists.
The violence went to an altogether different level on Friday night, when an Israeli family in a settlement north of Ramallah, was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in their home, while they were celebrating shabbat. A father, son, and daughter were stabbed to death, as they finished their dinner. The images of the kitchen floor can be found in this newspaper, and are horrific.
If the past repeats itself, as it has over and over again, Abu Mazen will reward the “martyrs” (read: the terrorists who murdered this family) by providing pensions to their families, and further encouraging incitement. Things aren’t getting out of control, they are out of control. Rational heads need to prevail, but sadly, I am not seeing that from the Palestinian leadership. Nor is it likely, in the face of such escalating violence that Israel will back down and remove the metal detectors. If they are removed, will it end the conflict? Will it provide security for the Old City? Hardly. And given the murder of the Israeli family tonight, de-escalation has just become much harder to achieve.
The false narrative of metal detectors upsetting the status quo must be repeatedly debunked. Political and religious leaders from across the globe must call for peace and the cessation of violence. If Muslims can go through security processes in Mecca, they can do the same at the Temple Mount. There is too much at stake to allow this to continue. Stop pretending this is about metal detectors. End the incitement. Now.
The God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed is a God of peace and reconciliation. Using the Temple Mount as a means to incite violence and spark a new intifada is not being faithful to that one God. In the words of an Israeli friend whom I’ve prayed with at the Kotel wrote, “My prayers are with the people of Jerusalem, from the East to the West. The mosque and the wall are the temple of God and should be the door for peace and not conflict.”