On 21 July, the Salomon family were preparing for a special Shabbat dinner in their home in the West Bank settlement of Halamish – Yosef and Tova Salomon had a new grandson.
But before the family could celebrate, 19-year-old Palestinian terrorist Omar al-Abed entered their home and stabbed and murdered Yosef, 70, his daughter Chaya, 46, and his son Elad, 36, also injuring Tova.
Al-Abed had earlier posted on his Facebook page: “They are desecrating the Aqsa Mosque… All that I have is a sharpened knife, and it is answering the call of Al-Aqsa.”
Hours before that, also on Facebook, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction had written: “O Allah, liberate our mosque from the occupation’s filth”. But Al-Aqsa was never under threat.
Israeli authorities had, quite reasonably, installed metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, where the mosque sits, to prevent a security failure of the kind that occurred on July 14, when terrorists shot and killed two Israeli Druze policemen using guns smuggled into the mosque compound.
Yet this set off a storm of chaotic incitement among the Palestinian populace and across the wider Middle East – fuelled by lies that Israel was changing the “status quo” on the Mount, or worse, threatening the mosque itself.
This was far from the first time that misinformation regarding the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third holiest, has been used to stoke the flames of incitement. This toxic propaganda tactic predates the establishment of the State of Israel and sadly, has repeatedly resulted in needless bloodshed.
The lie that Jews were threatening Al-Aqsa propagated by the virulently antisemitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, led to the 1929 riots, which began in Jerusalem but spread as far as Haifa, Tel Aviv, Hebron and Safed. One hundred and thirty-three Jews were murdered, and the ancient Jewish community of Hebron was destroyed.
When Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 War, the Temple Mount was in Jewish hands for the first time in almost 2,000 years. But Defence Minister Moshe Dayan almost immediately ceded control to the Jordanian Waqf (religious trust) out of sensitivity to global Muslim feelings. Israeli authorities even enforced an inflexible ban on any Jewish prayer there.
But rather than being seen as an olive branch, this concession has been twisted into inflammatory propaganda – the Jews have no history in or claim to Jerusalem, but are planning to destroy its Islamic shrines and history. And so the lie that Israel is threatening the Al-Aqsa Mosque has repeatedly become a rallying cry for unrest and violence.
Cartoons across the Arab world serially portray Israel as a predator seeking to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. Any time Israeli archaeologists dig near (never under) the Temple Mount, they are accused of desecrating or undermining it – even though Islamic authorities carelessly bulldozed a huge section of the Mount itself in 2000.
The opening of the Western Wall tunnel near the Mount in 1996 led to violence that lasted three days and left 25 Israeli soldiers and 100 Palestinians dead. When then Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in September 2000 – with the Palestinian Authority’s blessing, no less – it was used to justify the Second Intifada – which Palestinians termed the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” – resulting in over 1000 Israeli and 3000 Palestinian deaths.
The “stabbing intifada” which began in September 2015 was fuelled by lies about the Temple Mount, with Abbas infamously declaring “the Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours… and they [the Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet”, adding “we bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem.”
Prior to the current unrest, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assured Abbas that the metal detectors did not represent any change to the “status quo”. But rather than reassure his people, Abbas and his Fatah movement threw kerosene on the fire, demanding a “day of rage.”
The Waqf declared Muslims should “reject and boycott all the Israeli aggression measures” and forbade Muslims from entering the compound, despite no doubt privately understanding the need for enhanced security. Palestinians in Jerusalem and across the West Bank took to the streets, with three losing their lives in clashes with Israeli police.
The lie that Israel had blocked Muslim access to Al-Aqsa took root across the region, and led to further violence. On Sunday 23 July, the deputy security chief at the Israeli Embassy in Amman was stabbed in the back before shooting his attacker in self-defence; tragically killing an innocent Jordanian in the crossfire.
This event finally led to Israel announcing on Tuesday 25 July, in a deal with Jordan, that the metal detectors would be removed and replaced with “smart technology”. However, at the time of printing, both the Palestinian Authority and Waqf are rejecting even these new measures, and unrest continues.
Ultimately, it is Israel’s responsibility to protect all of Jerusalem’s holy sites, ensuring safe and secure access for visitors from all faiths – something Israel has managed to do remarkably well for the past 50 years in a region where religious tolerance is in short supply.
Many religious sites around the world – including in the Muslim world – have routine security, including metal detectors, that is accepted and appreciated. In Jerusalem, such detectors are used for both the Western Wall and for all non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount.
This means that this whole ugly row has virtually nothing to do with the metal detectors or other security measures, or even any serious claim about changes to the religious status quo in Jerusalem. Rather it is yet another bout of violence motivated by the ongoing campaign of delegitimisation, hatred and incitement against the Jewish state, the real obstacles to conflict resolution and mutual coexistence.