Temple Mt/Haram al Sharif: Jewish Visits, & Tensions, Continue to Increase

More than 1000 Jewish visitors entered the Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif compound on Tisha B’av, the annual commemoration of the destruction of the two Temples (which this year took place on July 22nd). Yaraeh – an organization encouraging Jews to visit the Temple Mount and pressing for a change in Israeli policy to allow Jewish prayer at the site – reported approximately 1400 visitors; the Waqf reported 1023 Jewish visitors.  Notwithstanding the gap between the two estimates, both confirm the trend of the last couple of years, with steady growth in the number of Jewish visitors to the esplanade. This year, 15 of those visitors were arrested by Israeli police breaking the ban on Jewish prayer. Both Jordan and the PA protested the high number of visitors.

As we reported last Spring – following Passover and the focus on the Temple Mount that accompanies that holiday – the high, and growing, numbers of Jewish visitors is a manifestation of the shift of Israel’s policy towards this area “in favor of opening the site up for greater Jewish access, facilitating Jewish visits, and granting Jewish visitors a degree of religious practice that is unprecedented since 1967”.

The coming High Holidays in September (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot) will be another opportunity for Temple Mount activists to exploit this trend. Both the frequency of the visits and the provocative attitudes of many of the Jewish visitors – who openly seek to disrupt the Status Quo while denying the Palestinian and Muslim attachment to the Haram Al Sharif – continuously fuel the risk of renewed violence.

Two recent events highlight the continued volatility of the site:

  • Last Friday, August 17th, Israel police shot and killed a Palestinian citizen of Israel after he attempted to stab them shortly after leaving the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. It is notable that the stabber was from Umm al Fahm, the same city that is home to the three Palestinian citizens of Israel who killed two Israeli policemen on the Temple Mount esplanade last year, sparking a period of clashes and Israeli security measures that escalated into a major crisis (for excellent analysis, see this May 2018 piece from ICG Ofer Zalzberg, Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade Reveals the Limits of Israeli Counter-terrorism). This latest attack by a citizen of Israel, and directly linked to the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, highlights the continued radicalization that is occurring within some sectors of Israel’s Palestinian communities. This radicalization is fed, on the one hand, by the hardline ideology of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch and its ilk; it is likewise fueled, on the other hand, by illiberal trends in Israel both broadly speaking (like the Nation-state law, which confirms Palestinian citizens of Israel that the state officially considers them an inferior category of citizens compared to their Jewish neighbors), and specifically in terms of increased pressure by hardline Jewish groups to change the Temple Mount status quo.
  • On July 27th, clashes erupted on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif after Friday prayers. The clashes began with a Palestinian parade at the site, marking one year since the last major round of clashes and the subsequent stand-off between Palestinians and Israeli authorities, which ended in the removal of metal detectors placed at the entrance of the Haram al Sharif by Israeli security. According to Israeli police, clashes began after some Palestinians threw fireworks and other projectiles at police officers stationed at the gate (injuring four of them). Reportedly, Fatah-affiliated individuals from East Jerusalem may have initiated and been actively involved in the clashes, and according to some reports, PA security personnel stationed in East Jerusalem took apparently part. If this was indeed the case, it would constitute a departure from a longstanding policy of the Palestinian leadership, which has avoided involving its personnel in confrontations with Israel.