Consider the following facts:
• On July 14, three Israelis – Muslim Arabs – opened fire at policemen in the Old City of Jerusalem, killing two. They then ran into the Temple Mount, where they were also killed.
• The Temple Mount was closed for prayer for a day and a half and then reopened.
• It was opened for Muslim worshippers on July 16, but restrictions on Jewish visits remain (on July 17, the first Jews were allowed to enter).
• Israel acted quickly to assure all its Arab neighbours that the status quo in the Temple Mount is not going to change.
Now a question: Did Israel act reasonably and cautiously amid a deadly terrorist attack in one of the holiest places on earth?
And another question: Is it not reasonable to suggest, after the attack, that security measures at the Temple Mount should be tightened?
Of course it is reasonable. And that is what Israel proposes – or demands – to do. It installed metal detectors at the entrance to the site to prevent visitors and supposed worshippers from smuggling weapons into the place – as Israel suspects some did. Israel also intends to install cameras to monitor the Temple Mount compound.
For some reason, the new equipment “fanned criticism and protests that Israel had unilaterally changed the rules regarding religious worship and tourist visits at the complex.” The logic behind the criticism was simple: “This is a severe violation of the status quo,” said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the Director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount.
Indeed – it is. A change for the better, a change that Muslim authorities should have embraced, unless there is something they want to hide from the cameras or a reason for them to evade the detectors. In other words, ask not why Israel insists on installing new security measures around the compound – ask why the Muslim authorities respond to these measures with such rage.
The answer to this question is also simple. The metal detectors are truly bullshit detectors. They signal that the Temple Mount is not just a holy compound of worship – it is also, and at times even more so, a political tool with which to hammer Israel. Three years ago, as I was writing about Netanyahu’s highly cautious policy in the Temple Mount, I explained that “the Palestinians keep building a campaign of lies around the Temple Mount – by denying any Jewish connection to the site and alleging that Israel seeks to dismantle the mosques on top of the Mount. This campaign has an intellectual component: to present the Jews of Israel as a colonising force that has no historical, religious or cultural claim to the land. And it has a practical component: utilising a made-up threat to the Mount to rally the Arab street against Israel.”
So now the metal detectors are the new tool by which to manufacture a made-up threat to the Mount. The ultimate goal of the detectors’ opponents is not to heighten security or prevent bloodshed, it is to delegitimise Israel’s rule of the Old City. Just listen to what the Palestinians say: “Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy head of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, told Palestinian media that the detectors were ‘illegitimate.’ He said security would only be ensured by preventing the entry of ‘settlers’ and removing ‘Israeli soldiers’ – Border Police officers stationed at the site – from the compound.”
There you have it. The issue is not security. Israel is the one concerned with security – but the other side is not. The other side sees the terror attack at the compound as an opportunity to further its claim against Israeli presence in Jerusalem. If you remove all the “settlers” – that is, all Israelis – and all “soldiers” – that is, Israel’s security forces – from the area, there will be security. Simply put: no Jews, no bloodshed.
This is a tricky situation to handle. Israel does not wish for, nor intend to agree to, a proposed abandonment of the site most holy to Jews. Israel cannot let the Palestinians intimidate it by using Temple Mount strife as an impending threat over its head. On the other hand, the Mount could be a real fuse that ignites a great fire. And maybe this fire, focused on the Temple Mount, is exactly what Israel’s enemies hope to see. They want to prove to the world one of two things: that Israel does not control the Temple Mount – or that Israel should not control Temple Mount.
In other words, the metal detectors were an opportunity for Israel’s enemies to make the point they are trying to make: If Israel removes the metal detectors after protestations and threats, that’s proof that it does not really control the compound. If Israel did not remove the detectors – and as a result violence ensues and blood is spilled – that’s proof that Israel should not control Temple Mount.
Thus, Israel has proceeded with caution. For now.
Shmuel Rosner is a Tel Aviv-based contributing writer for the International New York Times, the political editor of the LA Jewish Journal and a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. © Shmuel Rosner, reprinted from the Jewish Journal, by permission, all rights reserved.